How do horses get to the Olympics?

Watching the equestrian events? Wondering how GB transport all their horses to Rio 2016? Here's how it's done


While watching the equestrian sports in Rio 2016, the office was suddenly struck by a pressing query: just how do the horses get to Brazil?


Are they shipped over, or do they go by plane? Do they have passports? And do they have to suffer plane food like the rest of us? We decided to find out…

How did the horses travel to Rio 2016?

A dozen horse transfer flights left from Stansted Airport to Rio de Janeiro earlier this summer. The animals are loaded into stalls at ground level, then levered up into the plane. Stalls are built to accommodate three horses, but as these are Olympians, they’ll fly the equivalent of business class – two animals per stall.


Is there a luggage limit?

According to the British Equestrian Olympic team, each horse has an individual limit for the flight, which includes its own weight plus items such as water buckets, tag bags and rugs. It’s unclear how much space there is for bringing back souvenirs from Copacabana beach.

Does anyone travel with them?

At least 11 grooms and vets are on each flight. Think of them as equine cabin crew.

What do they eat?

Haylage (hay with a higher moisture content than normal), plus water for drinking, is the equestrian equivalent of an airline meal tray.

Do they get scared at landing or take off?

“The pilots will control a more gradual take off and a slower landing to a typical flight,” explains British Eventing Team vet Liz Brown. “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.”


Are they sedated?

No, the horses stand up the whole way. The vets make sure they are well cared for. And no, they don’t wear eye masks either.

Do they suffer from jet lag?

Apparently not – horses don’t sleep in the same way as you or I, instead preferring to grab naps whenever they can, standing up.

Are there any health risks?

Dehydration is the main issue for flying horses. However, they can rehydrate better than humans and be back to normal within 24 hours. They can also encounter respiratory infections from having to keep their heads up for a longer period of time than normal.

Other than that, a temperature-controlled atmosphere, the ability to sleep standing up, and plenty of hay chewing to help with changes in pressure means that a plane journey is actually far more comfortable than a bumpy ride in a horse box.


Do they have passports?

Horses receive passports at birth detailing their health history, markings and size. We’re not sure where they get their their passport pictures taken.