Ermelo, Part One

Wednesday August 24 – Heading to L.A.

I was lucky that I planned to do absolutely nothing the morning of our departure. I aimed to arrive at the barn at 7:30, and we weren’t getting picked up until 11, so I had plenty of wiggle room should anything not go according to plan. Well I was glad I did! Sabine had forgotten her drivers license at a store, so I went to pick it up for her as she had an early flight. Once I got to the barn I saw that Jetson had half pulled off a shoe overnight! Nothing went that terribly wrong and it all ended up fine, but I sure was glad that I planned to have everything finished the night before. 

The shipper Brent arrived right on time and we got Hex and all of our luggage loaded quickly, so we were heading down the driveway right on time. We were off to a good start!

We made one stop in Temecula to pick up a girl, Sarah, and her cute grey gelding, Kingsbridge. We continued right on schedule. 

It’s nearly impossible to predict L.A. traffic. While we had planned to arrive to LAX at about 3:30, we flew right through the city and arrived about two hours early. Unfortunately, this meant we had to wait. 

Behind LAX right near the ocean, there is a small barn called Jet Pets where our horses needed to spend the night. This was both so the horses could rest before the long flight, and so they could complete their 5 hour quarantine together and under supervision.

We arrived to form a line of about five horse trailers, waiting for a USDA veterinarian to come and scan each horses’ microchip and do a quick inspection. Once the vet arrived, they opened the gates to Jet Pets to admit one trailer at a time, unloading one horse at a time to get their chip scanned and their temperature taken. Then each horse was led into their stall in the barn which of course had been fully sanitized following the last visit. The staff at Jet Pets was incredibly organized, taking instructions for exactly when and what each horse should be fed, and so on. We planned to meet at 3:30 the following morning, and Karl took me to my hotel. 

Karl of Apollo Equine Transport is the mastermind behind ours and many other horses’ journeys to and from Europe. He organized absolutely everything from our flight and transport itinerary to all of the necessary paperwork. He was critical in organizing our whole journey to Germany, from stall to stall. 

Thursday, August 25 – Flying to Belgium

Karl picked me up bright and early to head back to Jet Pets. We got the horses loaded onto two slant-load trailers (there were eight horses on the plane) and we headed to the cargo area of LAX. 

Right in the parking lot, next to FedEx trucks unloading into the warehouse where we were headed, we moved the horses from their trailers to their boxes, where they would stay until their arrival in Belgium. I have always wondered how this was done! There was a sort of raised chute that connected the trailer to the shipping container boxes. It had a ramp which lay flush with both the trailer floor and the boxes, so the horses didn’t have to go down or up any ramps. It had high sides and an open roof, so the horses didn’t feel claustrophobic. We untied one horse at a time, turned them around to walk into the chute, where they had their microchip scanned again, before loading into the box just like a trailer. We secured panels on the front, back, and side of each horse before closing the ramp to each box. Hex shared his box with Sarah’s gelding, so they both had plenty of room to stretch and move. The other six horses were all smaller, so they went three-wide and also had plenty of room. 

Once the horses were safely tucked into their boxes, they were moved into the warehouse (alongside plenty of other miscellaneous cargo, including one very fancy-looking car) while we humans got checked in. We did this right in the warehouse office; they checked our passports, wrote their numbers on a piece of paper, and scanned us using those handheld metal detecting wand things. They quickly went through our luggage (as the warehouse x-ray machine was down) and let us into the warehouse to wait with the horses. 

I wish I could share with you some pictures and videos of this part of the trip! Unfortunately, Qatar has an extremely strict policy against taking pictures or video, so I wasn’t able to capture any of this part of our journey. Instead, I will try to describe it as well as I can!

After maybe about an hour (or less) of waiting, they began loading the plane. The horses were thankfully one of the last things to load. Once they were safely on we climbed a staircase into the front of the plane. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, as I had heard stories both of passenger-cargo planes, where you basically sit up in a normal plane while the back half carries cargo, and I’d heard horror stories of grooms sitting in an all-cargo plane, right with the horses in the freezing cold. What I experienced was in between, and I think the best case scenario. The plane, which was Qatar, had the cockpit in front, a small bunk room for the pilots to sleep, a quite nice bathroom, and a very small cabin. It had about ten seats, only two rows. We had access to their “kitchen,” which was nicely stocked with snacks, meals, cold drinks, and coffee. The only passengers on the plane were Sarah, another and much more experienced professional groom named Jason, and myself. As soon as we were at cruising altitude, we had access to the rest of the plane, including all the food we wanted! It was so nice to be able to get up and stretch as much as we wanted. The meals they provided were amazing; I had a mushroom and spinach omelette with sausage, cherry tomatoes, and fresh fruit for breakfast, a croissant with jelly as a warm snack, then a chicken dinner with steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, and a cup of berries for desert. This is the best way to fly! 

Jason suggested, and Sarah and I agreed, that we only check on the horses every two-three hours, so we wouldn’t disturb them too much. We bundled up (as the cargo hold is kept at a freezing 10º celsius) and snuck through the tightly-packed cargo sideways. Each time we visited the horses, they were either sleeping or eating. They were really quite happy in there! Despite the freezing temperatures, their little enclosed boxes stayed toasty, yet with the cold air circulating and keeping them from getting too stuffy. I was thrilled with how well Hex ate and drank! Keeping them well hydrated and their stomachs moving is key to having a happy horse at your destination. 

I talked to Jason and Brent (who was also a professional groom for many years) and got some great advice for the next time that I fly with a horse. I’ll be sure to pack a bag with a spare halter and lead, some sedative (not that I think I would need it, but better to have it than not), apples (I had these, they were a great hydrating snack for the horses, and if you teach them ahead of time they like to bob in their water bucket for them, encouraging them to drink), some extra mash (I also had this), a pocket knife (we had one hay net get stuck in the panels and no one had a knife to cut it free), and other little things to keep them comfortable. The boxes have about a foot and a half of space in front of the horses, where we kept two jugs of water and extra hay nets, and a tote with these things would easily fit here too. It’s always better to be over-prepared!

We checked on the horses one last time just before our descent. Jason, since he was the most experienced and also because he had a safety vest, went back again to check on them just as we landed in Liese, Belgium.

Check my next post to read about our day in Belgium!

Friday August 26 – Belgium to Germany 

Since they were the last on the plane, the horse were one of the first things off the plane in Liese. They got a little startled from the sound of the surrounding aircraft, but the airport staff was great and ran to shut off a nearby plane until the horses were far away. They really took us seriously when we asked them to do something for the horses, which I really appreciated! 

They connected the three horse boxes to a cart and, like a small train, they drove around the airport, with us three grooms following closely following behind in a van. 

The horses waited in their boxes while we quickly ran inside for “customs,” which just meant handing over our passports to some people in an office for a minute. We ran back out to unload the horses. Each box was backed like a shipping container to the entry of a warehouse like building. They stepped down a short ramp into a holding area, where their microchips were scanned again. We then walked down a hallway into the Liese Horse Hotel, which is a very clean, spacious barn with four wings of about ten stalls. I put Hex in the stall in the furthest corner, as there were quite a few mares that would be staying in the barn with him. Luckily, he is such a good stallion and I think he was too tired to really be bothered by them. Sarah and I helped Jason unload his six horses, we gave all of the horses hay and water, and we closed the doors and shut off the lights so they could rest while we waited for our transports to arrive. 

Jason had a train to catch, but Sarah and I waited in the grooms quarters. This was at about 5:00 and our transport wasn’t expected until at least 8:00, so we took this opportunity to nap! It felt so good to stretch out after the ten hour flight. 

At about 8:30 we started to get a bit nervous that no one had checked on us, so we checked on the snoozing horses and looked to find help. This was challenging as neither of us spoke French (or whatever they speak in Belgium). We even accidentally got locked out of the Horse Hotel for a stressful moment, but eventually we discovered our drivers and we left to gather our horses’ trunks. 

This ended up taking much longer than we had expected for some unknown reason, but we all got all of our boxes and were then quickly on our way back to the Horse Hotel! 

The shippers, Sarah, and I quickly got Jason’s ponies loaded, then Sarah loaded her gelding, and finally Hex got on his own giant trailer and we were off for Krefeld, Germany! 

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