Air Horse One: How do horses get to the Olympics?

Dressage has been part of the Olympic Games since the 1912 installment in Stockholm, Sweden, and always proves to be an unexpected fan favourite, marrying the extraordinary spectacle of high-stepping horses with uncanny communication between the rider and their mount.

Team GB’s Carl Hester, Charlotte Fry and Charlotte Dujardin earned a bronze in the grand prix special in Tokyo on Tuesday, as the US took silver and Germany stormed to gold, and the trio will take part in the sole freestyle on Wednesday in the hope of picking up further medals.

But how their horses were transported to Japan is interesting in its own right.

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Team GB’s mounts En Vogue, Everdale and Gio were flown 5,500 miles from the UK to be there, just three of 300 horses making the journey from across the world to be part in the Olympics and Paralympics in the Far East this summer.

The animals are loaded into stalls – two horses per stall, instead of the customary three – and levered into large, air-conditioned cargo planes.

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Once on board, they are attended to by a team of equestrian vets and grooms and fed a special type of hay, known as haylage, which offers increased water content, as well as buckets of water to ensure they do not become dehydrated during the long-haul jaunt.

According to the British Equestrian Olympic team, each horse has an individual weight limit for the flight, which includes its own weight plus carry-on items such as water buckets, tag bags and rugs.

They also have their own passports, perfectly sensibly, which documents were they were born, which destinations they have travelled to and which vaccines they have received.

Speaking to The Radio Times about the complex logistics involved, British Eventing Team vet Liz Brown said: “The pilots will control a more gradual take off and a slower landing to a typical flight.

“When you’re on a passenger plane you’ll experience a positive landing where they brake quite hard, but with horses they do a longer landing so they don’t feel that sudden deceleration.”

All horses heading to Tokyo had to be kept in mandatory quarantine prior to departure but were not required to do so again after disembarking on Japanese soil.

They were subsequently kept in a bubble at the venue away from other animals and ferried between their own Olympic Village and the arenas in lorries, also air-conditioned, to ensure discomfort was kept to a minimum.

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The lingering uncertainty over whether these Olympics would even go ahead because of the global coronavirus pandemic has meant that all of that organisation could have been for nothing if the tournament was cancelled at the last minute.

The fact that is was not “has basically meant that we’ve done six months of planning in six weeks,” Will Connell, US Equestrian’s sport director, told Forbes.

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