Transporting athletes to the Olympics may not sound like a complicated process — but it is when those Olympians are horses. That's right: equestrian horses have to travel to the Olympics, just like their riders, but the process of getting them there, especially when the competition is overseas, is complex.
This year, according to Forbes, the US Equestrian horses had a different journey to Tokyo than they usually would. Equestrian horses travel on freight flights in business class, where they're placed two to a stall. This part of the process can be incredibly expensive, and the increased costs during the pandemic led US Equestrian to go a different route. Instead of scheduling direct flights from the US to Tokyo, which were few and far between and even more expensive than usual, the team divided the trip into two legs. First, this spring, the US-based horses traveled to Liège, Belgium, to quarantine, rest, and train. From there, they were able to share flights with other Europe-based teams in order to reach Tokyo.
This type of travel requires several steps and modes of transportation. Initially, horses are transported by horse trailer from their stables to the airport, where they undergo veterinary checks to ensure they're cleared to fly. At that point, they're taken for a long walk before the flight. Once they're at the loading area of the airport, they're checked again, then loaded onto their stalls on the plane. The team vet and the horses' grooms travel with them for the flight, bringing trunks full of all the necessities for the weeks they'll be away from home: food, medicine, equipment, and so on.
After arrival, they go through another series of checks and eventually are transported to the Olympic stables, where they are trained and taken care of leading up to their events. Transporting Olympic horses is a massive undertaking, to say the least, but it's all about making sure that they're in the best shape possible, like any other athletes, ahead of the biggest competition of their careers. Take a closer look at their journey to Tokyo in the clip above.