It is early morning and still dark at Liège airport in Belgium — one of the biggest cargo airports in Europe — and Hello Sanctos is about to begin his trip to Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Canada in a bid to make history under Scott Brash and win the showjumping Rolex Grand Slam.
The cargo parking lot at Liège airport is buzzing with action and it is only 4.30am. The sound of horsebox engines, grooms armed with horse passports, water canisters, haynets, horses neighing plus the occasional snort and kick. It’s all systems go as 67 horses, including the mighty Santos, from eight nations begin the loading process into the awaiting Boeing 747.
Jon Garner (pictured below, right), the director of Spruce Meadows, has travelled from Calgary to assist with the transportation of these special horses. “At the moment, it all seems to be total chaos. But once we have started loading, everything will run like clockwork,” he says.
Sanctos, of course, is a total professional and shows no concern over the commotion going on outside his horsebox. He is one of the last to arrive at the airport and chomps happily on his haynet, looking out of his side window.
Before the horses can be loaded into each of the 26 cargo boxes, all the equipment needs to be stowed away, the sniffer dogs examine the palettes and paperwork needs to be checked.
Sanctos will share a cargo box with his stablemate Hello Forever, who Scott will also be competing. Usually three horses travel in each cargo box, but Sanctos and Forever are lucky to have a box to themselves — the equine Business Class you could say.
“It depends on the owner’s booking and how well the horses get on with each other. We basically try to transport horses from the same stable together, because they already know each other,” says Jon, who has a detailed loading plan. “But, of course, we can’t put a stallion next to a mare and in the case of two stallions, we usually leave the middle compartment free.”
Hannah Colman, who is looking after both of Scott’s horses, unloads Sanctos from the horsebox at 11am. It takes just half an hour to load him into the plane, where he is tied in the compartment next to Forever (pictured below). There is a side door that allows the grooms to give feed and water during the flight.
“I am delighted that I am allowed to fly with them. Sanctos actually doesn’t mind travelling, whether by truck or by plane. But it puts my mind at rest if I can be close to him the whole time,” says Hannah.
Scott will fly to Calgary two days after the horses and Hannah (pictured with Sanctos below) will prepare and keep an eye on Sanctos until Scott’s arrival. “We are a bit nervous, because Scott and Sanctos have to qualify for the grand prix first. But Sanctos is in good shape,” she adds.
The cargos with the horses safely inside are placed into the aeroplane using a hydraulic lift (pictured below). It is 12noon when Jon closes the gate on the 26th and final cargo.
Final checks are made — the horses are all looked over again and equipment checked — before just three grooms, plus Jon, his colleague from Spruce Meadows and a vet are ready for take off two hours later at 2pm. Hello Sanctos is on his way.