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US Olympic horses travel to London in style

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The elite U.S. three-day eventing equine squad landed in London on Monday June 18 2012, on a FedEx flight, having taken the red eye from Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi)

They didn't have to absolutely, positively get them there overnight, but when the U.S. Equestrian Federation sent some of its horses to London for the Olympics, it was a special delivery.

The elite U.S. three-day eventing equine squad landed in London on Monday on a FedEx flight, having taken the red eye from Newark, N.J. They're not the first competitors to arrive as the countdown to the games clicks to less than 40 days away, but they are among the most pampered.

"They are all special," said Tim Dutta, who owns the international horse transport company that organized the trip. "We are working on everybody's dream."

Bringing these elite athletes across the Atlantic Ocean is a logistical feat -- one small example of the many people and efforts under way behind the scenes to make the games go off without a hitch. This is particularly true for horses -- the only animals that take part in the games, which start July 27 and end Aug. 12.

Let's just start by saying that these 10 are not just any old group of horses. These animals have passports that would be the envy of any human wishing to travel the world. That said, they get used to traveling, and most of the time, they don't ask for much -- not even an in-flight meal.

But grooms traveling with Twizzel, Mighty Nice, Arthur and the other seven horses that made the journey would maybe give them a bit of hay.

Horses like these can move in their boxes quite a bit, unlike human sardines on regular flights. But in case any of them gets bothered by the noise, the grooms might stuff some cotton in their ears, says Dr. Brendan Furlong, the veterinarian for the American eventing team.

Carrots are always a good way to calm any horse who gets nervous -- or even a horse tranquilizer in the rare case a prized animal gets really edgy. The goal is to get them to London stress-free.

As for the grooms, the vet, and the other humans that cater to these pampered prancers, well, they aren't exactly going first class. Furlong says he'll usually ask the pilots to keep the plane kind of cool, so sometimes this crowd finds itself wrapped in blankets to keep warm. There's no in-flight movie, so jokes about whether they choose between `'Seabiscuit" or `'War Horse" don't really cut it.

`'It's not a job for the faint of heart," Furlong said. `'You need to have someone who is a very confident flier and who can intervene quickly to calm a stressed horse."

After all, 1,200 pounds of stressed horse can be an intimidating prospect.

Furlong says the crews are usually very accommodating -- and always want to come back even briefly to see their precious cargo.

But even these horses didn't escape Britain's strict rules on quarantine. Furlong arranged to have a farm near Newark International Airport set up as a special quarantine area to comply with the U.K.'s rules -- though admittedly the cherished 10 only needed five hours of intense scrutiny to meet the criteria. Nothing but the best for this crowd. Really.

But do they know -- do the horses know that it's the Olympics? That it's a special event that happens only every four years?

Dutta swears they do.

"They're athletes," Dutta said of horses that jump big big fences and run oh so fast. "They love what they do."