Flying with Horses - Part 2 of Moving from the West Coast to the East Coast!
On my move from CA to VA - there were many ducks to line up in row! Part One can be found here, this is the story of getting the horses on a plane!
Back in Cali, I was getting ready for the flight with the horses. I reported to the barn at midnight. (Full disclosure, I like to be asleep by 9 pm. Being awake and doing things at midnight was going to be hard.) The local shipper was picking us up at 12:30 am to drive to the airport, we needed to be there at 2:45 AM. I won’t lie and say this was adventurous, it was horrible in the middle of the night because I like to sleep and this was seriously messing with my body’s schedule. After loading the trailer, we arrived at the airport at 2 AM - there’s not a lot of traffic at that time of night. There was one other rig with us, a giant 18 wheeler with four horses on board. (Cool story - the giant rig had JUST been wrapped with special “American Pharoah” photos and the driver had picked up AP himself just the day before!)
A very special rig for AP.
The rigs enter a “holding” area with portable restrooms and not much else. It’s really a giant parking lot. Then a pilot car comes and picks up two rigs at a time and we go through a secured gate. We all exit the vehicles and check in with the security there, showing our ID’s and having the rigs looked over. Then the pilot car escorts us to the airplane, where we line up and wait. We are allowed to drive over and drop the trunks for future loading on the plane. I drop my personal belongings at the rear of the plane, there’s a tiny ladder for me to use to enter the plane. (Well it’s a bit more than a rope ladder but it’s no red carpet type either.)
No fancy waiting lounges with wifi and jetways here.
Until the actual loading, we wait in the rig. For a long time. This is the part where an impatient horse will become a patient one, whether he likes it or not. When the plane is ready, the horses start to load, one at a time. The rigs are pulled up to the ramp, and each horse is led up. The stalls in the plane are built around the horses, there are no cargo boxes like some passenger airlines use for horses.
This loading takes a while, and by 4:30 am the plane is getting ready for take off. The boys are tucked into their huge padded stalls, with hay and hay pellets hanging, and I’m in the tail of the airplane buckled up and freezing my butt off. The plane is kept like the North Pole, as all of the horses really heat it up throughout the flight. Even though it’s June I’m wearing a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, a hooded sweatshirt, jeans, wool socks, and I also have a giant blanket with me. I checked the weather in KY before I left and I’m sure that this outfit will be just fine when I land and it’s 95 degrees and totally humid.
The boys in their stalls. You can see the red padding of the stalls in front of them. There's actually several feet of space in the rows of stalls to allow for hay nets, water buckets, and easy movement to the horses.
I try and sleep but that’s just not happening. Partly the cold, partly the “WOW this is exciting”, partly the “I’m so tired I have come full circle into fully awake somehow”.
And off we go! There is nothing happening in the cabin as the plane takes off. No horse kicks, no horse bangs, no horse seems to notice that the airplane is zooming along and then not touching the ground anymore. It appears that only the humans know we are flying, the horses seem to think they are on some sort of new fangled trailer. Once the plane does it’s thing at cruising altitude, I get up to use the restroom and check on the horses. Luckily my yoga skills come in handy, there is only a narrow passageway to squeeze between the stalls and the sides of the plane. You must squat a bit and work your way through, navigating over all of the straps and buckles that help to hold the stalls in place. This is great fun in the dimly lit cabin, when you really need to use the restroom, and you are totally distracted by all of the amazing horses just looking at you like “Can I have a carrot for being such a good boy while flying please?”.
The gauntlet between the plane's side and the stalls. Brings out your inner ninja.
I return to my seats (I have three actually, which makes for some possibly productive napping) and try to grab some shut eye. I have a book, guaranteed to make me sleepy, and a special “flying with horses” playlist of super mellow and snoozy music. I am also loopy from being off schedule, so it seems logical to me that I can sleep. Logic goes out the window and I can barely doze, and for some reason I am able to read more of my book than I ever have before in one sitting and I have practically memorized all of the lyrics to all of the mellow and boring songs.
Flip side, I can check on the horses a bit and go to the bathroom more. The boys are super relaxed, and unlike a trailer ride, resting one leg at a time and snoozing. Being on a trailer is hard work for horses, balancing the whole way. Seems the plane ride was a lot easier on their bodies - like relaxing at the pool or chilling in a paddock. (This made me feel super about my decision to fly them, not to mention covering a boat load of states in a flight under 4 hours.)
More good horse behavior during the descent. Some nickering as ears are starting to pop, I have heard through the horse grapevine that this is common. Munching on hay helps, too! The on board flight Grooms are total pros - and before I can get my belongings together, the plane doors are open, the first rig is ready to receive the first horses off the plane, and all is right with the world. I climb down the steps at the tail of the plane, walk over to the rig where one of my boys is loaded and settle in. Boy number two coming down, and by then the luggage and trunks are ready for us to pick up as we head out of the airport to the layover station.
That is the tip of Miguel's ears as he comes down the ramp into the van. Pretty cool!
By this point I have also realized a two things:
- The weather forecast in KY was correct about the 95 degrees.
- I am severely overdressed.
- I am not prepared AT ALL for the humidity.
But luckily, the van driver that is taking us to the layover station has the A/C cranked to within an inch of it’s life, and I am able to remove a few layers for some relief. But this is doing nothing for the amount of stick that has glued my jeans to my person. Oh well!
The layover station is owned by a Veterinarian, which is one of the reasons I picked it. It’s a short 20 minutes from the airport, and my first introduction into the world of green earth. And miles of fences, and baby horses all over the place. The boys are unloaded, popped into wonderful comfy stalls, and I begin the process of unpacking what I need for the day to get them settled. Any guesses as to the first thing I did after the boys had a snack and some water? (You are correct if you said take temps!!) And completes the flying portion of our journey.
More to come!