Take a Tour of the Olympic Stables

Members of the foreign press were invited to tour the Olympic stables. Access was limited and we didn't get to see all of the stable blocks (we were assured they're all identical), but we got a glimpse of life inside the famously air-conditioned stables.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which modified and added to its existing facilities at the Sha Tin Racecourse, spared no expense in recruiting world-renowned experts to help design the Olympic facilities. It spent more than HK$1.2 billion ($153 million USD) on the equestrian venues, and the results have drawn unqualified praise from both veterinarians and competitors.

Interior view of the Olympic stable block

Inside an air-conditioned stable (this is the block for the Brazilian, Mexican, and Australian teams).

Five stable blocks of a center-aisle design can accommodate a total of 225 horses. The stables are kept at a constant temperature of 23 to 24°C--73.4 to 75.2°F--which, experts determined, is the ideal temperature for keeping horses comfortably cool yet not so cold that they experience unpleasant shock when they step out into the heat or get chilled when they return to their stalls after exercising or competing. Ceilings are high for safety and good ventilation and have ceiling fans.

The flooring everywhere--stalls, aisles, wash areas, even throughout the veterinary facilities--is nonskid rubber. It feels firm under foot but has a bit of give and is studded with tiny raised "pimples" or grains to afford good traction.

Disinfection station

Disinfectant station along a barn aisle.

The stalls are constructed of galvanized steel and recycled bamboo. Each stall measures nearly twelve by twelve feet and is equipped with an automatic waterer. Teams can choose between straw or recycled newspaper for bedding. And here, the muck buckets are made from wicker!

Roomy and airy wash bays are available in each stable block. The rubber-lined bays open to the outside and are oversized for easy bathing. They overlook a fenced round pen used for longeing.

One unique feature of each stable block is a "rolling box": a round, high-walled enclosure deeply lined with coarse, light-colored sand so that horses can enjoy a good back-scratchy roll without danger of becoming cast or sustaining a scrape.

Misting tents are easily accessible from the stable blocks. Both sides of each tent are lined with special fans that blow a very fine mist chilled to 6°C (about 43°F). Organizers needed to locate fans capable of producing a finer mist than such fans typically generate, to help produce more-efficient cooling even with Hong Kong's high humidity levels, which are regularly 80 to 90% at this time of year. After a worldwide search, they found the fans they needed in, of all places, Hong Kong. The misting tents also are stocked with hoses and shower-type nozzles for cold-water hosing; the water is the same temperature as the chilled mist.

Rolling box

Horses can enjoy a safe roll in this round, sand-lined pen.

According to Christopher Riggs, BVSc, PhD, DEO, DiplECVS, MRCVS, 2008 Olympics veterinary-services manager, horses adore spending time in the misting tents. "They lean in and put their faces in the mist, and then they'll turn around and back their rumps up to the fans," he said. "You'd think that horses would be spooked at going in the tents because they seem a bit like a wind tunnel when the fans are on, but that's not the case at all."

"Green" Considerations

The Olympic stables include some environmentally friendly elements. Besides the bamboo wood in the stalls and the recycled-newspaper bedding, the aisleway material is made from recycled tires. The barns and air-conditioned indoor arena feature high-energy cooling and lighting systems--although some of the energy savings are negated by the fact that the barn and arena doors are often kept wide open.

Manure and soiled bedding are recycled and turned into fertilizer via vermicomposting (earthworms).

About the Author

Jennifer O. Bryant

Jennifer O. Bryant is editor-at-large of the U.S. Dressage Federation's magazine, USDF Connection. An independent writer and editor, Bryant contributes to many equestrian publications, has edited numerous books, and authored Olympic Equestrian. More information about Jennifer can be found on her site, www.jenniferbryant.net.

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