As the first Olympic mounts begin to trickle into their posh stables in Hong Kong, preparations continue to ensure that the horses receive the absolute best care and training possible. 225 horses from around the world will eventually fill the high-tech stables.
The equestrian Olympic venue at Sha Tin features all the best in equine accommodations, including climate controlled indoor arenas, air-conditioned stable blocks, veterinary labs, and excellent footing the competition areas. The Beas River cross country venue has temporary stabling for 80 horses. The Hong Kong Jockey Club spent over HK$1.2 million to construct the facilities.
Simply making it to Hong Kong is quite a trip in itself. Most US horses are already in Europe finishing up training and performing final preparations for the Games. The horses remain in quarantine in Europe before heading to the airport to catch their flight to China. Each horse is loaded onto a pallette which is then lifted into the belly of a cargo plane. Some horses may be sedated, but most weather plane travel just fine. Pilots who frequently fly horses explain that they often try to lessen the force of takeoff and landing so that horses aren’t agitated by steep climbs and decents.
Once the horses land, they are immediately transferred onto air-conditioned horseboxes, and usually arrive at the venue in about two hours.
Just as humans do, equine athletes must spend a few days or weeks acclimatizing themselves to the unfamiliar climate of Hong Kong. Once the 10-day quarantine period is over, the horses will resume full training.
The US horses will get excellent veterinary care from the Davis, CA based husband and wife team of Dr. Jack Snyder and Dr. Sharon Spier. Both veterinarians have years of experience dealing with Olympic horses and are experts in their respective fields. The vets will definitely have their hands full making sure that the horses aren’t adversely affected by Hong Kong’s heat and humidity.
The US Eventing team will have their own squad of veterinarians. Four vets from the B. W. Furlong and Associates Equine Veterinary Practice in Oldwick, N.J will travel with and care for the eventing horses.
Hong Kong will also ensure the safety of both horse and human athletes at the Games. Besides having over 1,000 medical staff and doctors on hand at the equestrian events, there will be 19 ambulances at the events, including one for horses. Hopefully these services will not be needed, but having them on hand and ready to help is certainly reassuring.
As with all Olympic sports, security is another worry, and sources say that there will be ample secutiry personnel throughout the equestrian venues, as well as video cameras. Olympic officials are working closely with Hong Kong police forces to ensure that everything works smoothly.
Some worries have surfaced as the Games grow closer. Hong Kong continues to be smothered in smog, and although officials have stated that the air should be clearer by the time the equestrian events roll around, all athletes will need to be careful. Additionally, a number of dead birds have been found in Hong Kong, and are currently being tested for bird flu. While horses cannot contract bird flu, humans can, and with the amount of spectators and athletes pouring into the city, it is mandatory that officials safeguard humans agaisnt the virus if it does turn up.
As long as the horses acclimate to Hong Kong’s sultry weather, the world should be in for a very exciting face off of the world’s best riders and horses.