Olympic arrivals: Dressage horses first to land in Tokyo

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Haneda history-making: the first full cargo load of horses ever to land in Tokyo’s Haneda airport arrived this week, ready for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Equestrian competitions.
Haneda history-making: the first full cargo load of horses ever to land in Tokyo’s Haneda airport arrived this week, ready for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Equestrian competitions. © FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi

The first 36 horses to fly into Haneda Airport on Tokyo’s waterfront have made their arrival in a first before the Olympic Games.

The equine passengers – the first full cargo load of horses ever to land in Haneda – 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.

The 36 dressage horses included Bella Rose, the mare ridden by Germany’s Isabell Werth, the most decorated Olympic equestrian athlete of all time, and Gio, the ride of double Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin, who will be bidding for a three-in-a-row title in Tokyo.

Takahashi Koji, the administrator of Tokyo International Airport, said it was a big night for the airport. “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.”

It was the first Olympic flight out of Europe, with the horses travelling from Liege in Belgium, flying on an Emirates SkyCargo Boeing 777-F to Dubai, a 90-minute refuel and crew change and then on to Tokyo. The total flight time was just over 18 hours.

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), but are able to snack throughout the trip, on hay or haylage.

A total of 325 horses will be flown into Tokyo across the Olympic and Paralympic 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.

Dressage groom Stefanie Wiegan greets Bella Rose at the equestrian venue following the arrival of the first group of dressage horses into Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan, this week.
Dressage groom Stefanie Wiegan greets Bella Rose at the equestrian venue following the arrival of the first group of dressage horses into Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan, this week. © FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi

A convoy of 11 state-of-the-art air-conditioned horse trucks, owned by the Japanese Racing Association, transported the 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!”

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 the United States of America.

A rendering of the Baji Koen equestrian venue in Tokyo.
A rendering of the Baji Koen equestrian venue in Tokyo. © Tokyo 2020

There will be equine 14 flights into Tokyo for the Olympics and five for the Paralympic Games. Then, there will be 185 truck journeys between Haneda airport and the equestrian park at Baji Koen, which is owned by the Japan Racing Association.

Haneda Airport is the third busiest airport in Asia and the fourth busiest in the world, after Atlanta, Beijing and Dubai. In 2018, it handled more than 87 million passengers.

The equestrian venue

In line with Pillar 1 of the IOC Sustainability Strategy: Minimum Environmental Burden, the redevelopment of the Japan Racing Association-owned Baji Koen Park as the equestrian venue for Tokyo 2020 has minimised environmental impact and ensured the legacy of the venue used for the Tokyo Games in 1964.

FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez the original plan for equestrian put forward by the Tokyo Organising Committee was for a temporary venue in the Tokyo Bay area. “When the FEI was consulted on this as an option, we pushed for the alternative which was to re-use the 1964 Olympic equestrian venue at Baji Koen.

After some 18 hours in the air, the horses were taken by transporters to their Olympic equine village.
After some 18 hours in the air, the horses were taken by transporters to their Olympic equine village. © FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi

“This was the optimal choice from a sustainability perspective as it minimises environmental impact, but it also ensures the legacy of this wonderful venue,” Ibáñez said.

The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic & Paralympic Games (TOCOG) has incorporated a further sustainability initiative into the equestrian venue with the incineration of used bedding from the horses’ stables for power generation.

And aligned with Pillar 2 of the IOC Sustainability Strategy: Urban environment plans harmonising with nature, only native species that integrate well with local flora and fauna have been planted at the Sea Forest cross-country venue. This includes the use of a native grass species, Zoysia japonica, for the footing on the course itself.

Olympic equestrian involves three disciplines, with a quota of 200 starters in total:

  • Dressage (60 starters)
  • Eventing (65 starters)
  • Show Jumping (75 starters)
The Sea Forest cross-country course features a mix of grass, dirt and slight hills with the backdrop of the Tokyo cityscape.
The Sea Forest cross-country course features a mix of grass, dirt and slight hills with the backdrop of the Tokyo cityscape.
© Tokyo 2020

The equestrian events start with dressage on July 24, with the team final on July 27 and the individual final on July 28. Next up is eventing, starting with the dressage phase on July 30 and 31, cross-country on August 1, and the final showjumping phase on August 2.

Showjumping, the final equestrian event, gets under way on August 3, with the individual finals on August 4, and the team final on August 7.

There will be 78 starters from 27 countries competing in Para-Equestrian Dressage at the Paralympic Games, with competition starting on August 26. Some 16 countries will be fielding full teams.

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