Tuesday, May. 28, 2024

Hong Kong Prepares For Olympic Equestrian Events

Although Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games, due to insurmountable health and quarantine issues, the equestrian events will actually take place in Hong Kong.

In 2001, the International Olympic Committee announced that Beijing, China, would host the 2008 Olympic Games. But it was only in 2005 that the Fédération Equestre Internationale shocked the equestrian community by announcing the Organi-zing Committee’s decision to relocate the equestrian disciplines to Hong Kong.



Although Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games, due to insurmountable health and quarantine issues, the equestrian events will actually take place in Hong Kong.

In 2001, the International Olympic Committee announced that Beijing, China, would host the 2008 Olympic Games. But it was only in 2005 that the Fédération Equestre Internationale shocked the equestrian community by announcing the Organi-zing Committee’s decision to relocate the equestrian disciplines to Hong Kong.

Since then, “Asia’s capital city” has stepped up to the plate with remarkable enthusiasm, creating an equestrian company as a subsidiary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (encompassing Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories) and securing the support of the world-famous Hong Kong Jockey Club as their largest financial stakeholder.

With land at a premium in Hong Kong, this jewel of the Orient has necessarily been growing upwards, with many of their downtown skyscrapers topping 80 floors. Apart from various city parks and Happy Valley—the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s premier racecourse, which is now surrounded by concrete and glass monoliths—the Olympic organizers looked outside to Sha Tin, and specifically to Penfold Park and the neighboring Sha Tin Sports Institute.

A 20-minute train ride from the Kowloon Peninsula, Sha Tin is an expanding “new” town built on reclaimed land, which provides a fascinating yet far from typical setting for an Olympic event.

Within the beautifully landscaped Penfold Park, the HKJC’s No. 2 racetrack is adjacent to the elite athletes’ Sha Tin Sports Institute, skirted on one side by the vast, picturesque and occasionally pungent Shing Mun River, and framed by urban sprawl and the ugly gray concrete columns of high-rise apartment buildings that have sprouted from former rice paddies.

With the HKJC funding the construction of new facilities, as well as redesigning and revamping the Sports Institute to the tune of $100 million, the project to provide a world-class Olympic venue is well under way. With construction at the main competition venue continuing 10 hours a day, seven days a week, the project team is optimistically forecasting completion of the facility in time for the test event scheduled for August 2007.

Although Hong Kong’s equine health and quarantine restrictions are similar to mainland China, the HKJC—established in 1841 under British colonial rule—has enjoyed a long and extremely profitable relationship with horses through its extensive Thor-oughbred racing industry. The HKJC provides an experienced, multi-national roster of personnel who have world-renowned expertise in importing and exporting horses, and the knowledge to deal with any associated health issues.

During the period of the Games, however, John Ridley, a native Australian and head of racing operations for the HKJC at Sha Tin racetrack, explained that in order to safeguard the year-round population of some 1,200 Thoroughbreds, accommodated in multi-level horse condos in Penfold Park, strict demarcation lines—on- and off-track training areas—will be established to maintain a “safe” zone between equine residents and visitors.

Briefly, a 7+10 protocol will be in force for horses traveling to Hong Kong: i.e., seven-day pre-export quarantine, plus 10-day post arrival isolation. According to Dr. Thomas Sit, assistant director (inspection and quarantine) with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, “During PAI, competition and training will be allowed but with total segregation between competition horses and the local equine population.”

For anyone wishing to learn more about the Hong Kong requirements and processes for the import and export of horses, the quarantine protocols, the necessary bio-security measures and related issues, a complete manual has been uploaded onto the AFCD website.

The AFCD is the authority that will control the transportation and quarantine of visiting horses during the Olympic Games and has already established standard protocols with 18 countries.

Competition Facilities

The competition venue currently under construction at the Sha Tin Sports Institute will provide a 100-meter x 80-meter main sand arena for dressage and show jumping with a seating capacity of around 19,000. Adjacent buildings are being revamped to provide administrative offices, a media center, hospitality areas for riders, owners and VIPs, and a cafeteria.

In total, 13 separate training areas are being provided, including five with dressage-specific footing, four designed for show jumping, as well as air-conditioned indoor training arenas.


At Sheung Shui, a 20-minute drive from Sha Tin and managed by the HKJC, the Beas River Country Club’s equestrian facilities are being expanded and enhanced to host the  cross-country, with a temporary 5.7-kilometer track undulating around the adjacent Hong Kong Golf Club course providing a picturesque setting. The dressage and show jumping phases will take place at the main competition venue in Sha Tin, with horses being transported to Beas River the evening before the cross-country.

Construction of the cross-country course, designed by Britain’s Mike Etherington-Smith, has been a vast undertaking, with special drainage installed throughout to specifications that prepare for the worst-case weather scenario: 13 inches of rain fell on Hong Kong in just one day on Aug. 16, 1982.

In addition, an 800-meter turf cross-country training track and schooling area, plus a 1,200-meter bridle path have been provided at Penfold Park. Because of unpredictable weather conditions, the cross-country course includes two loops—1,000 and 800 meters, respectively—that can be removed, individually or collectively, to shorten the track if it’s deemed necessary due to excessive heat and/or humidity.

In terms of equine accommodation at the main Olympic complex, four barns with 270 air-conditioned stalls (60 eventers, 75 dressage horses and 90 show jumpers), each measuring nearly 14 square meters, are under construction and will house the competition horses, plus 35 stalls for reserves (in a separate block), with the remainder retained for isolation purposes.

The HKJC also operates a state-of-the-art equine hospital that provides routine and specialist clinical care for all horses in Hong Kong, including Thoroughbreds in race training and those used for equestrian purposes in the nine riding schools.

The equine hospital includes an operating theater, associated anesthetic induction and recovery rooms and a clinical laboratory. It also has a large range of diagnostic facilities, including radiography, ultrasonography, a gamma camera for performing bone scans, and a performance assessment unit including a high-speed horse treadmill.

Dr. Chris Riggs, head of the department of veterinary clinical services, is an internationally recognized specialist in equine orthopedics who will lead a team of around 30 veterinarians, including Jack Schnyder from the United States, plus assistants from Hong Kong and overseas during the quarantine and Olympic Games period. The same personnel will also man an equine clinic currently under construction adjacent to the main stable compound at the Sports Institute and will provide diagnostic and primary treatment services.

Also, for many years now, the accredited laboratory at Sha Tin Racetrack has not only provided testing services for doping controls within the racing sector, but also for the FEI since 2001 as their sole Reference Laboratory for major events in Asia. In fact, housing 21 mass spectrometers, the $8 million facility conducts tests on more than 18,000 equine samples a year and is one of the world’s leaders in equine doping research.

Of 20 official racing laboratories around the world, Sha Tin was one of the first to attain the highest standard of accreditation that incorporates all relevant requirements, which should provide some reassurance following the doping fiasco of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and subsequent disqualification of the  show jumping individual gold medalist.

Weather Expectations

Hong Kong lies in a sub-tropical region with a typhoon season extending from May to November. (The terms hurricane and typhoon are regionally specific terms for a strong tropical cyclone.) Typically, a typhoon develops in the South China Sea, and the approaching storm’s direction is widely broadcast so the population is forewarned if and when evacuation procedures have to be implemented. With this in mind, the FEI has already factored in a three-day, bad-weather contingency to allow for the possible postponement of classes during the Olympic Games.

The Hong Kong Observatory, responsible for weather forecasting and statistical analyses, reported that from late May to mid-September temperatures range from 26ºC (78.8 F) to 33ºC (91.4 F) with a humidity percentage in the high 80s.

Consistent with a sub-tropical region, rainfall during the summer months typically occurs for at least brief periods most days. Data from the past 30 years for the time period of the Games (up to the year 2000 for the Hong Kong region), shows that the average daily temperature was 28.4ºC (83.1F), humidity was 84 percent, some rainfall was recorded on 15.5 days, and severe thunderstorms occurred on 5.27 days.

The most recent, useful comparison can be drawn from the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta where the FEI’s Professor Leo Jeffcott was responsible for determining precise on-site requirements. He’s also been closely involved with the Hong Kong organizers. And, although the test event will provide a useful yardstick by which to measure the quality of the facilities, the efficiency of the organizational infrastructure, and address any health/quarantine issues, the weather, as we all know, is an enigmatic element that is neither predictable nor controllable.

From a sporting standpoint, however, the various Hong Kong organizing authorities seem to be sharing an enviable spirit of collaboration, and there’s no doubt that hosting the equestrian events of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and Paralympics is an opportunity they’re determined to optimize and enjoy for the benefit of their country, the equestrian community as a whole, and especially on behalf of the many riders who will profit from the legacy of the new facilities.

Provisional Programming

While avoiding the midday hours is a priority due to the expected heat and humidity levels during the competition days of the 2008 Olympics, studies remain ongoing regarding the competition schedule.


Changes could be made following the test event in August 2007. Provisionally, the three-day event dressage, comprising 75 horses, will run over three sessions, two mornings (6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.) and one evening (7 p.m. to 11 p.m.), although the precise timing remains approximate and it hasn’t yet been determined how the field will be divided.

Although it’s also been decided to run the cross-country as early as possible to avoid the midday heat, there’s a realization that the juxtaposition of the early-morning sun and large trees will cast unwanted and potentially hazardous shadows across the course, which should be avoided. Therefore, the test event will provide vital information in terms of more precise timing.

The event horses will return to Sha Tin for the show jumping phase, which will take place in the main arena, starting in the early morning.

With regard to dressage and show jumping, all classes will be scheduled to start under floodlights from 7 p.m. onwards.

Visitors To Hong Kong

Hong Kong is an extremely vibrant and friendly city, with a consistently booming economy, where tourists can experience all of the sights and sounds of a dynamic Far Eastern metropolis in relative safety.

Brett Free, chief information officer responsible for Overseas Public Relations with the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, advised “if you don’t go looking for trouble, it won’t come looking for you.”

Alongside Chinese, one of the official languages of Hong Kong is English—which is helpful as few westerners learn Mandarin or Cantonese. The city boasts a wealth of accommodation to suit every pocket, from the upper-end Island Shangri-La in downtown Hong Kong, and Kowloon’s Peninsula Hotel, to sharing friendly hostel dormitories for the more adventurous and budget-conscious traveler, with everything in between.

For those planning to attend the Olympic Games, there are only two hotels in Sha Tin, which have already been block booked to accommodate officials, grooms and media.

There’s a fast, efficient train service, however, that runs between Kowloon and Sha Tin, and shuttle buses will be provided from the two local stations—although they are within easy walking distance if the heat and humidity are not too severe.

Hong Kong is a shopper’s Mecca, with numerous local markets offering inexpensive goods, as well as ultra-modern malls with designer labels in every window. And although department stores generally display fixed prices, bartering is still very much a way of life elsewhere—even in some trendy boutiques, especially in the hour before closing time.

Although local Chinese cuisine may differ in many ways from your take-out back home, it’s worth being adventurous because catering standards are monitored and you can enjoy a simple three-course meal in a restaurant frequented by locals for as little as $5. There’s also the comfort factor of knowing a McDonald’s or Starbucks will be just around the corner!

Hong Kong Equestrian Tidbits

•    The Hong Kong Jockey Club—with an annual turnover that generally exceeds $15 billion—has been a non-profit organization since 1955, devoting its annual surplus to charity and community projects in four key sectors: medical and health; education and training; sports, recreation and culture; and community services.

•    Around 2,000 people are currently participating in equestrian activities in Hong Kong, including 1,500 taking riding lessons at nine riding schools. The HKJC manages three public riding schools at which there is a one-year waiting list for riding lessons. Interest is predicted to rise by 20 percent in the coming years, fueled by Hong Kong’s staging of the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic equestrian events.

•    Hong Kong supports a thriving Riding for the Disabled Association that was established in 1975. It’s the largest organization of its kind in Asia, providing more than 6,000 lessons each year to more than 400 disabled people. Nelson Yip, a rising dressage star, will likely represent Hong Kong in the 2008 Paralympics.




Follow us on


Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse