Challenge Handling: The Air Cargo Horse Whisperer

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7000 horses made their way through the Horse Inn at Liège Airport in 2022, and onto carefully planned charters flying to the world’s equestrian events at destinations such as Doha, Mexico, Miami, New York, or Shanghai. From racehorses to dressage or thoroughbreds, Challenge Handling has handled them all. The Challenge Group subsidiary has been running the Horse Inn since the state-of-the-art facility was opened in 2016. It is the sole operator serving the entire Liège cargo community and enjoys an excellent standing among leading specialised horse shippers, forwarders, and international airlines, alike. That reputation reaches beyond the Belgian borders. European horse transports to the world’s leading events primarily pass through the Wallonian airport.

“The infrastructure we have at the Horse Inn is unique within Europe,” says David Alexis, General Manager of Challenge Handling in Liège. “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 specialised staff ensure top quality, VIP service.” Not only does the Horse Inn serve as a place for horses to rest prior to their flight or further road transport, but it also offers affordable accommodation for their accompanying grooms, with good connections to restaurants and other facilities in the vicinity. Around-the-clock access to vets and dedicated customs procedures complete the service. Liège’s proximity to Europe’s largest airports such as Amsterdam, London, Paris, and Frankfurt, adds to its suitability.

“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,” says Hay Sasson, Chief Operating Officer of Challenge Group. “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.”

Several Challenge Handling customers wrote reference letters to Liège Airport when the management of the Horse Inn came up for renewal in 2022: “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 wellbeing” was Belgian-based European Horse Services’ recommendation. Others, such as Janah Management Company Ltd, commended the professional expertise of the staff, and the cleanliness of the facility.

Challenge Group’s many years of specialised equine experience in the air and on the ground, has led it to invest in and develop its own horse stalls as well as a unique, horse trailer prototype to transfers the animals from the Horse Inn to the aircraft and vice versa. While Challenge Airlines IL was awarded CEIV Live in September 2022, Challenge Handling’s separate, official certification is due to be presented later this year.

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