Heat and humidity top the list of concerns about moving the Beijing Olympic equestrian competition to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, but most competitors say the world-class amenities available in the territory more than compensate for the climatic inconvenience.
Top Swiss dressage rider and world No 4 Silvia Ikl said on her website in January that she did not want to expose her horse Salieri to travel-related stress and the humidity of the region in August, and as such would be withdrawing from the event.
Swiss chief dressage coach Peter von Grebel responded to the loss of his top rider by pulling the entire Swiss dressage team from the competition in Hong Kong, which often sees the mercury soar above 31 C by day or 26 C at night from July to September, according to the Hong Kong Observatory.
The competition was moved south of the mainland to circumvent China's tough quarantine laws and minimize the threat of equine diseases soon after Beijing won the bid to host the Olympics in 2001. It is only the second time in Olympic history that the sport is being held in another city. A precedent was set at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics when equestrian was shifted to Stockholm, again because of legal complications relating to quarantining the horses.
Hong Kong enjoys relatively liberal regulations, with temporary importation measures in place since the former British colony developed Hong Kong Jockey Club as one of the world's leading racing venues.
Nonetheless, a number of European and American equestrian riders have voiced concern over how the long haul to the territory will affect the welfare of their mounts.
In a bid to allay their fears, a workshop was organized at the headquarters of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) in Lausanne, Switzerland recently. Representatives from each national federation were briefed on local veterinary conditions in Hong Kong and shown comprehensive weather reports.
The FEI, Great Britain and Germany all continued to voice their support for the competition.
"Preparations are going ahead as planned and we are looking forward to an exciting Olympic Games," FEI Communication Manager Malina Fueorguiev told China Daily after the withdrawal of the Swiss dressage team.
"Protocols being developed will ensure the horses' welfare," said British Equestrian Federation (BEF) performance director Will Connell. His team is well prepared for the high temperatures as they sent a 30-member contingent to last year's test event to collect data, he added.
The pre-Olympic tune-up, held on August 11-13 last year, received high praise from international riders and authorities despite the wet and challenging weather conditions.
The horses were treated to air-conditioned stables and were allowed to cool down after every major workout - with 40 tons of ice used at the cross-country event alone.
Riding into history books
China hopes to make its Olympic equestrian debut this summer but its riders are still handicapped by a lack of experience and the huge financial hurdles involved.
As host, China is allotted six berths - four in jumping, one in dressage and one in eventing.
However, with each rider spending an estimated $2.5 million (competition horses cost from $205,000 to $620,000) just to compete, and the government unwilling to invest in the sport, riders are thin on the ground.
"We're lagging far behind the rest of the world so we have a lot of pressure to achieve our goals," Chinese Equestrian Association (CEA) director Cheng Qing told China Daily.
"But now we have five hopefuls, which is better than we expected."
The five riders and their mounts have until June to satisfy the Olympic qualifying standards and make their way into the history books.
Eighteen-year-old eventer Alex Hua Tian is China's best bet in terms of qualifying. Having trained in Britain for seven years by Clayton and Lucinda Fredericks, the world's top eventing riders, Hua will become the youngest rider in Olympic history if he qualifies.
All five riders are now training and competing in Europe to bolster their chances.
Alex Hua Tian
Date of birth: October 25, 1989
Alex has qualified to start competing at CIC/CNC*** level. He has until June 30 to qualify for the Olympic Games. He will be required to attain at least one qualifying round at CIC*** level and one at CCI*** level.
Date of birth: February 20, 1979
winner; 2005 10th National Games bronze medalist
Date of birth:
June 11, 1963
Date of birth: February 5, 1973
Highlights: 2006 Equestrian National Championships winner
Date of birth: July 23, 1968
Highlights: 2005 10th National Games silver medalist