Soft landing as 62 horses touch down in HK for showjumping showcase

Rider Richard Spooner lands with 62 horses in tow ahead of weekend showjumping event

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 10:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 10:03pm

Top American rider Richard Spooner and 62 horses worth hundreds of millions of dollars flew in safely on Monday morning from Liege in Belgium for the Longines Hong Kong Masters at AsiaWorld-Expo this weekend.

"It was one expensive flight as there was a lot of quality horses on board," laughed Spooner, who accompanied his two, Cristallo and Billy Bianca, in the cargo hold on the 15-hour flight, which included a stopover in Dubai. "If you do the math, I would think the total cost of the horses is well over US$30 million."

The world's top 25 showjumpers and their horses will take part in the US$1 million Hong Kong Masters from Friday until Sunday. This is the second year of the lavish sport-cum-social extravaganza and as ever the horses needed special care, with organisers chartering an Emirates flight to transport them all together.

If you do the math, I would think the total cost of the horses is well over US$30 million
Richard Spooner

"I was in Europe and decided to come with the horses. Whenever I get the chance, I fly with my horses as I want to be on hand to ensure their trip is as comfortable as possible. But not every rider can do that due to their schedule," said Spooner, who has over 100 Grand Prix victories.

One horse was unable to be boarded after vets ruled it was too nervous to fly. "Transporting live animals means we cannot control everything 100 per cent," said Andy Gillissen, logistics and horse manager for the event. "Even with all precautions and proper planning, something can happen at the last minute.

"If a horse poses problems for embarking or is not fit for travel, he will be left behind as no risks are taken. The health, safety and well-being of the horses are the number one priority and first criteria taken into account when a flying decision needs to be taken. "All horses travelled extremely well and we are happy to report there were no incidents during the entire flight and also during take off and landing, which are the most critical moments for the horses. After landing, a team of vets have been monitoring the horses and all are doing very well and have accustomed to their new stables at AsiaWorld-Expo."

Besides Spooner, eight others accompanied the horses, including one vet, a professional equine flight attendant or "sky jockey", and six grooms. The in-flight meal was "plenty of hay and water, but no feed, to prevent horses from getting sick."

Filip Vande Cappelle, managing director at European Horse Services, said: "The cost of flying each horse down is more than a first-class ticket."