Imagine flying to the Tokyo Olympics in business class, enjoying in-flight meals and even grooming. That’s how the Olympic horses traveled as they jetted off to Tokyo in time to compete.
The horses even had their own passports.
More than 300 horses have traveled to Tokyo to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics. Airplanes, 19 of them, and 185 truck journeys were needed to transport the equine passengers, The Chronicle of the Horse reported.
Nine U.S. athletes will compete in the Tokyo Olympics across the three equestrian disciplines, in addition to three athletes at the Paralympics.
But the horses don’t travel alone; with them comes a team of people to get them Olympics-ready. The U.S. equestrian includes four traveling reserve riders, who are ready to compete in the case of an injury. There are the seven coaches, six team leaders and 16 grooms, who are there to care for the horses.
Also there to care for the horses’ hooves is the farrier and four veterinarians. Finally, two equine physical therapists and one human physical therapist also attend the Games.
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COVID-19 restrictions made traveling with the equestrian team look different this year. Thanks to the help of the horse transportation logistics company Peden Bloodstock, the team was sent to Europe for their pre-export quarantine and then to Japan. Originally the team planned to fly from Chicago to Tokyo, Forbes reported.
Of course, flying horses comes with its own challenges. But it’s not so different from what their human partners will experience.
“Just like a human that flies – some people like it, some people don’t,” said Richard Picken, who had a business flying horses for more than a decade, said about the Rio Olympics in 2016. “Same with the horses, really.”
Another challenge when transporting horses is loading the luggage and equipment. Each horse’s groom and vet are responsible for packing everything they’ll need for a month. The U.S. team is known for overpacking, with the haul also containing about 1,000 pounds of feed and vitamins for the horses, Forbes reported.
“I think that the captain on our flight over said we had 14 tons of equipment,” Dr. Susan Johns, the evening team vet, told Forbes.
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Loading and unloading the horses themselves can be the most dangerous part of the trip, Picken said. Too many people around or distractions while the horses are being loaded could lead to problems. “Basically, it’s at that point that you know that the horse will fly or not,” he said.
Once in flight, grooms and vets monitor the horses for any signs of distress. They feed them and make sure they’re drinking water. If they aren’t drinking but seem to be sweating, the groom might try to entice the horse to drink by adding apple juice.
“They’ll tolerate it a lot more than people think,” Picken said. “You could get a horse that decides it doesn’t want to be on there anymore, so there’s no set planning.”
The grooms and veterinarians have tranquilizers on hand. Picken and Tim Dutta, CEO of The Dutta Corp., said they have never had to call for an emergency landing for a horse in distress.
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