How do horses fly?
Can you guess what kind of animal we transport from our airport the most? You’d probably expect the answer to be dogs, cats or some other kind of pet. But you’d be wrong: horses are the frequent flyers at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Each year, an impressive 5,500 horses take to the skies on their way to a new destination. Most of them are horses taking part in important competitions, or simply horses that have been sold. After all, it’s not as though one can wrap and ship a horse by mail!
Flying with a personal assistant
The horses are brought in by lorry or aircraft, arriving at the Schiphol Animal Centre, where we also have stables for the animals. Specially trained caretakers accompany the horses from the time they arrive at Schiphol until they are on board the aircraft. During the flight, a staff member known as a groom assumes responsibility. Grooms fly right along with the horses as attendants and check every so often to see how the animals are doing. They work quite long hours, because – whether it’s an 8‑hour flight or a 24‑hour haul – the grooms cannot sleep on such flights. They are kept constantly busy seeing to the welfare of their equine charges.
Workhorses and show ponies
All manner of travellers come through Schiphol, and the same can be said of horses. Did you know that we sometimes transport horses worth several million euros? That’s why, just like for people, horse transport has first, business and economy class. Horses are always loaded onto the aircraft in a special box. Each box can hold three (economy) or two (business class) horses. If the horse has an entire box to himself, he’s flying first class. The space may differ per class, but unlike for the human passengers, the catering is identical in each. It’s water and hay, every time. But just because you’re a horse doesn’t mean you can’t get VIP treatment. In that case, the animal will fly all alone in the aircraft. This is nice and quiet, of course, which may help the horse perform better during the big competition that awaits at its destination. How a horse flies is decided (and paid for) by its owner.
From Schiphol to Miami, Las Vegas and Doha
The horses fly from here to every corner of the globe. In 2017, for instance, we transported horses to Las Vegas for the World Cup Jumping event. Imagine that: an aircraft took off with at least €100 million worth of equine athletes on board, the top horses in the world. Another popular destination is Miami, where many types of competitions are held in the winter – everything from dressage to polo. We also fly to Doha, Qatar each year, where the annual Global Champions Tour is held. All the top riders and their horses put in an appearance here.
‘Your passport, please’
Did you know that horses have passports, too? Except instead of a photo, a horse’s passport has sketches of the horse from all sides. This is because photos can fade rather quickly and the colour of the horse’s coat is, of course, important. We check the passport on arrival. Horse passports get a different kind of stamp than ours: theirs is from the veterinarian, to show that they have been inspected and approved. Each horse has a numbered microchip inserted in its body as well; this number is listed in their passport. It’s similar to a person’s citizen service number. This number allows you look up all the information about a particular horse, such as which vaccinations the animal has received.
So you see, horses are simply travellers just like you and me. They have passports, a wide range of destinations and tickets for business or economy class. The only difference is, they prefer to stand during the flight.