Olympic Equestrian Competition Stadium Opens for Horses

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The view from the spectator stands over the competition arena toward the Queen's House and the skyline of London. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LONDON, July 25–Towering spectator stands have created one of the largest competition stadiums at the Olympic Games opening in two days as horses and riders on Wednesday had their first view of the sweeping panoramic view of London’s skyline.

Horses for eventing, the first of the three Olympic equestrian disciplines–dressage and jumping are the other two–have been moving into the stabling in the past two days ahead of the start of their competition on Friday with dressage. On Wednesday, each nation walked their horses around the competition arena for a practice veterinary inspection.

Equestrian sports, celebrating their 100th anniversary of Olympic participation, were one of the first to sell out of all 26 sports in these Olympics, all 23,000 seats surrounding the dressage and jumping arena and another 50,000 to watch the cross country. Aside from existing permanent stadiums such as for soccer and tennis at Wimbledon, the equestrian facility is second only to the Olympic Stadium with 80,000 seats in spectator capacity.

The equestrian venue at Greenwich Park is London’s oldest royal park dating back almost 600 years. Ironically, the stadium is the ultimate in temporary–featuring stables, competition and warmup arenas all built on giant plywood platforms raised on steel pneumatic pylons to avoid damaging plants or the ground. The cost has been put at £60 million (US$97 million), up from the initial estimate of £6 million.

Security has become a major issue at these Games, partly by the fear of a terrorist attack and partly by the failure of a private security company to enlist anywhere near enough civilians guards that Britain’s military had to take over.

Troops on the march at the Olympic equestrian stadium in London. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The equine athletes’ trunks of equipment undergo the equivalent of the airport-style “mag and bag” checks done on every person attending the Olympic Games, performed at a specially constructed Equine Staging Facility (EFS) at Greenwich University.

The equine athletes are undergoing even stricter screening than human athletes before entering Olympic venues.

On arrival at the ESF, horses are unloaded from trucks and taken to temporary stabling where an initial health check is carried out by a veterinary team to make sure that the horses have no signs of infectious disease or injury, standard bio-security procedure at all international events.

At the same time, the horse trucks are checked inside and out using sniffer dogs. The cargo is then unloaded and scanned before being loaded onto separate trucks for delivery to the stables.

After the interior of the horse transporter has been screened, the horses are reloaded and ramps and doors security sealed.

The horses are then driven the five miles (8km) to the Olympic stables at Greenwich Park.

A second more complete health check is carried out by the FEI Veterinary Commission, including checking out the horses’ passports.

Over the next two weeks, horses from 40 countries on six continents will be staying in Greenwich Park for Olympic equestrian events, with 54 for dressage and 90 for jumping in addition to the eventers. The busiest day will be Aug. 1 when 39 trucks and 88 horses go through the ESF en route to Greenwich. A further 78 horses will be on site during the Paralympic Games.

The stables, which are the equine equivalent of the Athletes Village in the Olympic Park, are all above ground to protect the Greenwich Park grassland.

There are 200 stables, each measuring 11 1/2 x 13 feet (3.5x4m).

A round-the-clock veterinary clinic has been set up on site staffed by a team of equine veterinary experts as well as veterinarians accompanying many teams.