March is when the world’s equestrian events really start to take off again, with 134 international tournaments scheduled across the globe – a monthly number that increases over the next few months, but never completely stops. Even in the quieter months of DEC-FEB, there are still 50-90 events scheduled. Which means that horses are always on the move – and many of them travelling through the Horse Inn at Liège Airport.
Almost exactly one year ago, 20MAR 22, I wrote about Qatar Airways Cargo’s horse shipments leaving the Horse Inn to prestigious events across the
Middle East, and Marcel Schoeters reported on the actual beginnings of the Horse Inn back at the start on 07MAR16. Challenge Handling, which has been
running the facility since it opened that year, can certainly claim to be a Horse Whisperer. Before the Horse Inn went into operation, horses in the region were mainly travelling via Schiphol and
Maastricht, yet already less than two years later, Liège was getting the full Douze Points from horse forwarders across Europe (Heiner Siegmund reported)
7000 horses and more
So, it’s no wonder that some of the world’s most well-known airlines, such as Qatar Airways Cargo or Emirates and of course Challenge Group’s own Challenge Airlines, entrust their horse shipments to the Challenge Handling specialists working at the Horse Inn. In 2022, the Horse Inn welcomed 7000 horses to its stalls – that works out at an average 19 horses a day. 19 very different characters that require delicate handling on their way to the world's equestrian events at destinations such as Doha, Mexico, Miami, New York, or Shanghai. David Alexis, General Manager of Challenge Handling in Liège, explains: “The infrastructure we have at the Horse Inn is unique within Europe. Every aspect, from the size of the 55 individual horse stalls to the specific type of feed and cleaning products, is in alignment with the strict regulations and requirements stipulated by leading equestrian bodies. Horses are highly sensitive and valuable, requiring complex handling and ultimate comfort, particularly if they are being flown to compete in prestigious events. Our specialized staff ensure top quality, VIP service.”
Not just a Horse Inn
That VIP service extends to the horses’ grooms. Perhaps not so well known, but the Horse Inn also provides affordable overnight accommodation, including free Wi-Fi, showers and toilet facilities, a secure storage area, and access to nearby restaurants. Both groom and horse can therefore rest and relax prior to their flight or further road transport, at whatever time this should be. The Horse Inn is open 24-hours and provides around-the-clock veterinary and dedicated customs services. The press release points out that the airport's proximity to Europe's other main airports such as Amsterdam, London, Paris, and Frankfurt, is another point in its favor.
Olympics partner and Olympian share of horse transports
Hay Sasson, Chief Operating Officer of Challenge Group, emphasizes the group’s strict and ethical approach to transporting animals. Of the group, Challenge Airlines IL is CEIV Live certified – a formality for the airline which took place at the WCS in SEP22. Challenge Handling is due to receive its own official certification later this year – a kind of Intel Inside stamp of approval for what the group has been doing for years, already: “The wellbeing of any animal is in our corporate culture. Respect and the correct care and protection is ensured by assiduous, trained staff, who are experts in handling all kinds of animals – with the strict exception of any animals intended for laboratory use, as per Challenge Group's ethical code of conduct. Our expertise has meanwhile established Liège as one of the best gateways in the world for horses. Not only is Challenge Handling an Olympics partner for horse transports to locations outside Europe, but we were also proud, in 2022, to be appointed to continue to run the Horse Inn for another five years. And our Challenge Airlines, too, are regularly entrusted with some of the world's most valuable horse transports. In 2022 we carried around 5000 horses on our own aircrafts.”
Don’t change a winning team!
The Horse Inn contract came up for renewal last year, and many of Challenge Handling’s customers wrote letters of recommendation to Liège Airport to keep the Horse Inn in the hands of Challenge Handling. Belgian-based European Horse Services was one such reference-provider: “We would highly recommend and request the airport authorities not to change winning teams and to keep Challenge Handling as operator of the facility, and even to make the use of the Horse Inn compulsory for all live equine shipments through Liège Airport. This is in the interest of animal safety and well-being.”
Aside from pristine conditions, cleanliness, and friendly staff, Challenge Group is also proactive in developing its own equipment to ensure the horses’ comfort and safety. This includes horse stalls and a unique, horse trailer prototype for transfers between the Horse Inn and the aircraft. Were these the result of horse whispers, one wonders?
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