For the vast majority of people, travelling by plane is not exactly comfortable. Tight seats, flavourless food and a lack of space to relax becomes part of the routine of frequent flyers. But in the early hours of Saturday morning (30 July), 34 passengers coming from London had a completely unique travel experience as they made their way to Rio International Airport for the Olympic Games.
There was plentiful space in individual and customised cabins during he 12-hour flight with vegetables, fresh fruit and apple juice served. But all of this VIP treatment was not in honour of some dignitary or an athlete, but for the horses competing in the equestrian competition at Rio 2016.
Special treatment of these four-legged Olympians is justified. With a pure bloodline and ancesters that have competed in noble races, a horse competing at the highest level is worth millions. So much so that a Boeing 777-F SkyCargo has been specially designed for the transport of these animals.
Each horse – weighing on average 515kg – has an individual limit for the flight which includes its own weight plus items such as water buckets, tack bags and rugs. In addition to the food, nearly 10 tonnes of equipment and several tonnes of haylage (normal hay with a higher moisture content) is loaded onto the plane.
During these flights great care is taken. Bandages keep hooves warm and veterinarians are on hand to take care of any problems.
Each stall is designed for three horses but the equine superstars of Team GB are permitted to fly in pairs where they are generally happier, according to British Eventing team vet Liz Brown.
And according to the International Federation for Equestrian Sports, the seating (or standing) plan will also ensure stallions are at the front of the plane away from the mares.
The first flight to Rio, carried horses from 10 different nations (Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Japan, Italy and China) and went without a hitch. William Fox-Pitt’s new horse Chilli Morning was on the flight. Fox-Pitt is hree-time medal winner in the team competitions for Great Britain
“They ate, drank and behaved themselves well during the journey,” said Nathan Anthony, team Australia’s vet who accompanied his country’s horses.
After being unloaded, the steeds were transferred in four trucks travelling in single file from Rio’s international airport cargo terminal to the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Deodoro. Upon arrival they found yet more luxury. The site has been completely renovated with customised stables so the horses can rest up after the tiring hours of travel.
On Saturday (30 July), another plane, this time coming from Liege, Belgium, set off with another batch of horses. Among them, reigning Olympic Eventing Champion Michael Jung’s horse Sam FBW, on which he won team and individual gold at London 2012 for Germany.
Eventing horses from Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, France, Sweden, Belgium, Russia, Equador, Japan, Belarus and Finland are on board Saturday’s flight out of Liege, the second of nine shipments delivering 236 horses competing in the individual events as well as eventing, dressage andjumping.
The events will take place at the Olympic Equestrian Centre, Rio 2016’s 1million-square-metre facility which hosts the jumping and dressage arena, cross-country course.
28 London flight facts
Estimated flight time Stansted – Rio: 11 hours 40 mins
Aircraft detail: SkyCargo Boeing 777-F
17,500 kgs of horses flying from Stansted
515kg is the average weight of an Eventing horse (630kg is the average weight of a Dressage horse and 610kg for Jumping horses)
9,900kg of horse equipment
6,000 kg of feed (doesn’t include feed they’ll eat on the flight)
40 litres of water per horse
34 Eventing horses – representing Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Japan, Italy and China