Equine health and performance at Tokyo 2020

With optimising performance in challenging climatic conditions high on the agenda during the numerous Ready Steady Tokyo test events, the FEI had already put in place a major research study aimed at identifying best practices and management of horses training and competing in hot and humid environments.

Long traveling times and distances, time-zone disruptions, and heat and humidity pose specific challenges to horses and of course to human athletes. Monitoring of the combined effects of all these factors was put in place prior to the horses’ departure from their home countries en route to Tokyo and throughout last week’s equestrian test event in the Japanese capital. Data collected will be used to provide the FEI, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee (TOCOG) as well as National Olympic and Paralympic Committees with detailed information on equine performance in these conditions. 

“High-level equestrian competitions are increasingly taking place in parts of the world where the climate poses health challenges for both humans and horses,” FEI Veterinary Director Göran Akerström said.

“The study plays a crucial role in guiding the TOCOG and other Organising Committees on appropriate facilities and support, and will be used to advise and guide athletes and National Federations on the preparation of their horses in the build-up to and during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.” 

The study monitored horses before, during, and after their journey to Tokyo, with data collected through under-tail temperature monitors and sensors that measure stable and traveling activity, as well as thermal comfort. SaddleClip sensors were used to record gait, speed, and distance, and heart rate monitors were used on the horses prior to and during competition. The technology for the data collection was made possible through the FEI’s partnerships with Epona Biotec, Arioneo, Equestic, and Polar.

Findings from the study will build on the existing framework for implementing measures to run equestrian sports in hot and humid climates that was developed for the Games in Atlanta 1996 and the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong. Olympic test events prior to Atlanta 1996, Athens 2004, and Beijing 2008 also included organized monitoring of competing horses.

To ensure that NOCs and NFs are fully aware of the climatic challenges, the FEI included an information session on climate mitigation protocols aimed at minimizing the effects of heat and humidity in the official Observers Programme, which ran concurrently with the test event.

Four nations took part in the Ready Steady Tokyo’ Test Event, with teams also taking part in the observation programme run by the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee, including Australia and Great Britain. 

Equestrian Australia High Performance Director, Chris Webb, said “The Test Event provided us with valuable insight into the logistical and operational workings of the Games offering us the chance to learn and grow in our preparations. The facilities and the organisation that we witnessed during the Test Event were exemplary and we feel we are in a strong position moving towards the Games.” 
 

Prior to the test event, where Great Britain was represented by Georgie Spence and William Fox-Pitt, Vikki Underwood, Team GBR’s Performance Director, commented: “An Olympic and Paralympic Games held in the height of summer in Tokyo is likely to present us with some unique challenges. The test event provides us with the only opportunity to gather first-hand information on how we can optimally prepare and deliver success at the Games next year. 

“Team GBR has chosen to really invest in this opportunity in order to give us a performance edge, but we can only do so through the generosity of the horses’ owners, the riders willing to put themselves out to support the success of our team, funding from UKSport, and the expertise of the human and equine sports scientists who have worked tirelessly to ensure we are testing the right things and gathering quality information.”
 
Fox-Pitt, who finished eighth overall after battling humid and hot conditions plus spouts of rain across the three-day test event commented: “Not every horse will cope with this heat. We’ve been lucky this week, we’ve had maybe 10 degrees lower than it can be, I was soaking wet early for my jumping round so the weather is very horse specific and the rider needs to know what the horse needs.” 
 

FEI Eventing Committee Chair and Sydney 2000 Olympic Champion, David O’Connor, said: “The facilities are very impressive and we had the chance to test everything we needed to test, which was the purpose of this week’s test event.

“There are some adjustments to be made but they are minor ones, as the Organising Committee has thought through all the details and is right on track to make 2020 a really great Olympic Games for equestrian sport.”

With optimising performance in challenging climatic conditions high on the agenda during the numerous Ready Steady Tokyo test events, the FEI had already put in place a major research study aimed at identifying best practices and management of horses training and competing in hot and humid environments.

Long traveling times and distances, time-zone disruptions, and heat and humidity pose specific challenges to horses and of course to human athletes. Monitoring of the combined effects of all these factors was put in place prior to the horses’ departure from their home countries en route to Tokyo and throughout last week’s equestrian test event in the Japanese capital. Data collected will be used to provide the FEI, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee (TOCOG) as well as National Olympic and Paralympic Committees with detailed information on equine performance in these conditions.

“High-level equestrian competitions are increasingly taking place in parts of the world where the climate poses health challenges for both humans and horses,” FEI Veterinary Director Göran Akerström said.

“The study plays a crucial role in guiding the TOCOG and other Organising Committees on appropriate facilities and support, and will be used to advise and guide athletes and National Federations on the preparation of their horses in the build-up to and during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

The study monitored horses before, during, and after their journey to Tokyo, with data collected through under-tail temperature monitors and sensors that measure stable and traveling activity, as well as thermal comfort. SaddleClip sensors were used to record gait, speed, and distance, and heart rate monitors were used on the horses prior to and during competition. The technology for the data collection was made possible through the FEI’s partnerships with Epona Biotec, Arioneo, Equestic, and Polar.

Findings from the study will build on the existing framework for implementing measures to run equestrian sports in hot and humid climates that was developed for the Games in Atlanta 1996 and the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong. Olympic test events prior to Atlanta 1996, Athens 2004, and Beijing 2008 also included organized monitoring of competing horses.

To ensure that NOCs and NFs are fully aware of the climatic challenges, the FEI included an information session on climate mitigation protocols aimed at minimizing the effects of heat and humidity in the official Observers Programme, which ran concurrently with the test event.

Four nations took part in the Ready Steady Tokyo’ Test Event, with teams also taking part in the observation programme run by the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee, including Australia and Great Britain.

Equestrian Australia High Performance Director, Chris Webb, said “The Test Event provided us with valuable insight into the logistical and operational workings of the Games offering us the chance to learn and grow in our preparations. The facilities and the organisation that we witnessed during the Test Event were exemplary and we feel we are in a strong position moving towards the Games.”

Prior to the test event, where Great Britain was represented by Georgie Spence and William Fox-Pitt, Vikki Underwood, Team GBR’s Performance Director, commented: “An Olympic and Paralympic Games held in the height of summer in Tokyo is likely to present us with some unique challenges. The test event provides us with the only opportunity to gather first-hand information on how we can optimally prepare and deliver success at the Games next year.

“Team GBR has chosen to really invest in this opportunity in order to give us a performance edge, but we can only do so through the generosity of the horses’ owners, the riders willing to put themselves out to support the success of our team, funding from UKSport, and the expertise of the human and equine sports scientists who have worked tirelessly to ensure we are testing the right things and gathering quality information.”

Fox-Pitt, who finished eighth overall after battling humid and hot conditions plus spouts of rain across the three-day test event commented: “Not every horse will cope with this heat. We’ve been lucky this week, we’ve had maybe 10 degrees lower than it can be, I was soaking wet early for my jumping round so the weather is very horse specific and the rider needs to know what the horse needs.”

FEI Eventing Committee Chair and Sydney 2000 Olympic Champion, David O’Connor, said: “The facilities are very impressive and we had the chance to test everything we needed to test, which was the purpose of this week’s test event.

“There are some adjustments to be made but they are minor ones, as the Organising Committee has thought through all the details and is right on track to make 2020 a really great Olympic Games for equestrian sport.”

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