The first horses are on their way to the 2018 World Equestrian Games (WEG) in the largest commercial airlift of horses in the history of equestrian sport.

The first 67 of 550 equines, who are flying to the US for the Games, have arrived on site at Tryon International Equestrian Center and will be joined by a further 270 who are travelling over land.

The first flight (EK 9387) landed in South Carolina on Sunday afternoon (2 September).

The horses are flying into the States on 23 flights, departing from Liège, Dubai, Buenos Aires, Sao Paolo, Santiago, Lima, Montevideo and San José.

Departure of the horses for WEG 2018 from Belgium. Credit: FEI/ Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans

“This is the largest commercial airlift of horses in history, with only wartime shipments of horses coming close, so the military precision involved in the logistics is incredible,” said FEI president Ingmar De Vos.

“These horses are finely-tuned equine athletes and are not only very valuable, but they must arrive in peak competition condition, just like their human counterparts.”

Peden Bloodstock and The Dutta Corp have coordinated the logistics to fly horses from six of the world’s seven continents into Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP) in South Carolina and Miami, Florida.

Departure of the horses for WEG 2018 from Belgium. Credit: FEI/ Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans

The flight time from Liège, in Belgium — where the European-based horses are departing from — is eight hours, 50 minutes, long enough to watch Black Beauty just under six times.

The horses are flying with Emirates SkyCargo, for which this is its largest ever horse charter.

They are on a specially-designed Boeing 777 freighter aircraft with customised stalls and independently air-conditioned zones, which ensures the perfect temperature for the horses of between 14 and 17C.

Departure of the horses for WEG 2018 from Belgium. Credit: FEI/ Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans

“Emirates SkyCargo is excited to be working on our largest horse transport charter for the FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018,” said Wilfred D’Souza, Emirates SkyCargo’s manager of cargo scheduling, planning and equine transportation.

“Over the course of the last 16 years we have developed strong expertise and capabilities in equine transportation and this, combined with careful planning and attention to detail, allows us to consistently deliver a comfortable environment for the horses in flight.”

Departure of the horses for WEG 2018 from Belgium. Credit: FEI/ Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans

The freight carried from Europe — not including the horses — will total 123,500 tonnes of equipment. This includes saddles, bridles, rugs and grooming kits, wheelbarrows, forks, horse shoes and studs, as well as 51 tonnes of feed, in-flight snacks and 20 litres of water per horse.

Kevin Howell, senior vice-president and chief operating officer for GSP, said the team is focused on moving the horses safely and keeping them “in the best health and spirits for the competition”.

Departure of the horses for WEG 2018 from Belgium. Credit: FEI/ Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans

After landing at GSP, the first horses were transferred directly on to trucks – without setting foot on South Carolina tarmac – for the 50-mile journey to Tryon, crossing over the state line into North Carolina.

WEG 2018 runs from 11 to 23 September and there are 29 medals to be won in eventing, showjumping, dressage, para dressage, driving, endurance, reining and vaulting.

For more on how Equestrian Team GBR are getting to WEG, don’t miss the current issue of Horse & Hound (30 August).