Flying With Horses - Part Two

Friday, July 17, 2009
Posted by bossmare

We watched the two containers lifted into the cargo area, and then met Jessica Ek, the horse flight attendant for KLM who we would be travelling with. She was with the horses the entire time on the tarmac and when they were being loaded. We hit it off right away. A horsewoman herself Jessica has two KWPN foals by UB 40 out of her mare. She is a licensed veterinary attendant, and is required to take flight safety courses along with the flight attendants on a regular basis. In his instructions Humberto was adamant about being very careful where we stepped, and to watch where your head and where you walked when working in and around the containers. The cargo area was very roomy, and climate controlled like the plane.

Jessica showed us around the cargo area, and then gave us a safety briefing showing us the oxygen masks, and safety procedures for the flight. “I have never had to do any of this” she said. “But if there is an emergency, we need to be prepared.” Since there was only room for one attendant in the front of each container, we let JJ head back to the cabin, and I got acquainted with the horses in my container. It was up close and personal and I was careful to always be aware of what was going on around me.

The horses were munching on hay, and playing with each other a bit, but I could sense they were happy for some human reassurance. They got plenty of pats and rubs on their noses. I picked up the flakes of hay falling out of the hay nets and fed them by hand. They all eagerly ate out of my hand rather than stabbing at the tightly packed hay net. I ran my hands over their eyes, and that seemed to be a welcomed approach. We gave them all a few sips of water, but not too much before take off. Some of the horses had been trailered from a distance. After waiting to be loaded, they were thirsty.

Jessica told me what to do and how to stand and brace myself for the take off. I was just to be there to reassure the horses if they got nervous. Jessica was right across on the end of the second container. After waiting on the runway for about 15 minutes, I heard the engines rev up, my favorite part of flying! I was right by a window, and as we lifted off the horse closest to the end seemed to be enjoying the view. One of my horses scrambled a bit, but nothing like what I have had trailering horses. Jessica and I kept patting and loving on our charges, and in a few minutes we were up up and away!

About 30 minutes into the flight we gave the horses a good healthy drink of water. We poured the water out of the containers in smaller black buckets, so we could easily lift and hold them for each horse to take a drink. Jessica put loose hay on the top of her water bucked, and said she did that to get them to drink slower. She definitely had a sixth sense about each one of them. The horse who was supposed to be the nervous one was settled in and happy. We headed back to the cabin, just on the other side of the door just as the flight attendants were serving drinks. No wine on this trip, as I had an important job to do!

Jessica had a Dutch KWPN Magazine with her, and I leafed through it, and asked her a hundred questions. Jessica flies on a regular basis for KLM, including the Olympics in Hong Kong. In fact one of the containers we were flying with that day was Salinero’s box; Anky van Grunsven’s gold medal horse. One of the pilots came back to check with Jessica to make sure all went well. Jessica and the pilots were also in touch from the cargo area as well. Jessica said she usually goes up to the front to let them know how the take off was, but this time he came to us! Both flights over and back with KLM were great. We were in business class on the way over, and had friendly excellent service in coach on the way back. I really enjoy the Dutch people, their friendly easy way of going. Kind of like how we are here in the south!

Throughout the flight we periodically got up to check on the horses and give them more water. Jessica would unlock the cargo door and peek over the wall of the container and count 12 ears. “As long as I can see 12 ears, we are doing good!” she winked. “It’s better to leave them alone so they don’t get jealous of each other, and they may even sleep.” The rest of the flight was uneventful. We continued to water them until all our containers were empty: a good sign. All the horses wanted to drink and we accommodated them until they did not want any more water. We had our lunch and dinner snack on the flight before we had to get ready for the landing. It was back in the container. My window aisle horse who had been a bit drowsy before take of was now antsy and ready to get out. “He must have slept on the flight.” Jessica noted. As we began our decent the horses became a little bit more animated, but not bad at all. I stood in front of my “scrambler” petting his neck and ready to steady him if needed. They must feel the pressure in their ears like we do, but don’t know enough to yawn! Jessica asked me if I needed any help but trying to make a good impression as a competent groom I said I was fine, and really meant it. I felt confident that I was helping make everyone in my charge happy and safe. We had a smooth landing into Kennedy, and that is where my job was ended. But Jessica stayed with the horses, and as we were going through customs I called Humberto who was at the airport ready and waiting to offload his clients’ horses and get them loaded onto a truck and settled safely into quarantine.

It was a wonderful way to fly. I want to thank all of the staff and crew at KLM for being so great to work with. They all take their jobs very seriously, and it is a serious responsibility. A special thanks to Humberto and I’m available again if you need me!