How do they get horses to the Olympics? Horse passports, planes and quarantine rules explained

Horses actually have their own passports, which includes information about their health and vaccine history

When it comes to the Olympics, athletes from across all sports rely on transporting their kit and equipment to whichever country is hosting it that year - whether it’s pole vaulters and their poles, cyclists and their bikes or boxers and their gloves.

But while these competitors can place their items in a bag and get on with travel, what about those in equestrian events?

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This year, 247 horses will be taking part in the Olympics, and 78 horses at the Paralympics.

Juliette Ramel of Team Sweden riding Buriel K.H. in the Dressage Individual Grand Prix Freestyle Final on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

This is what you need to know about how horses get to the Olympics.

How do horses get to the Olympics?

Tokyo, where the Olympic Games are being held this year, is situated roughly 5,700 miles from the UK - so it’s safe to say it’s not a short journey from UK riders and their horses.

Like their athletes, horses travel to the Olympics by plane. They actually receive passports at their birth, which details information like their health history, markings and size.

Horses are loaded into stalls at ground level, and are then transported onto a plane. Stalls are built to accommodate three horses, but as Olympic athletes, these horses get the luxury of travelling just two to a stall.

On each flight with the horses, there are 11 grooms and vets.

During their journey, the horses are fed a special diet of hay with a higher water content, and given buckets of water, to make sure that they do not become dehydrated.

Speaking to Radio Times, British Eventing Team vet Liz Brown said: “The pilots will control a more gradual take off and a slower landing to a typical flight.

“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.”

Prior to flying, horses being transported to Tokyo were kept in mandatory quarantine for a week beforehand. On arrival, the horses do not have to be quarantined, but instead will be taken to stay in a bubble at the venue and kept away from other animals to limit the potential spread of disease.

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Which sports include horses?

Three disciplines in the Olympics involve horses - dressage, eventing and jumping.

Each of these competitions involves a team competition and an individual competition, with men and women competing on equal terms.

Dressage, the Olympics explains, “tests the ability of horse and athlete to display both athletic prowess and supreme elegance by evaluating, for example, an athlete’s ability to make their horse move quickly from side to side, transition into a gallop or rapidly change direction, using subtle commands”.

Jumping involves riders and their horses taking on a course with 12 to 15 “knockable” obstacles that are laid out in a particular order. Penalties are incurred for each obstacle that is knocked down or refused.

Eventing is often described as “an equestrian triathlon”, in which each competition is composed of jumping, dressage and cross country tests to determine a final score. The cross country test, which is unique to eventing, includes approximately 40 obstacles including fences, hedges and water jumps.