Over 300 horses will be flown to Tokyo for the Games to compete in equestrian events. But how does one fly a horse from one country to another? Do they need passports as well?
When the deferred Tokyo Olympics kick off in Japan in a few days, it will be an unusual occasion. Not only will local fans not be in attendance in the largely closed-door Games, but international spectators will also be missing.
Given the state of emergency in many of Japan’s prefectures, including Tokyo, only limited personnel will be flying to Japan’s capital city from around the world. This selective group will include athletes, coaching and other administrative staff members, match officials, journalists… and horses.
Over 300 horses will be flown to Tokyo for the Games to compete in equestrian events. But how does one fly a horse from one country to another? Do they need passports as well? Firstpost Explains:
How to make a horse fly
Transporting a horse from one country to another can be done the same way as humans fly: airplanes. Only, in the case of horses, they are flown in much roomier spaces than cramped seats that economy class passengers do. Depending on which equestrian event the horse is going to compete in, it can weigh anywhere between 500kg to 600kg (eventing horses are lightest while dressage horses are the bulkiest).
Horses are boarded into stalls, which are then loaded into cargo holds of large cargo airplanes. The stalls are equipped with hay or haylage and water.
“Horses are very, very workman-like, you can put them on a flight or in trucks. Some horses travel easier than others. Some don’t like it, but there are ways of working around that and getting them comfortable to it. Flying horses is very expensive. They’re heavy and large animals, and they need a lot of care especially on flights,” Fouaad Mirza, India’s only competitor in equestrian events at the Tokyo Olympics, told Firstpost last year.
This is why accompanying the horses are grooms, who take care of horses and make them feel comfortable, and veterinarians, who are there to take care of the four-legged passengers in case they’re sick.
Mirza admitted to being nervous before the Asian Games while loading Seigneur Medicott onto the palette which was loaded into the flight for Jakarta in 2018. “But he was very calm and it didn’t faze him at all.”
“Transporting horses, at least before the coronavirus pandemic, was quite easy. Horses would fly every two weeks all over the world to compete. Having said that, there were a lot of logistics that went into it.”
Do horses have passports?
Yes! A horse passport has an identification page containing details of markings and where the horse was born. The passport has details of the vaccines taken by them.
“The only thing different on a horse’s passport is that they have a record of their flu vaccines, and their boosters and their tetanus shots. The vaccinations page has to be up-to-date before the horse is allowed to leave a country or come into a country. This is primarily for disease control. Because these horses are travelling from different countries, you don’t want them to transmit a disease from one to another which hasn’t had the disease before and can lead to an outbreak there,” said Mirza.
Bio-bubbles and 60-day movement record
The logistics of organising the equestrian events for the Tokyo Olympics are jaw-dropping.
As per the Federation Equestre Internationale, the international governing body for equestrian sport, 247 horses will be in action at the Olympics while at the Paralympics— which has just the one event, Para Equestrian Dressage—78 horses will compete. All of these will be flown in and out of Tokyo in special flights—20 as per the FEI.
Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, bio-secure bubbles have become the norm for hosting sports competitions. The Tokyo Olympics will be no different. For the horses flying into Tokyo, they will need to be kept in mandatory quarantine for a week before they fly.
Not just that, riders have also been asked to maintain a 60-day pre-export movement record for horses being flown to Tokyo. In these 60 days, horses can only be based in the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Canada, Chile, Japan, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America and all European Union (EU) member countries.
“Every horse travelling to Tokyo is of a high health status. We have to monitor their temperature, their movement. They have to be checked regularly by vets. The horses will quarantine in Germany for seven days prior to export into Japan,” Mirza told journalists recently at a virtual press conference organised by Sports Authority of India.
Riders can train with the horse when they are in quarantine in Germany. Once in Japan, the horses will have to live in another bio-bubble.
“Once they are in Japan, their temperatures will be monitored regularly. Their vaccination status will be checked. They will be kept in a bubble in Tokyo. The quarantine zone where the horses will be kept will be free of other animals. This is so that there’s no risk of passing on diseases to the horses,” said Mirza. “They don’t have to quarantine in Tokyo. They will be flying from one bubble in Germany to another bubble in Tokyo. The competition venue in Tokyo will be a quarantine area.”
Fouaad will be travelling to Tokyo with a three-member team. The groom, who will look after the horse and a veterinarian. Then, there will also be a physiotherapist — for the horse.
His coach, Sandra Auffarth, will also be there in Tokyo — competing for Germany.
“It’s normal for riders to have coaches who are still competing in events. I don’t think it changes anything. At the end of the day, we’re competitors who compete against each other irrespective of the role. At this stage, most of the training is done at home,” Mirza said giving the example of Mark Todd, who was coaching the Brazilian team while competing under the New Zealand flag at Rio 2016.