Olympic Organizers Confident Hong Kong Weather will not Endanger Horses

Olympic organizers do not expect other equestrian teams to follow the lead of Switzerland by pulling out of events at this year's Games due to Hong Kong's heat and humidity.

The Swiss team said Wednesday that it would not take part in the dressage event in Hong Kong because top rider Silvia Ikle was concerned about the stress of the weather and travel on her horse.

"We haven't been officially notified by the Swiss team, but we will respect their decision," Christopher Yip, media manager of the Equestrian Company, the body overseeing the Games' equestrian events said Thursday.

"We don't expect to see any other teams pulling out."

Hong Kong, which has a well-established racing circuit, was chosen to host the equestrian events at this year's Olympics, due to an outbreak of equine diseases and substandard quarantine procedures in mainland China.

But even the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which organizes horse racing in the Chinese territory and has invested about $109 million into building new venues for the events, does not hold races during the summer months, when temperatures reach 90°F with severe humidity.

Organizers, however, said the weather in Hong Kong was not unique and that horses taking part in past Olympics in Atlanta and Athens faced similar conditions.

Most horses should be able to acclimatize within about 10 days, Christopher Riggs, BVSc, PhD, DEO, Dipl. ECVS, MRCVS, the Hong Kong Jockey Club's head of veterinary services, said. "This is what we have advised, and this is what we saw happen in Atlanta and Athens," he said.

Yip said the dressage and showjumping events would be held at night, and that horses would be kept in air conditioned stables. He said they would employ misting fans, using up to 30 tons of ice a day, to keep the horses cool.

"We have taken this factor into consideration. There were no problems when riders came to try out the facilities in August," he said.

But many competitors and their horses did not attend the August trial and that has perhaps led to concerns that the horses will suffer during the hot, humid weather.

"If you think that your horse is in danger, or is going to die, then there's nothing anyone can tell you about the facilities that's going to make you change your mind," said one rider in the territory, requesting anonymity.

The Swiss team pulled out after world No. 4 Ikle said she would not risk taking her horse to Hong Kong.

Peter von Grebel, head of the Swiss dressage team, told the Associated Press that "a stressed dressage horse simply can't deliver a top performance."

"In Atlanta we knew the situation, and it was extremely hot. I have to say our performance in Atlanta was also not optimal, partly due to the weather," he said.

Swiss dressage trainer Juergen Koschel resigned as a result of the pull-out, von Grebel said.

"As a professional, he doesn't see any sporting challenges for the coming year, and that's why he said perhaps there are other teams that need a national trainer."

The Swiss team will be replaced by another on the ranking list at the Games, Hong Kong's Equestrian Company said.

Approximately 200 horses will take part in the equestrian events in Hong Kong between Aug. 9 to 20.

Associated Press Writer Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.

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