More than 300 horses traveled to the Olympics on special flights complete with passports, in-flight meals, and mandatory COVID quarantines

·4 min read
Equestrian horse at the Olympics.
A British equestrian competitor at the 2016 Rio Olympics. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
  • More than 300 horses have traveled to Tokyo to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics.

  • A whopping 19 airplanes and 185 truck journeys were commissioned to transport the equine passengers.

  • The horses enjoyed in-flight meals and snacks, grooming sessions, and business class accommodations.

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When it comes to travel for members of the Olympic and Paralympic equestrian teams, nobody's horsing around.

Approximately 325 horses have made their way across the world for the upcoming Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, and they're traveling in style. A whopping 19 airplanes and 185 truck journeys were commissioned to transport the top-flight equines to their own Olympic village in Japan.

A horse boards a truck for transport to the Olympic games.
A horse boards a truck for transport to an airplane. FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi/Handout via REUTERS

To ensure their comfort, the horses were afforded luxuries such as business class accommodations, in-flight meals, snacks, and grooming. They even have their own passports.

But these four-legged Olympians and Paralympians also had to endure the hardships of traveling in the age of COVID-19; mandatory quarantines, veterinary visits, and health certificates were all necessary prerequisites to get to the games.

"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 per The Chronicle of the Horse. "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."

Horse passports.
Horse passports are necessary for air travel. FEI/Leanjo de Koster/Handout via REUTERS

Here's the rundown of how a bulk of the horses got to Tokyo, according to The Chronicle of the Horse.

Of the 325 total equine passengers, 247 flew through Liège, Belgium, where the airport has a special hotel for horses. After 60 days of stringent health monitoring and a seven-day quarantine, the horses boarded an Emirates SkyCargo Boeing 777-F - the most environmentally friendly freighter in circulation - for one of eight chartered flights to Haneda Airport.

Between food, water, equipment, and the horses themselves - which weigh somewhere between 1,100 and 1,400 pounds each on average - flying these clip-cloppers through the skies is a rather tall task. Fortunately for those responsible for getting the horses to Tokyo, the Emirates SkyCargo Boeing 777-F is a mammoth of a plane that can hold nearly 236,000 pounds of cargo per trip.

Emirates SkyCargo Boeing 777-F.
The horses flew via Emirates SkyCargo Boeing 777-F planes. AP Photo/Daniel Roland

The first jet that took off from Liège was tasked with transporting nearly 3,000 pounds of horse equipment - saddles, blankets, grooming kits, wheelbarrows, and the like - as well as 26,000 pounds of feed, 1,440 liters of water, and 36 equine passengers.

The horses were divided among 19 flying stables - business class for horses - and kept cool at roughly 60 degrees Fahrenheit. A groom team and a veterinarian flew alongside the animals to provide comfort and care throughout the journey. And in addition to their custom meals, the equines were offered an assortment of in-flight snacks that included bananas, carrots, and hay.

Here's what the journey looked like for some of the American horses:

@teamusa

We’ve got the horses in the back (of the airplane). 🎥: @usequestrian #tokyoolympics #teamusa #equestrian

♬ SUNNY DAY - Matteo Rossanese

After a brief pit-stop in Dubai to refuel and change crews, the herd arrived in Japan. And once they touched down at Haneda Airport, the horses were led off the plane and onto one of 11 air-conditioned trucks. The fleet then drove northwest to Baji Koen, the home of the Tokyo 2020 Equestrian Park.

Equestrian events for this summer's games begin July 23 with dressage horse inspections. Eventing starts nearly a week later on Thursday, July 29, while the jumping competition won't start until August.

Equestrian Park at Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Equestrian Park at Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Toru Hanai/Getty Images

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