Research to help horses beat the heat of Tokyo Olympics

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The equestrian disciplines of the Olympic Games face special challenges relating to heat and humidity.
The equestrian disciplines of the Olympic Games face special challenges relating to heat and humidity. © Christopher Elliott

A special collection of research covering the health and welfare of horses competing in hot and humid conditions is being made available to help those preparing for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

The Covid-19 delayed 2020 Olympics are scheduled to take place between July 23 and August 8, in the middle of the 2021 Japanese summer, in temperatures likely to reach more than 41°C (105°F).

The Equine Veterinary Journal (EVJ) is giving free access to The Special Collection: Preparing for Tokyo Olympics, which highlights the ground-breaking research which followed the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It contains 11 relevant papers together with a comprehensive editorial forward from Christopher Elliott.

“This is not the first time that extreme heat and humidity has challenged the viability of Equestrian events at the Olympic Games,” Elliott said. “It is vital that we learn from the past to ensure the welfare of equine athletes in the future.”

Elliott, an equine veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation specialist, said the work done after the Barcelona Olympics revolutionised the understanding of managing equine athletes in hot and humid conditions.

“It optimised identification and management of heat stress and allowed practical solutions to cooling methods to be established, enabling the successful running of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.”

In the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics another concerted effort by veterinary researchers further advanced understanding and it is on the back of this work that recent literature of equine heat stress and optimisation of cooling methods has been established.

Elliot noted that in the face of global climate change and future Olympics, managing equine athletes in hot and humid conditions will be something veterinarians will be challenged with for many years to come.

EVJ editor Professor Celia Marr said prevention was always better than cure. “This special collection provides much excellent research and knowledge gained from previous events. We must ensure that we use it to best effect to keep the equine athletes competing in extreme climates in Tokyo this summer safe, cool, healthy and performing at their best.”

Articles included in the collection:

  • Physiological, metabolic and biochemical responses of horses competing in the speed and endurance phase of a CCI**** 3dayevent
  • Physiological responses to the endurance test of a 3dayevent during hot and cool weather
  • Physiological responses of horses competing at a modified 1 Star 3dayevent
  • Adaptations to daily exercise in hot and humid ambient conditions in trained Thoroughbred horses
  • Sweating rate and sweat composition during exercise and recovery in ambient heat and humidity
  • Physiological responses of horses to a treadmill simulated speed and endurance test in high heat and humidity before and after humid heat acclimation
  • Comparison between two post-exercise cooling methods
  • Contributions of equine exercise physiology research to the success of the 1996 Equestrian Olympic Games: a review
  • An index of the environmental thermal load imposed on exercising horses and riders by hot weather conditions
  • Use of the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) Index to quantify environmental heat loads during Threedayevent competitions
  • Risk factors for exertional heat illness in Thoroughbred racehorses in flat races in Japan (2005–2016)

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