How do horses get to the Olympics?

Watching the equestrian events? Wondering how Team GB transport all their horses to Tokyo 2020? Here's how it's done

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While watching equestrian sports in Olympics gone by, we have been struck by a nagging question: how do the horses get to the Games?

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Of course, Tokyo is no short trip. It’s not a gentle stroll through the leafy back lanes of rural England, it’s not even a short ferry across to mainland Europe, these horses have embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, from the UK to Japan, 5,713 miles away.

We wondered whether the horses are shipped over? 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.

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How did the horses travel to Tokyo 2020?

For starters, horses do indeed receive passports at birth detailing their health history, markings and size (though we’re not exactly sure where they get their their passport pictures taken).

A number of horse transfer flights left from the UK to Japan 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 – just two animals per stall.

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

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.

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

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.

“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.”

And now, truly, you have officially ‘heard it all’.

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