Just How Do Those Horses Get to the Olympics?

How does an Olympic horse get to Sydney? Flying, of course – but on a plane, in a massive project organized by the Sydney Organizing Committee for the 2000 Olympic Games (SOCOG). Some 237 horses arrived in Australia between Aug. 21 to 25 at the rate of roughly 45 a day to prepare for the competitions beginning Sept. 15 at the Sydney International Equestrian Centre.

Quarantine in Australia is very strict, and all horses traveling to the games were required to spend two weeks in quarantine overseas before boarding their flights to Sydney. In fact, U.S. Three-Day team member Karen O'Connor was forced to withdraw her qualified mount, Regal Scott, due to an oversight. His quarantine papers were filed 24 hours later than the Australian deadline.

The special equine flights, arranged by SOCOG, include grooms, veterinarians and shipping staff members to ensure the animals' health upon arrival in Australia. The flights, in most cases, are long, with European horses requiring a 36-hour trip with two fueling stops, and U.S. horses 27 hours, with one refueling stop.

A well-oiled machine was in place when the horses touched down at the Sydney airport. Barriers were in place to secure the unloading area. Horses were moved from the aircraft stalls over rubber mats on the tarmac and loaded immediately onto trucks already in place to transport them directly to the Equestrian Centre.

Horses travel in equine comfort on the airplane, in specially matted and padded stalls. Their choice of airline cuisine consists of all the hay they can eat, and plenty of water to avoid the stress of travel. Travel is generally easier for them in planes than on the road. Although they stand in stalls, they are able to sleep on board, too, since horses have a special mechanism that allows them to lock their knees and sleep while standing. So they don't even miss the movie.