The Olympics are nearly here and we can’t wait! The Equestrian disciplines: eventing, dressage & jumping are the only Olympic sports where men and women compete against each other on an even playing field.
But there’ve been a few bumps in the road, with most recently a Glanders scare.
Glanders is a deadly equine respiratory disease that is both highly contagious and incurable. Since 2013, hundreds of horses have been euthanized in Brazil in an effort to curb the outbreak, which has been heart-breaking for many Brazilian breeders.
Last year, two horses, which had been housed at Rio’s Deodoro Military Complex –where the Olympic equestrian events will be held, had to be put down.
Glanders disease has been eradicated in most of the world. Many experts fear that exposing top horses, coming from all corners of the globe, to a potential case of Glanders could worsen the outbreak and spread it to other countries.
However, Rio’s Olympic organisers assure that the facilities are a completely safe and disease-free zone. Strict protocols have been put in place: the horses enter a protective biosphere and will be extensively screened, before being quarantined.
According to Guilherme Marques, the Director of Animal Health at the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, these measures will “totally ensure all of the necessary sanitary precautions, allowing for the participation and return of the animals to their country of origin.”
But not a single equestrian competitor has publicly pulled out of this year’s Olympics over glanders fears, which shows that riders are satisfied with Brazil’s efforts.
Isabell Werth, German five-time Olympic dressage gold medalist, said she has “no worries” about coming to Rio, “The horses will be staying in a bubble system with no contact with other animals apart from those competing with them,” she said.
Will Connell, the US Equestrian Federation’s Director of Sport, explained that the American riders are “very aware of the seriousness” of the threat, but are also confident that Brazil has done everything necessary to ensure that the Equestrian Olympics will be safe for the horses and a success.
The venue, the Olympic Equestrian Centre was originally built for the 2007 Pan American Games and has now been fully modernised and expanded for Rio 2016. The one-million-square-metre facility hosts the cross-country course, the jumping & dressage arena and the horse and trainer accommodation. The facilities are state-of-the-art: with indoor and outdoor training equipment, individual stables, large ice machines to cool off the horses' legs and an on-site veterinary clinic, the National Equestrian Centre in Deodoro is worthy of any Olympic champion and their steed.
Early on Saturday 30th July 2016, the first 34 horses from 43 competing nations arrived from Stansted Airport at their stables in Rio, after a 12-hour flight and police escort through the city. Their flight had been carefully planned since 2013.
The International Federation for Equestrian sports (FEI) affirmed that Ringwood Sky Boy, the 13-year-old mount of New Zealand eventing reserve Tim Price, was the first to set hoof on Brazilian soil.
The cargo plane was an Emirates Boeing 777, carrying a combined weight of 17 tonnes for the horses plus over 10 tonnes of equipment.
The horses stood for the duration of the flight. But it may have been far more restful than their average rides in a horsebox over potholes and roundabouts, with rigorously controlled temperatures to keep them comfortable, plus an abundance of time to nap.
"Horses are designed to sleep standing up," explained Liz Brown, the British Eventing Team’s Vet. "Their hind legs have a locking mechanism so they can stabilise, what we call their stifle".
"It's really hard to know if there is jet lag for a horse," added Brown, as “Horses don't sleep for set periods of time like we do each night. They nap when they want."
There were also a dedicated team of grooms to ensure the horses were completely comfortable; keeping water topped up, especially as horses can dehydrate far more quickly than humans, and making sure they were warm enough. Transporting horses over such long distances is no easy matter!
The animals were then driven in trucks along a “bio-contained” and quarantined route from the airport to the Olympic Equestrian Centre.
The flight was the first of nine and contained British-based horses whose riders will be competing for Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, Italy, Japan, New Zealand & Zimbabwe. Further flights have followed from Liege, Belgium and Miami.
There’s not long to go now!
We’re very excited that Abdelkebbir Ouaddar, who is a fan of Seaver, will be riding for Morocco and Roger-Yves Bost “Bosty”, who has given us invaluable advice in developing our products, will be riding for France. We can’t wait to see them and all the other incredible riders in action.
Our wonderful partner, Nick Rosendale of Events Through A Lens will also be there photographing and we’re very jealous, we can’t wait to see what wonderful snaps he captures.
The Seaver team
2nd August 2016