Tim Dutta: Giving Wings to Horses

Note: This is a story I did that ran in India Abroad in the September 26, 2008 issue, in connection with the Beijing Olympics. 

Given that Mr. Dutta’s firm again played a big role in the transport of the US equestrian team’s horses to another summer Olympic games – this time in London – I thought it was a good time to post it (at the end of the article I’ve just added a brief Q&A I did with Tim to catch up on what he’s been up to in the time since this story first ran):

Dressage champion Elizabeth Blitz’s horse, Paragon, en route to the Pan-American Games, Oct 2011. Photo credit: Tim Dutta

In recent weeks, passengers on transatlantic KLM flights to New York might have been traveling in the company of Olympic medalists and not even realized it.

But their fellow passenger would not have been a champion of the sort like Michael Phelps, reclined in his seat, headphones firmly in place, listening to his music.  Rather, these medalists remain standing for most, or all, of the flight, and have names like Sapphire, Connaught and Brentina.  They are the equine partners of the US equestrian team, and they fly in specially designed horse boxes, complete with thick rubber padding underfoot to minimize vibration – and therefore stress – and low-carb, low-protein hay for dinner.

The man who plays Vijay Mallya to these million-dollar, four-legged frequent flyers is Kolkata-born US resident of 20 years, Tim Dutta, who founded the successful Dutta Corporation not long after settling here as a young man.  In two decades, he has built the firm to the point that his clientele includes royalty, CEOs and New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg.  Growing up in New Delhi, Dutta’s parents were in the military and, by his own admission, neither came from horsey families.  Tim rode for the first time at age three and while a student at The Modern School in Delhi, where he did show jumping, eventing and dressage, and played a lot of polo.  Dutta was even junior national and national champion at one point.

As in most countries, being a horseman is primarily a hobby of the rich.  Dutta says “To work with horses in India, living my dreams, was not possible because we came from a middle class family.”  25 years ago, just out of high school, he came to New York on a holiday.  The plan was to join the army upon return to India, but when the three months were up, Dutta decided to stay, rather than enter officers’ school.  “I knew this was what I wanted to do, to make a life with horses.  I worked all kinds of menial jobs and then worked for a similar company like mine for two years, then started my business September ’88.”

The Dutta Corporation (whose motto is “We give horses wings”) is based in New York’s Westchester county, where Dutta lives with his wife Susan, a dressage champion, and their seven-year-old son, Timmy.

“We are a worldwide logistic company specializing in horse transportation,” Dutta says, “and are in 16 destinations every week.  We can ship a horse when people buy or sell, when somebody is moving, and our specialty is big championships, mainly to and from Europe, polo horses mainly from South America to England, shipping horses to the Middle East from South America.  We’re pretty global in nature.  Unfortunately India doesn’t come into the picture, but hopefully one of these days India would play a role, especially since wealth in India has become huge and race horses are getting developed and the sport is getting developed.  We’re probably five years behind.”

The Dutta Corporation fly every week on KLM in a combi flight (the main deck of the plane is separated by a wall into a passenger compartment and one for cargo).  They also use Polar Express, Lufthansa and El Al.  Dutta explains:  “You need at least a 10-foot ceiling for a horse box.  These are all specialized containers, our proprietary management system in place.  Professional grooms and veterinarians accompany the horses on trips.  These are multi-million dollar horses and we do not leave anything to chance.  They get the Cadillac treatment.”

“On every pallet we have one animal attendant, like a flight attendant, to make sure they’re comfortable and stress-free.  When we reach a cruising altitude and we feel they’re comfortable, and we’re looking forward to good weather, we leave them alone.  Like passengers, we let them rest and sleep.  They’re just like any one of us, some nod off, and some pray to the Lord until the day after they arrive.  Each horse is different.”

Dutta admits that turbulence is a concern, and his staff will discuss with the flight crew the circumventing of storms, when possible.  In 20 years, he says, none of their clients’ horses have had any major injury or loss.

They ask the flight engineer, who runs the climate control system, to keep it cooler in the back so that the horses won’t sweat or get dehydrated.  The lighting is dimmed.  The animal attendant will give the horses hay during takeoff and landing so that they’re more interested in eating.  Dutta says “Our main goal is to bring them as stress free and as safe as possible.  During the booking progress we get all the details.  We try as much as possible to accommodate all their needs.”

“Horses are very individual and these are all rock stars,” he says.  “Every one of them are very VIP to us.  Some horses don’t like a certain type of hay, others don’t like water from Kennedy Airport, so you might have Evian for them.  Some horses don’t like drinking because of stress, so you encourage them with Gatorade, or apple juice, or molasses.”

The pilots are fond of their hooved passengers love animals.  “It’s better than flying boxes of oranges,” Dutta says.  “If we’re going to a major championship like the Pan-American games or the Olympics, they understand how valuable these horses are.  They’re part of our operation to get them there safely and healthy.  For example, we use the longest runways possible, the pilot will slowly put the power in the engine, he’ll taxi differently, we’ll request certain climb-outs without banking.  When we land, we minimize using the brakes and use the whole length of the runway.”

For the Beijing Olympics, the Dutta Corporation transported horses Authentic, Sapphire, Connaught and Brentina who competed for the US team, and Pop Art who competed for Canada.  In looking back on the August games, Dutta says “The Olympics were a great success.  USA won the gold medal as well as individual bronze in show jumping, individual bronze in eventing and our client won individual gold and silver in show jumping.  Exciting and uneventful Olympics with no drama, just the way I like it.”

If you think that such care and attention must be expensive, you’re right.  “Coach class” fare, sharing a jet stall with two other horses will cost about $7500 one way, “business class”, sharing with one other horse, costs $9500-$10,000, and “first class” with only one horse in the jet stall, will cost $15,000.

But, when the average cost of upkeep for a horse will run about $5000 a month (including training, vet bills, blacksmith) and that amount can double when the horse is competing, such airfares probably don’t faze horse owners.

Dutta says he has few Indian clients.  “I think we have a few doctors who buy a horse for their spouses or children.  I wish Indian parents would give their kids the joy of horses, or expose them to it, at least.  A lot of the parents never had it.  Most families are not exposed to horses.”

Tim Dutta – photo credit: Ken Braddick, HorseSport USA

In his free time, Dutta enjoys cooking a variety of different cuisines, and collecting wine.

“I wish I rode more,” he says, “but that’s unfortunately not possible due to my business commitments.  We have a home in Palm Beach where we spend the weekends, so I try to then.”  Dutta and his wife of 15 years currently have some 10 horses in their stable.

Dutta’s last trip to India was some three years ago.  He plans to return next year for the 25th anniversary of his old school in Delhi, The Modern School.

In summing up his life so far, Tim Dutta says “I’m living the dream.  Horses are my life and I’m very lucky to have the largest transport company in the world.”

= = =

August 15, 2012

Tim, it’s been four years since we last spoke, and another Olympic games have just ended.  Before we get to the Olympics, what else is new with you? 

Its more of the same except we did the World Equestrian Games in 2010 in Lexington KY , which was the largest movement of horses in the world – about 583 horses from 53 countries.  Then in 2011 we did the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico . So its been a whirlwind with lots of projects and growing the business which has become truly a global venture.

From the recent coverage you got on NPR and NBC, I see the Dutta Corporation is still getting the four-legged athletes to the summer games.  How many of the U.S. horses did you transport?  Which ones?  How did the whole process go?  Have they all returned home? 

I was responsible for all North & South American horses.  Yes all are home safe and uneventful.  The Games were amazing and very well organized.  I ship weekly to Europe & the UK  so for us it was just another day and we are very familiar with the process and have great partnerships.

Knowing how impatient we humans are to exit the airport, once the horses are back on US soil, how long does it take them to get home?  Does someone just examine their papers here, or does a vet give them a once-over as well?

Well, unlike humans, horses have to go thru a three-day USDA Quarantine where they are tested for diseases.  The off- loading from the plane is very swift and organized as my staff are on the aircraft as soon the doors are open.

Were you over at the games yourself?

Yes, I was at the Games and had a great time.  It was an amazing experience the Brits are so polite and efficient.

Was there a certain famous – possibly Presidential – dressage horse among those the Dutta Corp transported?  If so, was he/she (the horse) in there with the other horses, or did he/she have a whole plane to herself?

Yes I did ship the Romney’s mare to and from the Games.  She flew just like the other horses, no special efforts for her.

In the four years since we spoke, have you noticed any up-tick in the number of Indian clients?

Yes, Indians (in India) are buying more and more horses in Europe and US.  The import rules are still quiet difficult but we are seeing more interest.  The equestrian infrastructure in India is in the dark ages and needs to be brought up to western standards, they need to have equine hospitals,  modern stables & riding surfaces,  better management & training in order to be competitive.  For sure the love of the horses & lifestyle are very much there.  I did spend three weeks in India last year and really enjoyed playing polo and visiting old friends and making new ones.

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