It's taken weeks of organising but I'm sat here in Doha Qatar for the Invitational CDI 5* Competition.
Preparation for this event has been somewhat stressful, making sure we had all the correct paperwork, which flights the horses, myself and Alice [Oppenheimer] were on and our grooms, we knew at least one of us wanted to be on the horses flight and the task of getting to Liège in Belgium with plenty of time for the horses to have a rest.
Alice and I decided it would be best to travel together, as this was a new experience for both of us and the horses. Originally the plan was that I would fly with the horses as I was driving them to the airport, and Alice would fly from Brussels, but a week before this all changed and it turn out we would both be on the horse flight which was great but meant we would have to leave two days earlier. So re-organisation began with planning to travel overnight and give the horses a day’s rest, as our flight was at 1.20am.
Arriving at Alice's yard at 7pm on Thursday, Squeaks [WG Rubins Nite] got a couple of hours rest before we left for Dover. Just as we were about to leave, one of the tack locker doors on my lorry came off! Luckily Alice knew of someone even at 9pm at night who could come and fix it, so we managed to get on our way. With everything loaded and tack locker doors intact our journey to Doha had begun.
We had a great crossing and I managed to get a little sleep, and then sailed onto our day stabling in Belgium one hour away from Liège airport. We arrived at 8.30am and stabled the boys up for the day; it was a massive showjumping yard so we just relaxed for the day, waiting to leave for the airport at 7pm.
We had to make sure that the tack lockers were the first thing off the lorry at the airport so lifting 150kgs on and off the lorry was a struggle but we had some help from the strong men at the yard.
All packed and ready we headed to the airport, both excited and apprehensive.
We arrived at the Cargo airport early - it seemed we were the only ones there, until we got a knock on the door and it turned out to be the British agents, vet and professional groom. We found out then that they had diverted a cargo plane especially from Amsterdam to pick Squeaks and Del [Headmore Delegate] up from Liège. They had their own private jet!!!
Alice and I were whisked off to the passenger side of the airport to have our passports and baggage checked, while Squeaks and Del were driven through onto the airfield and into a warehouse building, we met them on the other side where we loaded them in a trailer-type crate along with their hand luggage.
Our lockers were checked out by a sniffer dog and we left the boys and boarded the plane. There is a professional groom in the crate with them as they are loaded onto the plane. The plane had four reclining seats, a kitchen area and a loo, then there is only a curtain separating the cockpit from us, and the rest was cargo.
We watched the boys being driven along the airfield over to the aircraft and loaded onto the plane by a lift - that was the most nerving part for the horses because of the movement of the crate and the noise. Once on board we could go and say hello, then we had to return to our seats in preparation for take-off.
It was really smooth take off, much smoother travel then when they are in a lorry. In the air we are able to go through to them and offer them water and check they are all ok, they were very happy and settled and seemed to be enjoying their new experience.
I was lucky enough to visit the cockpit while we were flying, a once in a lifetime opportunity, then caught up on two nights of missed sleep. The professional groom was checking on the horses frequently and Alice went through too later on. They travelled so well! Landing was smooth and they looked happy to be on the ground.
They were unloaded onto the lift and driven to a specially designed facility with stables, where the vet checked them. Then Alice and I were whisked off again to go through immigration, once through we were told that the pro groom would load the boys onto their transportation to the showground, so we were picked up in a brand new Mercedes and chauffeur driven to the Al Shaqab venue.
The Staduim at Al Shaqab was beyond belief, we were shown to the accreditation office, then to the stables where we awaited their arrival, it gave us enough time to sort out their stables. They arrived happy and fit, which was a great relief.....
We left them to settle in and we were taken to our Hotel, (40 minutes away) it was the newly built St Regis in the middle of the city of Doha with its own private beach. What an amazing building. We were met by a butler and had a couple of hours to get ourselves sorted before heading back to Al Shaqab to check on the horses and put them to bed for the evening, before heading back to the hotel to get some well-earned rest.
Follow Hayley and Squeak's journey online at: www.wgdressage.co.uk
Part Two of Travelling to Doha coming soon….