Yesterday was Melbourne Cup Day and so naturally my thoughts turned (yet again) to horses; several of which arrived with the white settlers of the First Fleet.  Horses have continued to arrive on the Australian continent ever since.

But how?

a73a8ff9e4a2e6eef7d01f4299a30170Those first horses arrived by ship, of course, but pause for a moment and consider the logistics of that exercise.  Each horse was lowered into the hold by way of harness, line, block and tackle, and capstan.  The injury rates associated with this technique – to men as well as horses – can only have been appallingly high.

Stalls were erected in the holds and the animals were hoisted directly from the quayside up over the gunwale of the ship and directly down through the open loading hatch and into the hold.  Naval historians speculate that at least some ships used stalls equipped with canvas slings that went under each horse’s belly, helping to keep it steady against the pitch and roll of the ship.

Horses may well experience seasickness and nausea but it’s hard to tell – it is rare for a horse to throw up.  But ‘travel sickness’ was, and remains, common.  It is in fact a disorder of the pulmonary system, caused by poor ventilation and the inability of a horse to put its head down to feed.  A horse’s head in a lowered position (eating grass, for example) continually drains out impurities.  But a horse forced to always eat from a manger has no such opportunity and often falls ill as a result.

In addition to the risk of shipwreck, physical injury and illness, the horses had to survive on rationed water and substandard feed.  Conditions at sea were hardly conducive to keeping fodder and grain fresh and dry.

Once at their destination, the horses once again endured being hoisted out of the hold – onto the dock or into the water to take their chances swimming to shore.   Those that made it (and not a few died within sight of land)  took weeks and months to recover, if at all.

These days horse travel over the sea by aeroplane.

1376460582Specially constructed containers each contain two or three stalls – much like a modern day horse float (trailer) that you see on the roads.  Horses are loaded into the container, then the container is lifted up and into the cargo plane.

Most horses cope well with take-off, turbulence and landing – standing upright the whole time.   They are fed and watered throughout the flight by specialist grooms.  Tranquilisers are used only in an emergency, as a sedated horse has a tendency to buckle at the knees.  In such a confined space, a horse that falls down is a huge problem.

Airfares for horses vary widely, of course, but can be as much as $30,000 for a flight from Australia to the northern hemisphere.

For a top racing thoroughbred, that sort of money is small beer.  Many are frequent flyers, particularly the stallions who stand at stud for six months in the northern hemisphere before flying south for another six months of …work.

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