Olympic horses have landed on Brazilian soil ahead of the Games this week, transported by Dubai-based airline Emirates.
Emirates was named the world’s best airline last month, and nothing but the best is good enough for the world’s top competition horses, there’s no economy class for them.
Thirty four horses from ten nations - the first of nine shipments the airline will undertake - weighing a total of 17,500kg, travelled in the SkyCargo Boeing 777-F, all safely in specially designed stalls. The cost for each one was a cool Dhs82,000 return, a tab was picked up by the Rio 2016 organising committee.
Loaded into their customised pallets, the multi-million dollar cargo took the 11hr 40min-hour flight to Rio de Janeiro, ahead of the Games, which kick off on Friday August 5.
All horses - there will be 233 in total - travel with professional grooms, while a vet is also on board each flight; after all this is precious cargo. And that is not all, around 6,000kg of feed (not including what the horses will eat on the flight) and 40 litres of water per horse was also on board.
The transportation process is complex, involving three hubs: London Stanstead, Liege in Belgium and Miami in Florida.
Top-class horses fly frequently around the globe to reach different competitions, so most are used to travelling by air. It’s important to ensure the horses are monitored throughout the flight and are kept fully hydrated.
Nathan Anthony, team vet for the Australian Eventing squad, was one of the six vets that flew with the horses, said: “Flying is actually easier on the horses than going by truck. The only slightly difficult bit is the take-off, after that there are no bumps in the air! And we had a great captain on board who made the landing nice and smooth, and then the transfer to the Olympic stables with a police escort was really easy."
And preparation is key when dealing with equine athletes: they arrive several days early to become accustomed to the temperature, climate and new surroundings before taking part in the competition, though there is no need for quarantine at Rio, unlike for previous Olympics, although strict biosecurity measures are of course in place.
Horses from Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Japan, Italy and China were on board the first Emirates flight. On landing, they were taken to the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Deodoro Olympic Park, and the first horse to set hoof off the plane was 13-year-old Ringwood Sky Boy, ride of New Zealand reserve Tim Price.
The team eventing – made up of three phases; dressage, cross-country, and showjumping – is the first of the three equestrian sports to take place in Rio. There will also be pure dressage and pure showjumping later on in the Games, and these horses will fly out in the first week of August. Team GB will be defending their gold medals in showjumping and dressage, while Germany hold the title for eventing.
All horses are reported to have travelled well, now it’s time to see who will take home those medals.