Do you plan on watching the summer Olympics beginning this weekend? I definitely want to tune-in; I just need to convince my humans to add a HD flat screen TV to my run in shed!
As you know, athletes (including horses!) from all over the world travel to the location of the games to compete for Olympic medals. It may not seem like such a big deal for you to transport yourself to the host city, but for us (and our human friends), this is a crucial part of the festivities and is our first step towards winning Olympic gold!
If riding a trailer to the Olympic arena is not an option – which for a majority of the equine athletes it is not, since it’s too far to travel – horses will have to hop on a flight and take a plane ride! Let the adventure begin!
Yes, we get a boarding pass, have to share a seat with a stranger and take a long, long flight. Luckily for humans, at least you get to sit; horses have to stand the whole time! Instead of seatbelts, we have “stand-belts” where two ropes are attached on either side of our halter and then attached to the stall were we are kept. Sometimes the pilot dismisses the “fasten your stand-belt” sign and the cabin crew allows us to move freely around in our stall. All of this is to help horses be as comfortable as possible on the flight (because let’s face it, we really were meant to stay on the ground!). Personally, I am always curious about the inflight movie options; Secretariat, Seabiscuit, or Black Beauty.
Preparing for a flight is a tricky process because it is important to make sure that horses don’t get too stressed out causing them to become sick. Some tips are to practice loading onto different platforms and trailers, which will help a horse gain confidence and decrease its uncertainty when presented with a new situation… like an MD-11 Federal Express jet! Stocking up on lot of treats, like apples, carrots, hay… and doughnuts, are also a must to stay horse-happy!
Usually horses will decide not to drink under stress or when being transported, but when it is a six-hour (or longer!) flight to the London Olympics, handlers encourage them to drink more by adding apple juice to the water. In my last post, I mentioned the importance of electrolytes to balance a horse’s salt and water content. Another way some handlers make sure we are up on our electrolytes is by offering us a complementary inflight beverage service of a Gatorade sports drink.
A horse’s journey to Olympic gold does not end upon landing at the destination (that would be way too easy!). Like humans, horses also may experience jetlag upon arrival in a new country. For optimal acclimation to the time change, owners will chose to fly their horses out four-five days before the games, or they will completely readjust the horse’s routine and live in the country for a few weeks prior to the game’s start.
So the countdown is on! The Olympic equestrian games begin Saturday July 28th and will be covered on TV throughout the three events: dressage, jumping and eventing. Which reminds me…I have to go stock up on cookies and popcorn too! Keep an eye for my next post where I’ll recap the latest from the events! In the meantime “like” our Equine Science Center Facebook page, and check for more of the latest news in the horse world!
For more info on transportation, stress, and the athletic/performance horse, check out these fact sheets prepared by my buddies at the Equine Science Center:
- Are You “Stressing Out” Your Horse
- Stress Management for Equine Athletes
- Performance Horse Nutrition and Notes on Conditioning
- Feeding Horses for Competition: From Racing to Dressage
Safe summer travels everyone!