Olympic horses give new meaning to traveling in style

August 12, 2016

The 2016 Olympic Games are now well underway and it’s not only the athletes who have converged on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Some very well-traveled horses are making the trip as well.

According to the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) — the world’s governing body for horse sport, a special cargo plane left London Stanstead Airport on July 29, carrying the first group of Olympic equine athletes and their horses.

The plane was indeed carrying some pretty precious cargo, with 24 horses from 10 different nations on board, the combined cargo was worth millions of dollars. Aboard a Boeing 777, a plane specifically designed for horse transport, the horses spent their 12-hour flight in customized pallets. Other features include controlled temperature zones as well a cabin crew known as “flying grooms” who are specialists in horse welfare. The pallets hold two horses at a time and are just under four feet wide.

"You've got to provide the best conditions for your [animal] athletes," said Martin Atock, managing director of Peden Bloodstock, a German company that handles Olympics horse transport. "We're delivering horses in peak competition fitness, and we can only do that if we offer optimal conditions."

Following this first shipment, eight more planes will deliver close to 200 horse and rider pairs to the Olympic Games. In addition to London in the U.K., the equine combinations will also be shipped from Liege, Belgium and Miami. They will land in Rio International Airport and continue on to the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Deodoro Olympic Park, and a total of 43 countries will be represented in dressage, jumping, and eventing.

Transporting 200 Olympic horses to another country isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. Lengthy airport check-ins and a headache’s worth of travel documents are needed for the horses, and it doesn’t stop there. For foreign travel, the Olympic horses actually need passports and microchips, as well as a vet check that is done upon arrival at the airport.

In addition, all horses have arrival slots at the airport so that vet checks can be carried out, and loading follows a specific planned order to place all passengers in the right part of the plane.

And of course this all adds up. One article estimates that it costs about $200,000 per horse to complete a round-trip flight from Miami to Rio.

While the cost may seem steep, equestrians are left with few other options. Traveling by boat would take weeks and would make competition nearly impossible for horses.

“They'd lose their fitness,” Richard Picken, a U.S. groomer who estimates that he’s flown with over 1,000 horses in the past fifteen years, said in the article. “Like an athlete in a hotel room for three weeks and then going out and told to run the 100m. It'd be impossible.”

So, if you happen to catch any of the Olympic equestrian events (continuing throughout this weekend) you now know the background of how these horses are transported — like true Olympic champions.

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