Dutch dressage rider Anky van Grusvnen (in white) in the air-conditioned stables in Hong Kong; photo taken at the 2007 "test event"; photo courtesy of www.anky.nl.
Here's the official wrap-up of the "On to Hong Kong Pre-Olympic Workshop" held in Lausanne, Switzerland earlier today:
"Horses will be better cared for than the human athletes at the equestrian Olympic Games in Hong Kong this summer!" said IOC Medical Director Dr. Patrick Schamasch at the end of today's historic Workshop on Heat & Humidity in Lausanne, Switzerland attended by 160 delegates from 25 National Federations.
And the message going out from the floor of the meeting was one of unanimous agreement that everything possible is being done to protect the equine members of the equestrian partnerships.
Martin Atock, from the official horse transportation agent, Peden Bloodstock, believes that horses should arrive in Hong Kong in great shape. "When we flew horses to Sydney, we had two technical stops but they flew well. They were relaxed before travelling, having spent 14 days in quarantine, and there is no reason why they won't travel to Hong Kong just as easily. If you stick to the rules and take the advice you are being given they should arrive safely and comfortably," he pointed out.
The series of presentations allayed fears about the challenge presented by Hong Kong's sub-tropical climate. Dr. Andrew Higgins, Chairman of the FEI's Welfare Sub-Committee, said "information is available and documented and if there is anything you don't understand or can't find, then you only have to ask and the FEI will be more than happy to answer your questions. Follow regulations, and when in Hong Kong follow the bio-security measures - we are importing healthy horses so let's keep them healthy!" he added.
Professor Leo Jeffcott, Veterinary Delegate to the 2008 Games, warned: "We don't want to make you complacent. This is a great venue but we also need a great effort to ensure success and that includes RESPONSIBLE RIDING in these conditions. Horses must not be over-stretched and should be really fit - if we don't have responsible riding then everything we have put in place will come to nothing....."
Veterinary expert Dr. Catherine Kohn of the USA said that today's speakers were "advocates for the welfare of your horses. Please make use of all the resources being made available to you. Our goal is safe and excellent competition".
Equine physiologist Dr. David Marlin pointed out that the state-of-the-art air-conditioning and cooling facilities "should be a major contribution to the welfare and safety of your horses" while Dr Chris Riggs, Head of Veterinary Clinical Services at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, emphasised that "between now and the Games, phone us, contact us by email, keep in touch with us - there is only so much we can guess about what you need in terms of supplies and facilities - let us know what your particular requirements are and we will do our best to help. There is no point in turning up to find that there are things you need which we don't have - we can't give you everything but we don't want to disappoint you".
Dr. Keith Watkins from the Hong Kong Jockey Club and Equestrian Company once again emphasised the need for vigilance in order to safeguard horse health, and FEI Veterinary Director Frits Sluyter recommended that all horses should be vaccinated against Japanese Encephalitis, a disease endemic in the region.
John McEwen, Chairman of the FEI Veterinary Commission, said "the FEI is listening and we want to get it right. Between now and the Olympic Games we want to hear from you, if you feel we are missing something. The climate will be challenging but we have the data and the expertise and there is no need for the health and safety of any horse to be compromised. All the work produced for this Workshop has been done in the name of "Best Practice" and today's event was staged to increase debate and the flow of information. Now we want you to go away and spread the news".
"We are very happy to have provided so much good research for the Workshop" said the FEI's Deputy Secretary General Alex McLin, "now it is up to the Federations to look at it carefully and to act on it" and the FEI President HRH Princess Haya concluded that the honors this summer will go "to the horse and rider partnerships who have done their homework best".
"We are unique in our sport because horses and riders are equal partners but the horses cannot speak for themselves and therefore we must protect them in every way we can," she pointed out. "Today's Workshop has been very important because it is about communicating what we have learned over a number of years - information that can help all of those coming to Hong Kong this summer to be fully informed so that they can be prepared and give their very best".