Flying With Horses - Part One

Sunday, July 12, 2009
Posted by Mary Phelps


I just did something I have always wanted to do, and that was to fly with the horses! This experience as well as our trip to Aachen was made possible by Humberto Rivera, HFR International Horse Transport, a popular shipping agent with many top dressage and show jumper riders. I had been [#25252 override="hearing great things" title="hearing great things"] about Humberto from our friends and clients, and wanted to experience first hand how the process works. It was an amazing experience, a fabulous flight, and something I would do again in a heartbeat.

We were booked on a KLM flight from Schipol Airport in Amsterdam to Kennedy NYC, July 8. After having attended Aachen the previous week, we took a couple of days of down time in Amsterdam. With detailed instructions from Humberto, we felt prepared for what to expect.

I have shipped on many occasions with horses on vans, but have never flown with them on a plane. We arrived at Schipol airport by 1PM, for the 6PM flight. Humberto emphasized the importance of being there on time, to be ready to help if needed. We went to the cargo area of the airport to where there was a sign for the Animal Hotel. After showing our passports at the security gate and getting a visitors ID to wear, we went into the office and waited. My husband James Hathaway, a retired police officer was especially impressed with the meticulous process, and how everyone knew their job and did it.

There were a couple of horse vans outside. There was one small trailer with two horses, and a beautiful van from Holland with four horses on board, waiting to unload from where ever it was they came from, and then reload into their shipping containers. Our flight was going to have six horses on board. I met the van’s owner Marcel Jordan who lives in the Netherlands.

We had some time to kill, so he took me on a tour of his truck. It was beautiful. It was a state of the art vehicle, with every detail in design, safety and comfort was covered. One of Marcel’s regular customers is Karin Offield, owner of the famed KWPN Stallion Lingh. “As I became more comfortable living in Europe I was able to find one person that I wanted to be in charge of moving Lingh. I was amazed how flexible he was - he has what we call in America - TRY ! Flexibility, safety, accommodating the grooms and equipment, amazing truck layout, and driving habits similar to how I would drive my own horses is why I choose Marcel Jordan. I placed him on Lingh's breeding brochure - that's how much I support him as a transporter in Europe.” Part of the service included in shipping horses is the coordination with quality services for both air and ground and on this trip Marcel was managing the delivery of Humberto’s clients’ horses.  In addition there is a lot of paperwork and documentation as well as health certificates and more. This entire process is facilitated by the shipping agent. has a lot of the necessary information on his website, and is always available to nurture his clients through the process.

Before we could unload the horses, a truckload of baby chicks was transferred onto platforms carefully prepared and stacked. The sound of what were about 10,000 chickens filled the warehouse before they we carted away for another flight (Thank God!). There were also occasional KLM dog walkers, taking a variety of dogs being kenneled in the animal hotel for their next flight. Since all animals need to be checked in way in advance of their flights, their comfort and needs were lovingly accommodated by the staff at the animal hotel, who were all obviously experienced animal lovers.

Iris, the person in charge of the incoming horses at the Animal Hotel from KLM was managing all the paperwork and loading process. We were required to be on hand to do what was asked if needed. There wasn’t too much to help with except put the shavings in the immaculate disinfected stalls. Except for one horse which came with a small bag, the rest had no equipment, so I figured they were probably sale horses headed to America for the first time.We filled up three large containers of water, and hay nets with moist sweet smelling hay.

If these had been competition horses, equipment, special feed and all that goes with our equine rock stars, would have also become part of the cargo shipment. Most of the horses who were at Aachen had already headed back to the US before our flight. Humberto has shipped on a regular basis several of the top carriage drivers in the USA, including the Cadwell sisters who are currently getting ready to head back to Europe for the World Pairs Driving Championships. Imagine shipping two carriages (per pair), feed, hay, and equipment. It is all handled right there in the receiving area, and then loaded onto pallets an up into the cargo section of the plane.

With the containers ready for loading all the horses went on easily. Of course the one I was given to load was a bit nervous and the first to go on the second container and would not go in on the first and second try. No one pushed or shoved. Once we loaded another horse, mine went on just fine. Iris showed me how to load a container, by not shutting the front door until the back is secured, and then how they latched in. I was amazed at how comfortable the horses were, as they settled into their spot and got to know each other. Then they waited patiently munching hay before they were loaded on the 6PM flight.There were three horses to a container, although one can order a special container for just two or one stall. One of the attendants told me the most comfortable for the horses is two per container, but all six in the two containers kept side by side seemed to be pretty content as they got acquainted with each other. Before the horses were brought onto the tarmac, the canvas on the top section was dropped, so they would not be distracted or spooked by runway activity.
With the horses loaded, we were off to the airport to check in for our flight. Iris told us we would be meeting the horse flight attendant when we got on our flight. As we boarded a huge KLM 747, I could see the containers sitting on the runway. Our seats were in the back row, so that we were right near the cargo area where we would be with the horses during take off and landing and checking on them throughout the flight. As we were boarding I could see the containers on the ground waiting to be lifted. I checked my Blackberry one last time, and got an e-mail from Humberto. The owner of one of the horses was concerned because they know their horse could be nervous. That was the horse I was given to load, and I replied “Not to worry, he will get extra TLC.”

I have yet to meet Humberto Rivera, but feel as if he has become a good friend. Humberto is a busy man. As a horse shipping agent he is always driving back and forth to Kennedy Airport, and visiting the quarantine station where many of his client’s horses spend time before moving onto their new homes, and constantly staying in touch with phone and e-mails. He personally meets the flights coming and going so makes frequent trips to the airport, and is involved in the offloading process, and assuring all paperwork and ground transport is in order.

When we were looking for sponsors to donate services and items for our silent auction for the [#25812 override="Equestrian Aid Foundation, which we held at the Palm Beach Dressage Derby" title="Equestrian Aid Foundation, which we held at the Palm Beach Dressage Derby"], Humberto donated the import fees for one horse shipping in from Europe with no hesitation.
Flying With Horses Part Two