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Rio prepares for jet-setting Olympic horses

Horses will travel in style to Rio in 2016.

Horses will travel in style to Rio in 2016. @ Peden Bloodstock

An expert team will be on hand to get the horses of the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games to their competition venue, and the logistics are already being planned.

More than 300 horses will jet in to Rio on specially fitted airplanes for the equestrian events.

Horse passports contain detailed physical descriptions and information about vaccines and medications.

Horse passports contain detailed physical descriptions and information about vaccines and medications. © Rio 2016/Alex Ferro

“These horses are high-performance athletes and they need to be treated in this manner. They receive the same level of service as the world’s best human athletes,” said Alex Titan, the Rio 2016 Sport Competition Manager for Eventing.

The similarities can be surprising. Horses too must check that their travel documents are valid before a trip. “A horse, like a human, has a passport,” Titan said. “These are full of important data, such as a detailed physical description, with diagrams, a list of competitions competed in and a list a vaccinations taken.”

The shipping process should become much easier following this week’s vote by the OIE to adopt the “high health, high performance horse” (HHP) concept within a new OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code Chapter.

Representatives from 178 countries attending the General Session of the World Assembly of OIE Delegates in Paris gave a resounding green light to the adoption in principle of the “high health, high performance horse” (HHP) concept within a new OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code Chapter.

It means that there is now a specific OIE mandate to work with governments around the world to ensure a harmonised process for moving top-level sport horses for major international competitions.

Horses being flown to Brazil for the Olympic Games will be accompanied by professional flying grooms and veterinarians.

Horses being flown to Brazil for the Olympic Games will be accompanied by professional flying grooms and veterinarians. © Peden Bloodstock

The Olympic horses will be flown to Brazil in airplanes with a capacity of up to 40. The planes are specially adapted to make the horses as safe and comfortable as possible. There are no movies or champagne, but the VIP passengers do receive a 24-hour supply of hay.

“Sometimes the horses need even more care than human athletes,” said Luciana Martins, one of two specialist equine vets hired by the Rio 2016 Organising Committee to help ensure the horses’ well-being during their journeys to Brazil, their time in Rio, and their return flights.

“Any small injury to a horse can take them out of the competition. We work to keep them safe from contamination, make sure they get the right food and ensure they are not injured during transportation.”

The horses wear protective travelling boots and bandages on their legs during transportation. In exceptional circumstances, a horse may require medication to calm their nerves but this is not as common as one might imagine. Most of these horses are not only highly experienced flyers but they are also accompanied by an expert team of professional flying grooms, team vets and selected NOC grooms.

They fly more often than most humans, especially given that most of these top horses are based in Europe and compete in countless worldwide events.

Many top sport horses are frequent flyers around the world, particularly Europe and North America.

Many top sport horses are frequent flyers around the world, particularly Europe and North America. © Peden Bloodstock

From Rio International Airport the horses will be taken by truck to the National Equestrian Centre, the competition venue in the Deodoro Olympic Park, where they will stay throughout the Games. Other VIP services they require include post-competition massages and physiotherapy, and acupuncture between events.

Each nation will bring its own team of vets and horse physiotherapists for each discipline, but the Organising Committee will provide support. “The biggest challenges we face are with accidents during competition,” said Martins. “It can be difficult to look after such large animals with the public so close by.”

The animal hospital at the National Equestrian Centre is being upgraded and moved to a new building, which is scheduled to be ready in 2015.

 

 

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