Can horses fly? Yes, they can – when they are Olympic athletes.
36 horses just flew into Japan from Europe in a specially equipped Emirates jet, to participate in the Equestrian events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, being held in 2021
They were the first group of more than 300 horses competing in equestrian events. The first planeload was are all Dressage horses, including some Olympic superstars, among them Bella Rose, the mare ridden by Germany’s Isabell Werth, who is the most decorated Olympic equestrian athlete of all time.
Another flying horse en route to the equestrian venue at Baji Koen, owned by the Japan Racing Association, was Gio, the ride of double Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin (GBR), who will be bidding for an unprecedented three-in-a-row title in Tokyo.
The 36 equine passengers will be prancing and jumping for teams from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, Portugal and host nation Japan, as well as individuals from Brazil, Estonia, Finland, Ireland and Morocco.
Additional groups of Equestrian Dressage are joining them. A total of 328 horses will be flown into Tokyo across the two Games and the complex logistics for this massive airlift.
Horses Fly Business Class
The first Olympic flight out of Europe saw the horses travelling from Liege in Belgium, where there’s even a special airport horse hotel.
The plane was an an Emirates SkyCargo Boeing 777, which made a 90-minute stop in Dubai for a refueling and crew change and then on to Tokyo.
The horses fly two per pallet, or flying stable, which is the equivalent of business class.
Their comfort and safety is ensured by flying grooms and an on-board veterinarian.
Unlike two-legged passengers, the horses not only get their in-flight meals (including special meal requests of course), but can snack throughout the trip on hay or haylage. And, like two-legged passengers, they can take a nap.
Since they are flying business class, does that mean the horses get flat beds to sleep in?
Although horses might occasionally indulge in a spot of lying down to snooze in the sun at home, they actually sleep standing up.
According to the Fédération Equestre Internationale, horses have something called the “stay apparatus”, which allows tendons and ligaments to effectively lock the knees and hocks (in the hind legs) so that they don’t fall over while they’re dozing off. So there’s no need for flat beds on the flight.
Getting Horses from the Airport
A convoy of 11 state-of-the-art air-conditioned horse trucks, owned by the Japanese Racing Association, transported the horses – and 13,500 kilograms of equipment – on the final transfer from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Baji Koen, their Olympic Athlete Village, aka the stables.
Additional flights of horses are expected to follow the same procedure.
The complex logistics for this massive airlift have been coordinated by transport agents, Peden Bloodstock, which has been in charge of Olympic and Paralympic horse transport since Rome 196, and is the Official Equine Logistics Partner of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), global governing body for equestrian sport. Peden Bloodstock became title partner of the FEI Best Athlete Award in 2019.
Equestrian sport in Tokyo 2020
A record number of countries – 50 – are competing in the equestrian events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games following the introduction of new formats that limit teams to three members. That means more countries will have the opportunity to compete on the Olympic stage than ever before.
A total of seven countries will be fielding full teams in all three Olympic disciplines, including the host nation Japan.
The others are Australia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Sweden and the USA. One of the USA members is Jessica Springsteen, a champion equestrian who happens to be music icon Bruce Springsteen’s daughter.
For more photos of the flying horses, visit the Flickr page of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI)
Fast flight facts:
- 18 hours 15 minutes – flight time Liege to Tokyo, with a touchdown in Dubai
- Aircraft detail: Emirates SkyCargo Boeing 777-F (flight numbers EK9388 LGG-DXB, EK9442 DXB-HND)
- 19 flying stables on-board
- Dimensions of the flying stables: 317cms long, 244cms wide, 233cms high
- 14-17° Celsius – on-board temperature
- 36 Dressage horses – teams from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, Portugal and host nation Japan, and individual horses from Brazil, Estonia, Finland, Ireland and Morocco.
- 22,700kgs +/- total weight of horses flying from Liege
- 630kg is the average weight of a Dressage horse
- 13,500kgs of horse equipment
- 12,000 kgs of feed (not including in-flight meals & snacks)
- 40 litres of water per horse
Total transport trivia
Tokyo Olympic Games & Paralympic Games
- 247 – total number of horses travelling to Tokyo for the Olympic Games
- 78 – total number of horses travelling to Tokyo for the Paralympic Games
- 630kg – average weight of a Dressage horse; 515kg – average weight of an Eventing horse; 610kg – average weight of a Jumping horse
- 14 – total number of horse flights for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
- 5 – total number of horse flights for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
- 100,000kgs – total weight of the horse equipment (including saddles, bridles, boots, bandages, rugs, lungeing equipment, headcollars, grooming kits, shoes & studs, wheelbarrows & pitch forks)
- 60,000kgs – total feed weight (feed/haylage)
- 185 – total number of truck journeys between Haneda airport and the equestrian park at Baji Koen
About Emirates Airlines
From a sustainability perspective, Emirates has implemented a number of initiatives to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions where operationally feasible, including its long-standing operation of flexible routes in partnership with air navigation service providers to create the most efficient flight plan for each flight.
The airline, which operates one of the world’s youngest aircraft fleets, also uses advanced data analytics, machine learning and AI in its fuel monitoring and aircraft weight management programs.
- ecoXplorer Evelyn Kanter has flown Emirates several times – to Milan, to Dubai and to Bankkok, and their service is excellent.
Haneda Airport (HND)
Haneda Airport handled over 87 million passengers in 2018, making it the third busiest airport in Asia and the fourth busiest in the world, after Atlanta, Beijing and Dubai. Following expansion in 2018, Haneda is able to handle 90 million passengers per year – not counting horses!
With Haneda and Narita combined, Tokyo has the third-busiest city airport system in the world, after London and New York City
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