Equestrian has become one of the trickiest events for organizers of the 2008
The event was moved hundreds of kilometers south of the Chinese capital
to Hong Kong, where animal diseases are less common than in Chinese mainland. But
some still worry how the horses will fare in Hong Kong's tropical heat and the
impact of isolating the sport from the main competition.
Organizers of the equestrian event hope to test out logistics and weather in
a small-scale trial competition next weekend.
Seventeen horses and their riders will arrive from France, Britain and the
U.S. among other nations, joining 20 local horses in dressage, jumping and
eventing competitions from August 11-13.
"The main purpose for the trial is to let the horses acclimatize to local
weather conditions, so they can get an idea of the humidity and adjust," said
Christopher Yip, a spokesman at the company set up for the Hong Kong equestrian
The International Equestrian Federation had opposed the relocation of the
2008 equestrian events to Hong Kong, complaining that it would hurt the sport by
separating it from the main Games in Beijing, about a four-hour flight away.
But the International Olympic Committee accepted the proposal by Beijing
organizers, who said Hong Kong is free of quarantine problems and equine
diseases common on Chinese mainland.
It's not the first time the Olympic equestrian events have become
problematic. When Melbourne hosted the 1956 Olympics, the events were held
thousands of kilometers away in Stockholm, Sweden, because of strict quarantine
laws in Australia.
Beijing said 17 equine diseases are prevalent in Beijing and other mainland
Chinese cities. It also said it had "major difficulties" establishing a
disease-free zone. In contrast, Hong Kong has a long history managing race
Hong Kong has a small population of horses concentrated in training schools
and racecourses, making it easy to monitor their health, Jolly Choi, a
spokeswoman for the government's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation
Incoming horses will be isolated from local race horses throughout their stay
to minimize any risks of contamination, Choi said. The horses must also undergo
tests both upon arriving in Hong Kong and before they leave the territory, she
Horse racing is a major industry in the city, and equestrian organizers and
observers say they are confident in the experience of the overseeing body, the
Hong Kong Jockey Club, which is providing the main venues for the equestrian
Li Tak-nang, a Jockey Club spokesman, said the body prides itself on its
expertise in comprehensive horse welfare, including everything from
accommodation to stabling to transportation.
"Our experience in taking care of race horses is more than enough for
handling equestrian horses," he said.
Hong Kong's sweltering summer heat and humidity, however, remain major
problems. Last August, the average maximum temperature in the territory reached
nearly 31 degrees Celsius (88 Fahrenheit), and this year has been even hotter.
Yip said organizers will use up to 40 metric tons (44 short tons) of ice per
day for to make ice water to cool horses down.
The trial event next weekend will be held in the early morning and evening to
avoid the worst of the heat. Large misting fans have been installed in
air-conditioned stables, and the Jockey Club has also converted an
air-conditioned indoor stadium into a training arena for the event, Yip said.
Lucy Higginson, editor at the London-based Horse and Hound magazine, said
British riders and owners approve of the facilities in Hong Kong.
"I just hope the weather will be a little forgiving," she