Major overhaul of equestrian centre for Rio 2016 Olympics

Horses can gallop at up to 54km per hour on the treadmill in the laboratory at the National Equestrian Centre
Horses can gallop at up to 54km per hour on the treadmill in the laboratory at the National Equestrian Centre. © Rio 2016/Alex Ferro

Brazil’s National Equestrian Centre will host more than 300 horses during the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, and is undergoing a major overhaul in readiness.

Built for the 2007 Pan American Games, organisers say the centre is undergoing several enhancements for 2016. The existing veterinary hospital will be relocated within the site to a new, larger building, while the stables will be expanded. The spectator stands around the dressage and jumping arena will also be increased in size, and a new cross country course is to be built.

Dr Fernando Queiroz oversees a team of expert researchers in the laboratory at National Equestrian Centre.
Dr Fernando Queiroz oversees a team of expert researchers in the laboratory at National Equestrian Centre. © Rio 2016/Alex Ferro

Playing a major role in the Games is the Laboratory for the Evaluation of Equine Performance (LADEq), which is part of the National Equestrian Centre and the Brazilian army’s Horsemanship School. During the Games, the lab will be available to help evaluate the condition of the 314 horses staying at the National Equestrian Centre for the equestrian competitions. The vast majority of these horses (including some from the Brazilian team) will have been flown into Brazil from around the world and transported to the centre, in Rio’s Deodoro district, on special transporters.

LADEq will also be responsible, along with the Ministry of Agriculture, for biosecurity. This will be largely focused on preventing the spread of viruses. In addition, the lab staff will help with the training and preparation of the 44 horses that the Rio 2016 Organising Committee will provide for the modern pentathlon competition, also at the Deodoro Olympic Park.

About 20 people work at the lab, coordinated by Dr Fernando Queiroz.  The laboratory, has partnerships with eight Brazilian universities and others in Argentina, Spain, France and Portugal, and participates in international congresses.

A treadmill takes pride of place in the lab. It has a top speed of 15m per second (54km per hour), an incline feature, a sensor that can halt the moving floor in three seconds in an emergency, and the all-important safety harness which can support 4.5 tonnes. It allows the vets to measure the horse’s heart-rate and breathing, and analyse its blood during and after exercise (measuring lactic acid, glucose, red blood cell levels, and enzyme behaviour).

As well as physiological assessment, the treadmill is used for training the horses. “They like galloping on the treadmill, especially in the summer, when it’s fresher in here with the air conditioning,” says Dr Queiroz, who teaches at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ).

Next door is a room full of high-tech equipment, where blood tests, muscle biopsies and other important analyses are carried out. Hydrotherapy equipment will be installed for the Games.

“All the horses we have here are athletes,” says Dr Queiroz. “The different thing about our sport is that you have to prepare and think about two athletes – the horse and the rider. It’s all about this partnership.”

Luiza Novaes Tavares de Almeida
Luiza Novaes Tavares de Almeida. © Rio 2016/Alex Ferro

Sporting legacy

The two-legged athletes are also commonly seen at the National Equestrian Centre, which hosts a large number of competitions every year. São Paulo-based Luiza Novaes Tavares de Almeida, 22, represented Brazil in the dressage events at the London 2012 and Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, as well as the Rio 2007 Pan-American Games and 2011 Military World Games, both of which took place at the Deodoro venue.

At a dressage competition at the end of April, she told that the centre’s redevelopment for the 2016 Games would leave an important sporting legacy. “It will be very nice for the Olympic Games but the most important thing is that after the Games it will carry on,” she said.

“It will continue to be used and maintained. Hopefully, this will encourage more people to get involved in equestrian and increase awareness of the sport, and this will help it develop.”

João Victor Marcari Oliva
João Victor Marcari Oliva. © Rio 2016/Alex Ferro

Another rider present for the April event was João Victor Marcari Oliva. The 18-year-old son of Brazilian female basketball legend Hortência won three dressage gold medals at the South American Games in Chile in March.

“My goal is to compete in the Olympic Games here in Rio,” he said.

“It’s going to be amazing and it’s the dream of all Brazilian riders to take part. The National Equestrian Centre needs to be improved but I believe that in 2016 it’s going to be a beautiful venue.”

Oliva’s teammate, 32-year-old Rogerio Clementino, worked his way up from being a groom to become a rider. In 2007 he won bronze in the team dressage event at the Pan-Am Games.

“It was an unforgettable experience, competing at home in front of a packed stadium. Now we’re totally focused on the Olympic Games.

“This venue is excellent, it has great courses and fantastic stands. It has a few things that need to be improved, but these things will be done and we’ll have everything ready for a great event in Rio.”

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