When the equestrian events of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games are held Aug. 9-20, the world will see if China has met the numerous
challenges facing the successful staging of those events. Concern was raised, even from the beginning of China's Olympic bid,
in three main areas:
- The August weather in Beijing is extremely hot and humid, and many countries questioned whether successful equine competition
could take place there at that time.
- Travel to China involves long flights from many countries and that, coupled with the threats of avian flu, Japanese encephalitis
and equine influenza, prompted Chinese officials to impose lengthy quarantine protocols for horses attending the games. Many
riders felt their horses would not be able to perform at their best with such a long disruption from their normal schedules.
- China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and, until recently, Beijing air quality routinely measured five times higher
than the safety level recommended by the World Health Organization. The performance of both equine and human athletes is affected
greatly by particulate matter and related air pollution. Many competitors vowed that China would have to guarantee clean air
before they would attend.
Soon we'll see how China has addressed these three challenges.
Concerns about competing in heat and humidity are not new. "On to Atlanta '96," a 1994 publication from the FEI Samsung International
Equine Sports Medicine Conference held in Atlanta that year, raised the issue but stated there did not appear to be any way
around the problem if equestrian events were to remain part of the Olympics.
The 1996 games represented the first time equestrian Olympic events were to be held in a very hot and humid environment, and
veterinarians and exercise physiology researchers began an initiative to find out more about hot-weather competition with
the goal of being able to hold games in stressful environments while assuring the safety of equine athletes.
As a result of this initiative, many new cooling methods, such as the misting fans now seen at most sporting events, conditioning
and acclimatization techniques and other innovations have become standard for use by athletes competing in hot weather. The
2008 games have bene-fited from research done at Atlanta and from work done in preparation for Olympic Games in Barcelona
and Seoul, where hot temperatures played a role.
The 2008 weather issue
Because of poorer air quality in mainland China and difficulties ensuring a true disease-free zone, the equestrian portion
of the 2008 games was moved to Hong Kong. Chinese officials cited the nearly 100 years of racing history and the expertise
of the Hong Kong Jockey Club as factors which made that location a natural choice.
The jumping and dressage events will be at the Hong Kong Olympic Equestrian Venue at Shatin, and the cross-country event will
be at the Beas River facility, converted from two golf courses. The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) has invested over $109 million
in these facilities, which feature four blocks of newly constructed, air-conditioned stalls capable of housing 200 horses.
These air-conditioned stalls and an enclosed, air-conditioned arena should allow the horses to perform close to their maximal
All of the competitions, except for the cross-country portion of the eventing program, will be at night. Up to 30 tons of
ice will be available daily to help cool down the horses. All of this attention is warranted because Hong Kong temperatures
in August can easily be in the 90s, with 70 percent or higher humidity.
"Most horses should be able to acclimatize in about 10 days," says Dr. Christopher Riggs, the Hong Kong Jockey Club head of
Veterinary Services, but it is also worth noting that the HKJC does not hold any meets and no summer racing goes on in Hong
Kong. "The conditions do present difficulties," admits Dr. John McEwen, chairman of the FEI Veterinary Committee, "but every
effort is made to ensure that neither the training nor competition sessions are in any way detrimental to the welfare of the