Thursday, June 12, 2014
Exporting horses involves many different steps and many different people who care for the horses at different stages of the process - especially when the quarantine is over and the trip to the horses' new home is underway. People who import or export their horses don't get to see the entire process and might be surprised when they find out all that is involved in this somewhat tricky business of international equine export. Here is a brief behind the scenes look at what happens when the horse leaves the quarantine station. 1. First comes the haul from the quarantine facility to the airport of departure. Some quarantine facilities (such as EZ 2 Spot Ranch)do this themselves with their own staff and their own equipment. Others will hire a hauler to do the job. Either way, the horses must travel some distance, usually in the middle of the night, in order to reach the airport in time for the next step, which is ... 2. A five-hour quarantine period in a facility on or near the airport. Horses are put into stalls at this facility where the US Department of Agriculture veterinarian looks them over and verifies that the horses are in good health, are fit to fly, have no injuries and that the paperwork is in order. EZ 2 Spot Ranch usually flies from Bush Intercontinental Airport (Houston, TX). In Houston, the 5-hour facility is owned and operated by the Texas Department of Agriculture. There is a concrete floor and several different types of pens/stalls that are used for the horses during this five-hour period. Some of the stalls have concrete walls. Others have wooden walls. And still others have pipe corral type dividers. 3. About an hour before loading time, the flight containers are delivered to the 5-hour facility. An employee of the ground staff at the airport drives the tug that pulls these containers. The quarantine facility staff and grooms who will fly with the horses prepare the containers for loading the horses. Dividers are positioned properly, shavings are put on the floor, haynets and water containers and buckets are prepared and positioned for the flight. 4. Then it is time to load the horses up a ramp into the shipping container. The USDA port veterinarian supervises the loading, again ensuring that the horses do not sustain any injuries or exhibit any health problems during this process. If a horse is well trained to lead and load, this goes well. If not, there are all sorts of ways that accidents can occur. That is why we spend so much time during quarantine practicing leading and loading. We want to do everything we can to keep your horses safe! 5. When the containers have been loaded and the doors have been secure, the horses leave the care of the quarantine facility staff and grooms. For security reasons, quarantine facility staff and grooms are not allowed to stay with them during that period of time. The airport employee drives the tug to the airline's warehouse. In the warehouse, airline staff take on the responsiblity for caring for the horses while they wait for the plane to arrive. During this time, the grooms are checking in for the flight at the passenger terminal and waiting to be given permission to board the plane. In the case of minis who are flying as belly freight, there are no grooms. No one from the quarantine facility sees the horses after they are loaded into the shipping crates. That's why we strongly discourage that type of travel for minis - but some facilities do handle it that way and some clients prefer that method of travel in order to save money. 6. When the aircraft is ready for boarding, the grooms are allowed to board the plane and wait for the horses to arrive. Airline ground crew staff drive the horses from the warehouse and transfer the containers onto a scissors lift. The airline staff then engages the lift mechanism that brings the horse containers up from ground level and moves them into the aircraft. When the containers are securely in place and airline staff give the "OK", the quarantine facility's grooms can check on the horses inside the containers. This is the first time the grooms have contact with the horses since they left the 5 hour quarantine facility, so the horses have been in the care of airline staff for a period of several hours. 7. Depending upon the airline, grooms may either be allowed to stand in the containers with the horses during taxi, and take off to keep them calm and safe or the grooms may be required to be seated until the aircrafr reaches altitude and the fasten-seat-belts sign is turned off. In that case, the grooms go to check on the horses as soon as possible after take off to make sure they are OK. 8. When the plane is cruising and the horses are doing fine, the grooms return to their seats and are free to read, watch a movie, eat a meal or rest. However, they are seated within earshot of the horses so that if there is a disturbance of any kind, the grooms are aware of it and go immediately to check on the horses, find out what has happened and take whatever steps are necessary to resolve the issue. Some horses are very good fliers and they eat, sleep and relax during the flight. Others are nervous fliers and they can paw, kick, bite their neighbors, attempt to rear up or even try to jump out of the container. Things can get very interesting during the flight! Most experienced grooms can show you their scars from in-flight incidents with unhappy horses. 9. When it is time for landing, again it depends upon the airline. Some allow the grooms to be in the container with the horses during landing. Others require the grooms to be seated until the fasten-seat-belts sign goes off. Then the grooms can do a final check to make sure the horses are OK. 10. At that point, the grooms have to leave the horses in the hands of the airline and ground crew staff again. They are not allowed to stay with them. The horse containers go down the scissors lift, onto the trolley, and off to the airline warehouse. Meanwhile, the grooms exit the aircraft with the other passengers and/or crew, retrieve their luggage and clear customs. They then exit the airport and go to the warehouse where they wait for the horses to arrive. This can also be a period of several hours in which no one from the quarantine facility has access to the animals. 11. After the customs documents are found to be in order and the port veterinarians at the arrival airport have examined the health certificates - another period of several hours in which the grooms are not allowed to be with the horses - the grooms are allowed to go to the part of the warehouse where the horses have been waiting for offloading. The grooms are assisted by members of the airline staff to offload the horses and either put them into transit stalls or take them directly to the new owners or haulers who have come to pick them up. 12. When horses go to transit stalls to wait for another flight to continue their journey,they are in the care of airline staff during the entire waiting period. The grooms are not allowed to remain in the airline's secure area after putting the horses in the stalls. This can be a matter of several days, depending upon when the next flight is ready to leave. With cargo planes, delays are the "norm" and a flight that may be scheduled to leave on a Tuesday doesn't actually go anywhere for two, three or more days later. 13. When the waiting time is over and the next flight is ready to begin, the grooms are allowed access to the horses. They are accompanied by airline staff, where they move the horses from the transit stalls and load them into the flight containers for the next leg of the journey. 14. The procedure is the same as it was in the beginning. The grooms leave the horses after loading, go to the passenger terminal to clear passport control and wait for a shuttle to take them to the aircraft. The horses are in the care of airline staff and ground crew until they are reunited with the groom on the aircraft. 15. When the horses arrive at the final destination airport, the grooms must again leave the horses in the care of airline staff and ground crew in order to go to the terminal and clear customs. Depending upon the country's visa laws, grooms may be required to stay on the aircraft and continue back to Europe, without seeing the horses again. In some countries the grooms are allowed to be picked up at the passenger terminal after clearing customs and go with the new owners to help offload the horses from the shipping containers. In either case, the horses are out of the groom's supervision and under the care of airline staff and ground crew for a period of time - usually several hours. So that, in a nutshell, is how it works. We have had clients express surprise that we don't have 100% control of the horses at all times. It would be nice if it worked that way - but the realities of international travel are that horses must pass through many different hands and travel through many different secure areas in various parts of the world in which our staff are simply not allowed.