When Horses Take to the Air: Putting Safety First

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ANIMAL TRANSPORTATION ASSOCIATION -- MARCH 2, 2012 -- Flying performance horses to their meets or mates used to be a lot riskier. Berserk, sick or dead horses are part of the history of "getting it right for flight."

How it's done, and what is done should things go heart-stoppingly wrong at Ground Zero or 30,000 feet, is a feature of the annual international Animal Transportation Association conference, Vancouver, B.C. March 18-21, 2012. All horsemen are most cordially welcomed to a conference which offers many firsts. Speakers from Canada, India, Germany, the U.K., the U.S. and the Netherlands offer new and practical application for transport by wings, wheels, and waves.

"The international Animal Transportation Association certified groom program is a huge part of increasingly incident-free horse flights," says Dr. Sharon Cregier, chairman of the ATA Equine Committee. "ATA conference speaker Tim Harris, SDA, now Pet Relocations Manager with Manoir Kanisha in Montreal, is the founder of the certified groom program. He's internationally sought after by governments, welfare agencies, universities and shippers for his advice on shipping of any animal by any mode". One of four speakers for the air freight industry (other ATA sections speak on road and sea transport of horses), Mr. Harris will review the history, training and accomplishments of the groom program.

"It takes a special person to handle horses strange to them and impart quieting confidence to settle the horse. These men and women receive rigorous apprenticeships," notes Mr. Harris. They undergo review every three years for certification, physical fitness, and background checks. Part of the review are new technologies or approaches to horse handling appropriate to their work such as loading horses into the new rear facing trailers."

KLM, which pioneered its own groom training program, offers its equine veterinarian, Dr. Jan-Willem de Gooijer. Speaker Dr.de Gooijer has just completed a behavioral study of horses in air transport, contributing to a new angle and another first for the ATA Vancouver conference.

Grooms like those of the ATA and KLM may well have prevented the tragedies that accompanied the first horse flight over the Pacific. New Zealand racehorse Up and Coming smashed his box to smithereens over Fiji, continuing his battles on the ground. The great Markham went berserk en route to Tokyo and had to be destroyed in flight. Last summer, a young Warmblood, unaccompanied by an ATA groom, was discovered dead in its air stall after acting up on a flight from Belgium to the States.

What happens when a load of horses is trapped on a cripped plane? Speaker Maj. Dr. Rebecca Gimenez, trained in incident command, founder and principal instructor with Technical Large Animal Rescue (tlaer.org) will deliver the first public report on an extrication exercise at Miami International Airport. Involving the USDA/APHIS/FAA, the exercise was based on a read incident, one of several—such as engine fires—for which the grooms, pilots and rescue crews must prepare.

Horses were first sent aloft by balloon over 200 years ago. Some were on platforms. Some, including four horse teams and carriages, were dangled below burners and baskets. Today, grooms, veterinarians, air crew and rescue workers see that the equine jet-set travels as incident free as possible.

For more on the Vancouver conference, its equine, companion animal, livestock, zoo, biological and genetic materials programs, please visit www.animaltransportationassociation.org to register and take advantage of sponsorship opportunities.

Founded in 1976, the ATA is an international association of zoo, pet, lab animal, and livestock shippers. The ATA keeps its members notified of changes in legislation, regulations, disease outbreaks, improved shipping practices, transport design, developments in animal behaviour studies, import/export issues, security and much else. It also supports programs to improve welfare through better nutrition, handling and training. It launched a program to identify and certify competent large animal attendants for all forms of horse transport.

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