Traveling to the Olympics in First Class
RELEASE: April 8, 2008
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: By Louise Parkes
Martin Atock, Managing Director of the official Olympic horse transportation company, Peden, tells a tale that contrasts the sophistication of 21st Century equine flight management with the less complicated methods employed in earlier times.
In 1990, he was travelling to a show with a team of American horses and U.S. Chef d'Equipe Frank Chapot was on the flight.
"Frank asked to visit the cockpit to have a look around, and he stood between the pilot and co-pilot chatting about how much things have changed over the years in terms of transportation and the rules and regulations and conditions," Atock said. Chapot, a six-time Olympian who went on to become a much-respected course designer and judge, then astonished his listeners as he recalled his trip to the Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1956.
"He said that when the aircraft landed in Stockholm, it taxied in and the doors were immediately opened and the horses walked straight down the ramp onto the tarmac. The saddles and bridles were unloaded from the back of the aircraft and the horses were tacked up—right there on the apron—and were ridden to the Olympic venue, which was miles away!"
Rather different to the procedures that will be in place as the equine athletes arrive in Hong Kong this summer for the 2008 Olympic Games where air-conditioned floats will carry them in their air-conditioned stabling at the core venue in Sha Tin within 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Martin has been working in the horse transportation business for 20 years now and he said that "98% of the work is logistics." The movement of 303 horses to Hong Kong will be his biggest project ever, however; and it promises to be a complex exercise that will test the effectiveness of those logistics to the limit.
The secret of success is, he said, "anticipation—you need to deal with potential problems right away rather than letting them develop."
"The two main concerns are claustrophobia and colic," he continued. "Just like people, most horses will travel fine but there may be one or two who are nervous and agitated, and this is where the judgment and skill of our flying grooms comes into play. They are the experts and the backbone of our operation. It used to be the practice to have the horse's own grooms and vets travelling with them, but the flying grooms are uniquely qualified to deal with situations as they arise. They stay calm and cool no matter what happens, and they know all the signs of trouble brewing and can pre-empt problems by taking quick action.".
He said that the flying grooms also have a hugely calming effect on the horses, even before loading. "People associated with the horses naturally worry about them, and they can project their anxiety onto the horse so easily. If you have worried, nervous people then you will have worried, nervous horses. I don't think most people realize just how sensitive horses are to human anxiety—they pick it up very quickly and become anxious themselves as a result. The flying grooms, on the other hand, have no personal connection with the individual horses and their calmness and kindness helps the horses to feel much more at ease," he explained.
After the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 there was one instance that epitomizes the quick-thinking responses of the flying grooms whose job is all about ensuring the smooth transfer of their charges from one location to the next. Two 747 aircraft were being used to bring the horses home in relays, and while the first two flights went perfectly to plan there was a hiccup when flight three arrived in Singapore.
"As it was about to leave on the next leg of its trip, a technical problem was noticed, but flight four was already on the ground preparing to return to Sydney for the final load, and the flying grooms simply transferred all the horses off flight three onto flight four in the space of an hour and the