Olympic Horse Transporter Aims for 'First Class' Service

Martin Atock has seen a lot of things in the more than 20 years he has spent coordinating international equine travel. Atock is managing director of Peden Bloodstock, the official Olympic horse transportation company.

In 1990 he was traveling to a show with a team of American horses along with U.S. Chef d'Equipe Frank Chapot.

Chapot a six-time Olympian who went on to become a course designer and judge, recalled his trip to the Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden in 1956.

"He said that when the aircraft landed in Stockholm, it taxied in and the doors were immediately opened and the horses walked straight down the ramp onto the tarmac," Atock recalled. "The saddles and bridles were unloaded from the back of the aircraft and the horses were tacked up--right there on the apron--and were ridden to the Olympic venue, which was miles away!"

The movement of 303 horses to Hong Kong will be Atock's largest project to date.
This contrasts strongly with the procedures that will be in place as the equine athletes arrive in Hong Kong this summer for the 2008 Olympic Games. Unlike Stockholm, air-conditioned trailers will carry the horses to their stables--which are also air-conditioned--at the core venue in Sha Tin within one hour and 50 minutes.

The movement of 303 horses to Hong Kong will be Atock's largest project to date, and it promises to be a complex exercise that will test the effectiveness of the pre-arranged logistics to the limit.

Atock said the secret of success is, "anticipation--you need to deal with potential problems right away rather than letting them develop."

"The two main concerns (when transporting horses) are claustrophobia and colic," he continued. "Just like people, most horses will travel fine but there may be one or two who are nervous and agitated and this is where the judgment and skill of our flying grooms comes into play. They are the experts and the back-bone of our operation. It used to be the practice to have the horse's own grooms and vets traveling with them, but the flying grooms are uniquely qualified to deal with situations as they arise. They stay calm and cool no matter what happens, and they know all the signs of trouble brewing and can pre-empt problems by taking quick action."

He said that the flying grooms can help to calm the horses, even before loading. "People associated with the horses naturally worry about them and they can project their anxiety onto the horse so easily. If you have worried, nervous people then you will have worried, nervous horses. I don't think most people realize just how sensitive horses are to human anxiety--they pick it up very quickly and become anxious themselves as a result. The flying grooms, on the other hand, have no personal connection with the individual horses and their calmness and kindness helps the horses to feel much more at ease."

Atock said he believes a great deal of his work is about stress-reduction. "Our job is to take care of all the arrangements in relation to getting the horses to the competition venue so that grooms, riders and everyone else can concentrate on what they need to do and everyone, including the horses, arrives in a good frame of mind ahead of the competition."

Martin knows a bit about the strains of competition himself. He enjoyed a successful career in eventing before calling a halt following a riding accident.

Atock said his main priority is to create a "first-class atmosphere" for his equine passengers.

"You'll notice human first-class passengers look relaxed--they are not rushed on or off the aircraft, they have no stress during the flight and when they disembark they look fresh and ready to get on which whatever they have to do," Atock said. "Well, we aim to treat horses in exactly the same way."

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners