While the coronavirus pandemic has made things increasingly difficult for world-class athletes to travel, spare a thought for all the horses that cross continents for the Olympic and Paralympic equestrian events.

Just like in previous years, all horses competing in this year’s tournament are expected to complete seven days of pre-export quarantine. During this time, they’re tested (through a swab and blood sample) for certain diseases, including equine influenza.

Although there’s no evidence that horses can carry and transmit COVID-19, the animals can spread equine coronavirus (known as ECoV), a highly contagious horse-to-horse virus first identified in the early 2000s. But how are horses actually transported? By plane.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to squeeze past one slumped in the aisle seat as you jet off on your holiday. The British Equestrian Society (the body responsible for Team GB’s equine athletes) fly the animals on specially chartered flights in their very own business class with wide stalls for maximum comfort.

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While not typically sedated unless they have a bad reaction to flying, horses often appear to enjoy their time aboard planes, surrounded by food (a type of hay with high moisture content) and a team of staffers and vets to look after them throughout the journey.

After landing, the horses are kept in isolation at Tokyo’s Olympic Village for the duration of the Olympics and are cared for by professionals throughout their two-month stay.

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Of course, during this time the horses get the chance to win bronze, silver or gold medals for their riders – but not themselves. Although the animals aren’t handed a chunk of precious metal, they do earn a ribbon for any victory. That beats a lump of sugar, right?

About the author, Kimberley Bond

Kimberley is a science and psychologist writer, having penned articles for Wired, The Independent, Radio Times and The Telegraph.