Horses Travelling to Tokyo: An Overview

Haneda history-making: the first full cargo load of horses ever to land in Tokyo’s Haneda airport ready for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Equestrian competitions. © FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi.

Horses Travelling to Tokyo: An Overview

Horses really can fly, even if they’re not called Pegasus!

Can horses fly? Well yes, they can if they’re Olympic athletes!

And in a piece of history-making, 36 of them flew into Japan last night – the first full cargo load of horses ever to land in Haneda, the waterfront airport that serves the greater Tokyo area and which is now welcoming a very different group of Olympic athletes.

To see these horses arriving at Haneda airport is a truly historic occasion, and what makes it even more special is that these are not simply horses, they are Olympic horses”,

Administrator of Tokyo International Airport Takahashi Koji said.

Its a really big night for the airport, and particularly for the cargo team, and we see it as one of the major milestones of the final countdown to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.”

 Haneda history-making: the first full cargo load of horses ever to land in Tokyo’s Haneda airport ready for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Equestrian competitions. © FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi.
Haneda history-making: the first full cargo load of horses ever to land in Tokyo’s Haneda airport ready for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Equestrian competitions. © FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi.

The four-legged time travellers are all Equestrian Dressage horses and include some Olympic superstars, among them Bella Rose, the mare ridden by Germany’s Isabell Werth, the most decorated Olympic equestrian athlete of all time.

Also landing at Haneda en route to the stunning equestrian venue at Baji Koen, owned by the Japan Racing Association, is Gio, the ride of double Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin (GBR), who will be bidding for a three-in-a-row title in Tokyo.

Olympic Dressage horses arrive at Haneda airport, Tokyo  Dressage Horses Arrive at Tokyo Haneda Airport for Tokyo 2020 in Tokyo,Japan.   July 15, 2021     Photo: FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi
Olympic Dressage horses arrive at Haneda airport, Tokyo – Dressage Horses Arrive at Tokyo Haneda Airport for Tokyo 2020 in Tokyo, Japan – July 15, 2021. Photo: FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi

The 36 equine passengers will be flying the flag for teams from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, Portugal and host nation Japan, as well as individuals from Brazil, Estonia, Finland, Ireland and Morocco. And they will be joined by a further group of Equestrian Dressage stars flying into Tokyo tomorrow.

The first Olympic flight out of Europe saw the horses travelling from Liege in Belgium, where there’s even a special airport horse hotel, flying on an Emirates SkyCargo Boeing 777-F to Dubai, a 90-minute refuel and crew change and then on to Tokyo.

British athlete Charlotte Fry at Liege airport prepares for her horse's flight  Charlotte Fry unloading the truck Departure of the horses to the Olympic Games in Tokyo from Liege - Belgium 2021 © FEI/Leanjo de Koster
British athlete Charlotte Fry at Liege airport prepares for her horse’s flight – Departure of the horses to the Olympic Games in Tokyo from Liege – Belgium 2021. © FEI/Leanjo de Koster

Like human passengers, all horses travel with a passport. They will already have undergone a 60-day health surveillance period prior to a seven-day pre-export quarantine. They all also have an export health certificate and are thoroughly checked over by veterinarians prior to boarding.

Belgian olymian Domien Michiels at Liege airport, Belgium  Domien Michiels and Intermezzo van het Meerdaalhof arriving at the airport Departure of the horses to the Olympic Games in Tokyo from Liege - Belgium 2021 © FEI/Leanjo de Koster
Belgian olymian Domien Michiels at Liege airport, Belgium. © FEI/Leanjo de Koster

Horses travel Business Class

The horses fly two per pallet, or flying stable, which is the equivalent of business class. Their comfort and safety is ensured by flying grooms and an on-board veterinarian. And, unlike two-legged passengers, the horses not only get their in-flight meals (including special meal requests of course), but are able to snack throughout the trip, on hay or haylage, except when they are taking a nap.

Snack time! Snacks ready for departure of the horses to the Olympic Games in Tokyo from Liege - Belgium 2021 © FEI/Leanjo de Koster
Snack time! Snacks ready for departure of the horses to the Olympic Games in Tokyo from Liege – Belgium 2021
© FEI/Leanjo de Koster

So as they are flying business class, does that mean the horses get flat beds to sleep in? Although horses might occasionally indulge in a spot of lying down to snooze in the sun at home, they actually sleep standing up. They have something called the “stay apparatus”, which allows tendons and ligaments to effectively lock the knees and hocks (in the hind legs) so that they don’t fall over while they’re dozing off. So there’s no need for flat beds on the flight.

Loading horses into the plane from Emirates Departure of the horses to the Olympic Games in Tokyo from Liege - Belgium 2021 © FEI/Leanjo de Koster
Loading horses into the plane from Emirates – Departure of the horses to the Olympic Games in Tokyo from Liege – Belgium 2021. © FEI/Leanjo de Koster

A total of 325 horses will be flown into Tokyo across the two Games and the complex logistics for this massive airlift have been coordinated by transport agents, Peden Bloodstock, which has been in charge of Olympic and Paralympic horse transport since Rome 1960 and is the Official Equine Logistics Partner of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), global governing body for equestrian sport. Peden Bloodstock became title partner of the FEI Best Athlete Award in 2019.

A convoy of 11 state-of-the-art air-conditioned horse trucks, owned by the Japanese Racing Association, transported today’s precious equine cargo – and 13,500 kilograms of equipment – on the final transfer from Haneda to Baji Koen where the equine superstars had the chance to settle into their Olympic Athlete Village, aka the stables.

Olympic dressage horses convoy  Dressage Horse of Convoy arrives at EQP from Haneda Airport in Tokyo,Japan.   July 15, 2021   Photo: FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi
Olympic dressage horses convoy – Dressage Horse of Convoy arrives at EQP from Haneda Airport in Tokyo,Japan.
July 15, 2021. Photo: FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi

Like all the athletes arriving into Tokyo for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the horses are honed and ready to compete on the sporting world’s biggest stage”,

FEI President Ingmar De Vos said.

After all the challenges the world has faced, finally we’re almost there and now it’s only a matter of days before we hear those magical words, let the Games begin!”

Fast flight facts:

  • 18 hours 15 minutes – flight time Liege to Tokyo, with a touchdown in Dubai
  • Aircraft detail: Emirates SkyCargo Boeing 777-F (flight numbers EK9388 LGG-DXB, EK9442 DXB-HND)
  • 19 flying stables on-board
  • Dimensions of the flying stables: 317cms long, 244cms wide, 233cms high
  • 14-17° Celsius – on-board temperature
  • 36 Dressage horses – teams from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, Portugal and host nation Japan, and individual horses from Brazil, Estonia, Finland, Ireland and Morocco.
  • 22,700kgs +/- total weight of horses flying from Liege
  • 630kg is the average weight of a Dressage horse
  • 13,500kgs of horse equipment
  • 12,000 kgs of feed (not including in-flight meals & snacks)
  • 40 litres of water per horse

Total transport trivia across both Games

  • 247 – total number of horses travelling to Tokyo for the Olympic Games
  • 78 – total number of horses travelling to Tokyo for the Paralympic Games
  • 630kg – average weight of a Dressage horse; 515kg – average weight of an Eventing horse; 610kg – average weight of a Jumping horse
  • 14 – total number of horse flights for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
  • 5 – total number of horse flights for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
  • 100,000kgs – total weight of the horse equipment (including saddles, bridles, boots, bandages, rugs, lungeing equipment, headcollars, grooming kits, shoes & studs, wheelbarrows & pitch forks)
  • 60,000kgs – total feed weight (feed/haylage)
  • 185 – total number of truck journeys between Haneda airport and the equestrian park at Baji Koen

A record number of countries – 50 – will be competing in the equestrian events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games following the introduction of new formats that limit teams to three members, meaning that more countries will have the opportunity to compete on the Olympic stage than ever before.

Unique gender equality

Equestrian is the only sport in the Olympic movement in which men and women compete head to head throughout the Games, making it a totally gender neutral sport. And the FEI doesn’t need a policy regarding transgender athletes as there are no requirements for our athletes to state their gender in order to participate in FEI competitions, or at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Equestrian is not a gender-affected sport that relies on the physical strength, stamina and physique of an athlete as there are no gender based biological advantages. Success in equestrian is largely determined by the unique bond between horse and athlete and refined communication with the horse.

Sustainability

Sustainability is a key theme across the Games, and equestrian is very much a part of that. In line with Pillar 1 of the IOC Sustainability Strategy: Minimum Environmental Burden, the redevelopment of the Japan Racing Association-owned Baji Koen Park as the equestrian venue for Tokyo 2020 has minimised environmental impact and ensured the legacy of the venue used for the Tokyo Games in 1964.

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