Flying horses around the world is a serious business, particularly when those horses can be worth several million dollars each. If you were a wealthy race horse owner from the Middle East and had just bought a prized stallion from the US, you’d want to know it’s travelling in safe hands. That’s where flying grooms, or animal air attendants come in. Their job is to accompany horses in the cargo hold, and ensure their charges have, as the phrase goes, a safe and pleasant flight.
“Our job was to look after 12 horses, including one that was worth $3 million,” says Hannah. “They can get quite stressed easily and if that happens their intestines can cramp up. So our job was to hold their reins and keep them calm. It was quite daunting to start with but mine were very well behaved and relatively easy to look after. Throughout the flight we were giving them food and water and basically having a chat with them.”
“Some passengers can be uneasy about it.”
But it was not all straightforward. The most stressful times were during take-off and landing so flying grooms have to stay standing for that. Then there’s turbulence. “It’s quite surreal standing up in a plane with turbulence.”
Unlike most animal air attendants, Hannah had an additional tool to help her with the job – her Cat S60. “I did use the phone to make sure they were not overheating,” she says. “On the day we loaded them it was 35ºC. We used the phone to monitor the heat of the boxes, and make sure the horses were not too hot. I also used it before the flight on the ranch to help locate a horse that had escaped the paddock. It was pitch black and I used the thermal camera to spot it. You can also use thermal imaging to check for saddle sores and inflammation,” she adds, “but that wasn’t an issue on this occasion.”
“I used the phone to make sure they were not too hot.”
The biggest challenge in fact, was the reaction of other passengers. While some horses are transported on cargo flights, horses will often travel in dedicated crates in the hold of a regular passenger plane, as in this case.
“The passengers aren’t necessarily aware there are horses on board,” adds Hannah. “When I returned to my seat after take-off, the passenger next to me asked where I’d been. And then he said: ‘And why are you covered in straw?’ Some passengers can be quite uneasy about it.”