How do two ‘all-American’ Saddlebred horses cross the globe, from California to Abu Dhabi, to begin a new life in the desert? Well, with almost four-years of searching, planning and intensive training, a whole lot of faith, and of course, the team at Equitrans…
“We are an American family that found ourselves in the UAE almost four years ago,” says Roma Litton. “However, living in Abu Dhabi was never planned, in fact, right now we’re supposed to be retired in Texas with our kids, pets and horses,” she laughs.
Back in 2018, John, Roma’s husband had, after 26-years in the Marine Corps been offered a short term and unaccompanied assignment with US Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
Roma, the kids, the pets and the horses remained in California finishing things up before the much anticipated retirement move to Texas.
However, it didn’t take long before the assignment evolved into a full ‘accompanied’ tour. “Oddly enough,” says Roma, “I had two immediate reactions: is this really happening? And, what about my horses?”
Although the horses on Roma’s mind were never going to be a simple shipment.
Both horses were entering their ‘golden-years’ (aged 16 and 21 years-old), with Royal having spent nearly ten years living pretty much feral before joining the Litten clan, and of course, the staggering 13,000 plus kilometres between Los Angeles and the UAE.
Of the horses, Roma says, “our five-gaited mare, Mariaptor was a filly out of a Number-One World Champion ASB Sire, Periaptor, who’s been at the top of Stud books since 2006. She was bred in Missouri but ended up in California.”
“We met her when her original owner suffered a catastrophic back injury, and set out to find a new home which would love her as much as she did. Mari was 17 at the time, and although people were offering huge sums of money for her, we found ourselves selected from the countless applicants. Her papers were signed over to us after we paid the princely sum of one-dollar, with the promise to take care of her for the rest of her life.”
“At the time, we thought we would be moving to Texas, so to improve the experience for Mari, we decided to find her a Saddlebred friend.”
“Our search led us to Royal Brigade (Royal or Roy), out of Sultan’s Royal Flush, a gelding who had fallen on hard times and landed up at Falcon Ridge Horse Rescue. He was pretty-much unhandled, and again we paid next to nothing. And again, we completed the paperwork in the process, making the binding promise that we would take care of this horse for the rest of his life.”
For Roma, the promises she made to both the horses and their previous guardians were binding.
“My connection to both my horses is simple,” she says. “Life as a military spouse and a mother is, and was, tough. We did so many deployments as a family, and I was having an increasingly difficult time in coping with it all.”
“Having found Mari and Royal, I discovered the real joy was in the re-starts; the groundwork, the barefoot husbandry, and the natural horsemanship. And, it was through these processes, I found myself benefiting from the emotional and physical connection to them both, and our family was also healing.”
“The kids began joining me for quiet days at the farm simply being outside and connecting with animals. The days would drift by, as would our stresses. Even my husband whose job in the Marines was incredibly stressful, found huge benefit from this new way of life, in his quiet times and training sessions with them.”
The Adventure Begins…
It was on that night back in early 2018 that Roma first began searching for quotes and shippers who might be able to organise moving her horses more than halfway around the globe.
“I sent my first email to Equitrans in 2019, after a follow up internet search from the previous year,” says Roma. “I was determined that wherever I ended up, my horses would be there too… we made promises that had to be kept. That, and they were both my and my family’s lifeline to wellness and internal peace.”
“Equitrans sent their quotes quickly, which was the first sign that this might be the company we want to proceed with… of course, Victoria (Johnson) was also very kind, understanding and tried to answer all the questions I had at the time.”
“Fast forward to January 2021, now it was clear that the UAE was going to be our long term plan, and it was time for another email to Equitrans. I had initially reached out to other UAE based shipping companies for rates and options, however they either didn’t have the service/relationships/experience to work with US based shippers or couldn’t offer the competitive rates that Equitrans consistently offered to us. I spoke with horse friends here in the UAE that I deeply trusted, and it always led back to Equitrans.”
“Having chosen the transporter, it was time to prepare the horses. Completing any journey of this length requires significant preparation, never mind that my horses were older (with Mari being 21, an age many in the industry believe to be aged) and Royal especially, who was a fairly unhandled rescue.”
“Yet, fate stepped in in the shape of Camille McCutchon (of Camille’s Mustangs on YouTube and Instagram). She understood the background of Mari and Royal and agreed to take us on as clients. The laundry list was VERY long, especially with Royal… but at the top of the list: train and help the horses to be able to travel long hours in a trailer, quarantine, stand in tighter air stalls, be handled by multiple people in a variety of situations, noises, weather, etc. With Camille specialising in Mustangs, raw, unhandled American Mustangs, we knew we had found the right person, and were honoured she was willing to take a breed with backgrounds vastly different from the Mustangs in her program. Royal started training in July 2021, and Mari followed on in September 2021.”
“After this, the planning began in earnest. We devised a timeline and worked with Equitrans to finalise the best time for them to travel. Equitrans then connected us to Centurion Logistics and Randi. Randi helped us understand the quarantine process and transport timelines from Camille’s training center to their quarantine center. Plus liaised with Camille throughout the process.”
“Things moved quickly after this with the horses completing 30 days quarantine in Texas. It was incredibly stressful for me, but the horses did really well. The horses were plumped up before arrival and Randi stayed in contact with us during the whole process, we were even able to visit them on a quick family holiday visit to Dallas in December 2021.”
“From our end, we could really see that Equitrans and Centurion had a good working relationship. We received photos regularly and updates whenever we asked for them. However, even the best laid plans can and do go awry. Issues with the aviation industry meant the horses were delayed, but Equitrans was proactive as soon as they knew there would be delays, and by the end of the process in the USA, we were confident of their wellbeing and arrival.”
“The horses then had a long haul from East Texas to Chicago O’Hare Airport, with an overnight stay in Chicago. They then loaded in the snow onto their flight to Frankfurt, Germany. We poured over the videos sent from each location and knew they were doing so well.”
“It was then a quick stop in Frankfurt, and onwards to Abu Dhabi. And, for us, the updates continued to come in. They were relaxed, they were eating, they were drinking… we were so relieved,” she says.
“In Abu Dhabi, both my horses came out of the air stalls looking well, they loaded quickly onto the trucks and were then on their way to Dubai for 10-days quarantine.”
Roma visited the horses on day-three of their quarantine and says she was relieved to see their feeding and eating, their huge comfortable stalls, and that the staff were experienced in handling any needs or concerns that came up during their stay. She says, “the stable manager was very quick to respond to any questions or updates and was very understanding of their long journey to the UAE.”
The horses’ final journey was by road with Equitrans to Royal Stables. She says, “watching them come out of the truck was such a huge relief, it was surreal. The horses looked great, they were incredibly well taken care of, with great body condition.”
And, what now for Mari and Royal?
“To be honest? Nothing right now… just reconnect, it’s been a long long loooooonnnnng haul. If anything, continue to promote the benefits of a natural horse life. Be stewards for natural horsemanship, connective horsemanship, and the barefoot life. Connect to other people who might have unregistered or registered American Saddlebreds. Maybe others who find themselves considering this breed, or a horse with a life similar to theirs, in other countries around the world, will see that this breed is well suited for the UAE. Privately owned horses can thrive here, with the correct travel partners and preparations.”
“Sometimes, the plan is to not really have one, and see where life takes us. That being said, my thoughts, my hopes, and my prayers are that we can explore life here in the sands, the ocean, and the different Emirates together. They’ve already covered the globe… why stop there with so much to see and do here!”
“I look at them at Royal Stables, whether in their stalls with their buddy Bambi (a new Arabian additional to the Litten family) or out in their huge paddock, and I still cannot believe it. For our family, it’s not just bringing horses in, it also represents our new cycle of life beginning in the UAE, while honouring our past phase of life in the USA.”
“How to process something that was just a thought, a hope and a prayer offered to the Universe? I still cannot fully comprehend how many people, moments and experiences all came into alignment, all at the perfect time? For us, they were all nothing short of little miracles and honestly, God’s gentle guiding hand. If I think about it, my eyes well up with tears… as they are now.”
“How do I express my gratitude to the entire staff at Equitrans, especially Victoria Johnson and Stroud Deavall, to Christel Langlois at Royal Stables, to Camille, Randi and to my friends that all tried to help all these years?”
“How do I show my gratitude to my husband for all he’s done in his career, and then support me so fully to bring them here, given all the risks and significant financial costs involved with shipping live animals?”
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