Dressage Horses Arrive in Japan for Tokyo Olympics

The first 36 Olympic horses arrived at Haneda Airport late July 14.
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Dressage Horses Arrive in Japan for Tokyo Olympics
The dressage horses arrive at Tokyo Haneda Airport ahead of the 2020 Games. | Courtesy FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi

Can horses fly? They can if they’re Olympic athletes!

And in a piece of history-making, 36 of them flew into Japan the night of July 14–the first full cargo load of horses ever to land in Haneda, the waterfront airport that serves the greater Tokyo area and is now welcoming a very different group of Olympic athletes.

“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. “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.”

The four-legged travelers are all dressage horses and include Olympic superstars such as Bella Rose, the mare ridden by Germany’s Isabell Werth, the most decorated Olympic equestrian athlete of all time.

Groom Stefanie Wiegan, of Germany, collects Bella Rose after arriving at the Equestrian Park from Haneda Airport. | Courtesy FEI/Yusuke Nakanishi

Also landing at Haneda en route to the equestrian venue at Baji Koen, owned by the Japan Racing Association, is Gio, the ride of double Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin (Great Britain), who will be bidding for a three-in-a-row title in Tokyo.

The 36 equine passengers 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. They will be joined by another group of dressage stars flying into Tokyo July 15.

Domien Michiels and Intermezzo van het Meerdaalhof arrive at the airport in Liege, Belgium, for their departure to Tokyo.
Domien Michiels and Intermezzo van het Meerdaalhof arrive at the airport in Liege, Belgium, for their departure to Tokyo. | Courtesy FEI/Leanjo de Koster

The first Olympic flight out of Europe saw the horses traveling from Liege in Belgium, which even has a special airport horse hotel, flying on an Emirates SkyCargo Boeing 777-F to Dubai for a 90-minute refuel and crew change, and then on to Tokyo.

Like human passengers, all horses travel with a passport. They will already have undergone a 60-day health surveillance period prior to a seven-day pre-export quarantine. They all also have export health certificates and are thoroughly checked over by veterinarians prior to boarding.

Business Class Travel

The horses fly two per pallet, or flying stable, which is the equivalent of business class for humans. On-board grooms and a veterinarian ensure their comfort and safety. The horses not only get their in-flight meals (including special meal requests) but can also snack on hay or haylage throughout the trip.

A total of 325 horses will fly into Tokyo for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Transport agent Peden Bloodstock coordinates the complex logistics for this massive airlift. The company has been in charge of Olympic and Paralympic horse transport since Rome 1960 and is the Official Equine Logistics Partner of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), global governing body for equestrian sport.

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 (nearly 30,000 pounds) of equipment on the final transfer from Haneda to Baji Koen, where the equine superstars settled into their own Olympic Athlete Village.

“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!’ ”


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