Working as an Airline Groom

Transporting horses by plane: One Adventuress shares her experiences volunteering as an airline groom traveling the world accompanying horses on their flights.

Author: Krystal Kelly

How it All Began…

When Eileen Hupp was 4 years old, she begged her parents for a pony and she never stopped begging until six years later at the age of ten, her wish came true. Her parents thought it would just be a phase but here she is today, 23 years old and recently finished her degree in Equine Business Management. She now owns three horses and couldn’t be any less “horse-crazy.” 

“During my time in college, I got in contact with a person who organizes flights for horses,” she shares, “It was an emergency, he needed a groom who could fly with some horses to Mexico the next day. I did not hesitate, packed my bag and took off to Mexico the next morning.”

“I was a groom,” she continues, “as a groom you help to load the horses into the containers, which then go into the plane. The grooms make sure that the horses stay calm during take-off and landing. During the flight, they provide the horses with water and make sure that all horses are fine.”

“Equestrian adventures make it possible to see the most amazing hidden spots which the usual tourist will never discover.”

Eileen loves to travel and this job opportunity thrown in her lap was the perfect way of combining her passion for horses with her love of travel. Having horses at home usually makes it difficult to travel as often as one would like, but this job gave her the freedom to have the cake and eat it too. “I had never heard about this job before, but there are always surprises in the equestrian world…” 

rows of seats with people in an airplane

Safety First

Eileen explains that while being an airline groom, you never know which other grooms you will be flying with, which was part of the fun. “It’s always interesting to hear their stories and different backgrounds during the long flights.” There are professional grooms working on the plane as a full time career, but there are also horse traders which deliver the horses directly to the client. The professional grooms from the airline give instructions to the other grooms, typically volunteers like Eileen. The professionals have special training in order to ensure the safety of the horses while flying. “We never had any accidents or stressful situations. The grooms are all very experienced with horses and there are clear plans for every situation. The staff knew all the tricks and managed to load the most difficult horses in the horse boxes without stress or tension.”

A Little Bit of Advice

“You definitely need lots of experience with horses, young horses and stallions if you’re interested in being a professional airline groom. You need to be very well organized, extremely flexible, be able to communicate in different languages, work well in a team and have a high sense of responsibility. I didn’t get paid for this job because I wasn’t a professional groom, but I got the opportunity to see the world and I am very thankful for this,” she says.

Traveling with Horses to Unique Countries

“I flew to different destinations in North and South America. The length of my stay always depended on my student budget. One time I only stayed for one day between flights, and another trip I stayed for three weeks. But, usually I would stay three to four days. This gave me enough time to explore the city without spending too much money.”

Flying planes and underneath a horse which is ridden

When asked what some of her favorite places to visit during this working experience was, she replied, “My absolute favorite was Mexico City! It is not the ‘typical’ tourist destination and after one day, I didn’t really know what to see in the city itself. So I took the bus to the beautiful pyramids in Teotihuacan. After that, I drove to the Rancho Las Cascadas, which I absolutely recommend! They have a beautiful farm, very nice horses and Mexican gauchos which will show you the most beautiful spots on horseback. The ranch is directly next to the waterfalls, after riding the horses you have time to relax, get a massage or try some home-made margaritas.”

Life of a Traveling Equine Airline Groom

Working as an airline groom during her college days was a special experience for Eileen and she even had a funny situation. “Once I had a very beautiful, but playful young horse on the plane. During the flight, I filled the water in a bucket and lifted the bucket to offer it to the horse to drink. He dove in with his nose and started playing with the water. Then he gave a quick push, the bucket slipped out of my hand and I spilled five liters of water over myself. Me and the other grooms had a good laugh!”

As far as advice, Eileen had this to say, “If someone were interested in being an equine airline groom, I would just contact some international horse transport companies in your country and ask them if there are any possibilities to join the team. But be aware that you will have to be very flexible, you should be able to fly at any moment, as you don’t always get much notice in advance!”

Making Memories to Last a Lifetime

When asked what being an “Equestrian Adventuress” means to her, Eileen shared, “It means that you have to be a special kind of crazy and infected with the horse-virus. No one else would understand why you would get in a taxi in a foreign country, make the taxi driver drive for hours on the craziest country roads, just to end up at a horse farm in the middle of nowhere. I not only do those adventures because I love horses, I think that equestrian adventures make it possible to see the most amazing hidden spots which the usual tourist will never discover. You also get more in contact with locals and really get to know the country. Traveling is all about the experience, making memories for a lifetime, getting to make new friends and understand the culture… and equestrian adventures are the best way to do this!”

An interesting Video about how horses traveled to the FEI World Equestrian Games by Plane in 2018. Credits: FEI TV on YouTube

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