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Preparing for Olympics a challenge for equestrians

Volume 39, Issue 8

'Green Olympics'

Organizers want this to be a "Green Olympics." Chief in this effort is the recycling of stable waste into organic fertilizer using earthworm vermicomposting. Manure, bedding and all stable waste will go to the recycling plant daily, where millions of earthworms slowly will turn the waste into fertilizer. During the games nearly 30 tons of waste will be processed daily, and it is hoped that this will reduce the use of landfills, lessen greenhouse effects and provide usable organic fertilizer. Many recycled products were used in the equestrian venues' construction, 500 new trees and 17,000 new shrubs were planted and the lighting and air-conditioning at the Shatin venue offer energy savings of up to 30 percent.

Environmental conservation has been central to China's efforts to improve air quality for the games. Beijing is a city of 17 million and is adding 1,000 vehicles a day to its crowded roads. Officials have made steps to help air quality, and many factories and plants have agreed to a reduction in output of 70 percent during the games.

Similar responses from many corporations and a 50 percent reduction of the 3.3 million cars on the roads also should clear the air substantially. From late July until late September, Beijing drivers will be allowed to drive only on alternate days. Close monitoring of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide levels has led to better air quality, and the number of clear-sky days in Beijing more than doubled from 100 in 1998 to nearly 250 in 2007.

Still, many athletes say the particulate matter and air quality still are not acceptable. Marathon world record-holder Haile Gebrelassie of Ethiopia has pulled out of the 2008 games for that reason. The No. 4 dressage rider in the world, Silvia Ikle of Switzerland, also pulled out and the entire Swiss dressage equestrian team followed suit. The Swiss coach noted that cold-weather horses had traditionally faired poorly in hot-weather competitions, although German and other Scandinavian teams have done well. Canadian dressage riders Cindy Ishoy and Ashley Nicoll-Holzer, team bronze medal winners at Seoul, also announced their withdrawal from the games, citing climate and health hazards and travel.

Travel and restrictions

The travel conditions that concern riders are the long flights to Hong Kong and the importation restrictions on incoming horses.

While travel stress can have severe effects on horses, many import/export companies have perfected the process of equine shipping so that even long trips often can be accomplished with minimal stress to most horses.

Import requirements for the 2008 games, however, require that a horse be pre-export quarantined for seven days at an approved facility. Following importation, that horse must be quarantined for 10 additional days. The FEI allows only 50 horses per day to enter the quarantine facility because of time required for examinations. That means that the expected 200 horses will take five days to enter the quarantine facility and that the 10-day import quarantine will not start until the last horse has arrived, totaling up to seven days pre-export and 15 days post-import quarantine.

Horses may be exercised and worked in these facilities during this time, but it is a very different environment for them. Many riders feel that such a long disruption of normal activities will not allow their horses to show and compete well. But the Olympic organizers, the HKJC and the FEI feel that the threat of infectious disease justifies the long quarantine.

Test events were held in Hong Kong during 2007 to provide information to veterinarians, riders and officials. High heat and humidity were experienced, but the horses tolerated those conditions well. The conclusion was that heat and humidity may be intense, but that lessons learned from other hot-weather Olympics can provide safety for competing horses. Contingency plans must be in place because the August climate in Hong Kong can change rapidly and severe situations may occur.

Much of the success or failure of the 2008 Olympic equestrian games may be determined by what type of Hong Kong weather shows up. Torrential storms, intense heat and humidity or stagnant, low winds that allow pollution to increase may force cancellations, postponements or result in more competitors withdrawing. More moderate heat and humidity, nice breezes and no storms may have equestrians singing the praises of the 2008 Games.

Officials and others involved in the Beijing games have tried to control as much as they can, but, like the events themselves, the outcome will be uncertain until the games are played.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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