Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Wellington, Madrid, Calgary, Lexington, Aachen… At the elite level of

How do top level sports horses travel?

14/02/2017 at 11:56Updated 14/02/2017 at 11:57

Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Wellington, Madrid, Calgary, Lexington, Aachen… At the elite level of equestrian sports, riders criss-cross the planet every season to compete in far-flung locations on the prestigious international circuit.

This coming weekend, many will be heading to the Middle East, for the CSIO5* FEI Nations Cup event in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi. And this past weekend, 27 of the world’s best riders were in a different corner of the world, China, for the third leg of the Longines Masters Show Jumping Series after the United States and France — a voyage of more than 9,000 kilometres from Europe.

Of course, for horse sports you need horses, and the other essential group making the trips are the horses themselves, many of them veterans of Olympic Games and World Championships. To get to Asia this time, 53 ace mounts flew together on a Boeing 777 cargo freighter, accompanied by grooms and veterinary officials in custom-designed stalls.

It can be seen, then, that this ‘equine royalty’ definitely travels in First Class, as their riders and handlers aim to have the horses as fresh as possible for their arrival and subsequent departure. But what is it like for horses to do this long-distance travelling? Do they suffer jet lag? 

Why? In part because — unlike humans — they do not operate on a 24-hour cycle, which for some people can necessitate one day per hour of time difference to adjust. Horses, the report says, typically sleep only three hours in a 24-hour period, often just a few minutes at a time — and mostly standing up, with one hind leg slightly raised. In fact, it is thought that travelling long distances on the road, as happens in a place like North America, with the horse forced to adjust its position with changes of direction, can be less smooth than air travel for an animal.

In addition, researchers have found that horses’ melatonin levels and body temperature adjusted to their new climes more quickly than people’s as well.           

One other question is a logistical one: how do you deal with international animal quarantine issues? In Hong Kong, for example, there is normally a minimum of 14 days of quarantine for horses arriving from abroad, with daily vet inspections and twice-daily temperature recordings.

But at the Longines Masters, the star mounts were not subject to the same rules, although they still had to be cleared for vaccinations and diseases like any other arrival. They landed just a few days before the competition and left shortly after. In this case, the venue for the competition, Asia World-Expo, was chosen as it is located near the Hong Kong International Airport, which facilitated short-term access to an international zone with sanitary corridors.