Many of the top showjumpers in the world today arrived in the stunning venue of AL SHAQAB in Doha, Qatar ahead of the Longines Global Champions Tour final this coming weekend. On two specially chartered flights, horses from all over the world came together to make the journey to the Middle East to their temporary home for the week. With horse welfare the upmost priority at LGCT, we take a closer look to understand just how the best horses in the world travel to our far-reaching, global events.
Yesterday, two very special aeroplanes landed at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar. Transporting 89 horses in total, LGCT had provided two specially charted flights from Liege airport for the world’s top showjumpers, ready for the final weekend of the 2015 season of top calibre competition.
All the horses arrived well and happy, and are now settling into the world class stables at the magnificent AL SHAQAB venue. The first flight carrying 43 horses landed at 23:26 late last night, and the second just a few hours later at 06:32 the following morning, with 46 more horses on the specially equipped aircraft.
The horses fly ‘business class’ with LGCT, with two horses to a container that was originally built for three; allowing more space and grooms the opportunity to move around and top up hay and water throughout the flight.
The horses are loaded onto only one floor, with any other equipment in the belly of the plane. For example, there was 16 tonnes of equipment on the first flight and 18 tonnes on the second flight to Doha this year. Each horse is loaded from the back and then their containers are carefully pushed forwards through the plane.
The horses’ own equipment arrived before they did, as did their personal grooms, meaning that they could be settled into their AL SHAQAB stables as quickly and efficiently as possible. With careful planning, the team try to be as ready as soon possible at the unloading area and are ready with the waiting horse boxes before the doors of the aircraft are opened. As the temperature is regulated, and many horses coming from cooler climates, the emphasis is always to try to keep it efficient as possible to ensure the horses remain at a constant temperature. This is the secret to keep the horses as fit and well as possible.
Eight grooms travel with the horses, as well as a veterinarian on each flight and two professional ‘flying grooms’ who travel all around the world every week with horses. The grooms look after all the horses on the flight, so are chosen due to their capabilities and are always the most experienced grooms whom LGCT trust. On the flight the horses mostly eat hay, and are also offered a ‘slobber mash’, which is a oatmeal mash made predominately of water. This is mixed in with carrots to try help them drink, as it’s important for the horses to keep well hydrated, just as we do, on a flight. It is very comfortable for the horses, as there is almost no movement once the plane is airborne.
As the aircraft is heavy and due to their special cargo, the pilots are given a special briefing and the aircraft flown a little differently to how standard passenger jets fly. The aircraft always keep the speed slow on the tarmac, and take a very flat and slow take off so there’s no sharp angle up to ensure the horses remain as level as possible, with little gradient. This is the same for landing - the pilots come in long and low, touch the aircraft down on the tarmac as early as possible and then take longer to slow than you would on a normal passenger jet.
Once the plane reaches Doha airport, it heads to a special area where the ground team are waiting. The horses are unloaded in an enclosed area onto rubber mats laid over the asphalt, watched over by high security and local police. The Ministry Vet checks every single horse as they come off the plane - they check the microchip for immigration and the general condition of the horses, and if everything is ok then they are then loaded onto the waiting horseboxes. At LGCT we try to keep the process as quick and efficient as possible, with a good constant flow so that the horses are not waiting anywhere for too long. They then load onto the trucks, but can even have a short walk to stretch their legs before the final part of the journey.
The horses are then given a police escort from the airport to the venue, meaning that the lorries did not have to stop at traffic lights or roundabouts and made the journey to the venue as quick as possible. All the trucks are equipped with air-conditioning so that the horses are able to maintain a constant temperature, particularly those from Europe who have flown in from countries that are at a temperature of 8C.
From there, the horses arrive to their temporary home in Doha, in the magnificent and state of the art AL SHAQAB. The stabling at AL SHAQAB for the international horses is second to none; they are based in solid tents, which have very high roofs allowing for good air circulation. Each huge tent is air-conditioned, and is powered by the largest specifically designed generators in the world. The air is filtered and specifically designed to keep the dust out and the air inside the tents clean and healthy. The temperature within the tents is regulated at approximately 22C so some horses even wear a thin rug while at rest to help cool down after training sessions. Outside there are wash bays, multiple areas to lunge, tracks to walk, a sand canter track and all the space and facilities needed to host these world class horses.
Speaking about the horses and their top level conditions, FEI Veterinary Delegate, Alessandro Centinaio said: "It was a very good flight, with no problems at all. When the horses landed we were very quickly able to unload them into the lorry, and within one hour all the horses were at AL SHAQAB. The orginisation was super, there we no problems and the horses found their boxes ready with water, hay - everything. We try to give to the horses the best conditions to arrive in."