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. “It’s 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.”
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.
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.
From a sustainability perspective, Emirates has implemented a number of initiatives to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions where operationally feasible, including its long-standing operation of flexible routings in partnership with air navigation service providers to create the most efficient flight plan for each flight. The airline, which operates one of the world’s youngest aircraft fleets, also uses advanced data analytics, machine learning and AI in its fuel monitoring and aircraft weight management programmes.
Business class travel
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.
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.
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.
“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
Haneda Airport (HND)
Haneda Airport handled over 87 million passengers in 2018, making it the third busiest airport in Asia and the fourth busiest in the world, after Atlanta, Beijing and Dubai. Following expansion in 2018, Haneda is able to handle 90 million passengers per year – not counting horses!
With Haneda and Narita combined, Tokyo has the third-busiest city airport system in the world, after London and New York City.
Equestrian sport in Tokyo 2020
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.
A total of seven countries will be fielding full teams in all three Olympic disciplines, including the host nation Japan. The others are Australia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Sweden and United States of America.
Click here for more information on Equestrian at the Olympic Games.
Rights-Holding Broadcasters: VNR and b-roll footage of the departure from Liege, the arrival in Tokyo and in the EQP venue are available for download on Content+
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
Images from the departure from Liege, the arrival in Tokyo and in the EQP venue are available now on the FEI Flickr account for editorial use only.
FEI Media Relations & Media Operations Manager
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