Hot work: Olympic test horses under intense scrutiny

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A major research study aimed at identifying best practices and management of horses training and competing in hot and humid environments was conducted by the FEI at last week's test event.
A major research study aimed at identifying best practices and management of horses training and competing in hot and humid environments was conducted by the FEI at last week’s test event. © FEI

A study monitoring horses before, during and after the Olympic 2020 test event in Tokyo collected data to help organisers instigate best practices and management of horses training and competing in hot and humid environments.

The FEI-led study collected data through under-tail temperature monitors and sensors that measure stable and travelling activity, as well as thermal comfort. SaddleClip sensors were used to record gait, speed and distance, and heart rate monitors were used on the horses before and during competition at the Ready Steady Tokyo event, from August 12 to 14. The technology for the data collection was made possible through the FEI’s partnerships with Epona Biotec, Arioneo, Equestic and Polar.

Findings from the study will build on the existing framework for implementing measures to run equestrian sports in hot and humid climates that were developed for the Games in Atlanta 1996 and the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong. Olympic test events before Atlanta 1996, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 also included organised monitoring of competing horses.

A major research study aimed at identifying best practices and management of horses training and competing in hot and humid environments was conducted by the FEI during last week’s Ready Steady Tokyo test event, where Japan’s Ryuzo Kitajima and Vick Du Grisors JRA finished second overall.
Japan’s Ryuzo Kitajima and Vick Du Grisors JRA finished second overall at last week’s Ready Steady Tokyo test event. Japanese riders are increasingly a force to be reckoned with, finishing fourth and just out of the medals at last year’s FEI World Equestrian Games in the USA. © FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi

With optimising performance in challenging climatic conditions high on the agenda during the numerous test events, the FEI had already put in place a major research study aimed at identifying best practices and management of horses training and competing in hot and humid environments.

Long travelling times and distances, time-zone disruptions, and heat and humidity pose specific challenges to horses. Monitoring of the combined effects of all these factors was put in place before the horses’ departure from their home countries en route to Tokyo and throughout last week’s equestrian test event in the Japanese capital. Data collected will be used to provide the FEI, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee (TOCOG) as well as National Olympic and Paralympic Committees with detailed information on equine performance in these conditions.

Göran Akerström will take up the post of FEI Veterinary Director in September.
FEI Veterinary Director Göran Akerström. © Thomas Blomqvist/Kanal 75

“High-level equestrian competitions are increasingly taking place in parts of the world where the climate poses health challenges for both humans and horses,” FEI Veterinary Director Göran Akerström said.

“The study plays a crucial role in guiding the TOCOG and other Organising Committees on appropriate facilities and support, and will be used to advise and guide athletes and National Federations on the preparation of their horses in the build-up to and during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

An information session on climate mitigation protocols aimed at minimising the effects of heat and humidity in the official Observers Programme was provided by the FEI for the nations taking part. The test event trialed logistics, results, timing and data handling, footing, transport between the two venues, along with multiple other key factors that are crucial for the smooth running of next year’s Games. The eventing competition was run at three-star level.

During next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, equestrian sport will be held at the Baji Koen Equestrian Park and Sea Forest venues. Baji Koen, which hosted the Olympic equestrian events at the Tokyo Games in 1964, has been extensively refurbished by the Japan Racing Association, while the cross-country venue at Sea Forest that will be shared with rowing and canoe sprint is on reclaimed land and will be turned into a park post-Games.

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