Laura Tomlinson: Science could give us the edge *H&H VIP*

Opinion

As I write, it is exactly one year to go until the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. In many ways that is still a long way off, but people are already speculating who will be on the teams and which teams will be the toughest to beat.

Often this seems obvious, but in the equestrian world we know how fast these things can change, not only through injury but also new top-scoring combinations coming out of the woodwork at the last minute, which has even more impact when it is teams of three.

For Tokyo, the extreme conditions must also be taken into consideration. How fit can we get horses and riders in order to cope with the heat and humidity without injury?

A long year in some respects is a short year in others. I am sure those involved in organising the logistics of getting horses and riders kitted out, prepared and safely to their destination, would consider this year short.

So much must be thought of, from arranging feed, hay and all the horses’ kit, including things like spare shoes, to getting there on time, accommodation for owners, grooms and riders, plus flights and so much more.

Increasing knowledge

Equestrian sport as a whole is becoming more and more scientific and these Games offer an opportunity for us to become yet more knowledgeable.

With the current hot weather conditions here in the UK and throughout most of Europe, we are getting a taste of what horses and riders will deal with in Tokyo.

We know we must cool horses aggressively after work, we know they need more electrolytes, but there is still a gap in the detail of knowledge.

A track and field athlete will be monitored so closely. Experts will know how much a runner sweats and how much water and salts he or she needs to aid best possible recovery. But we do not know how much our horses will sweat, lose in salts and how best to get these replenished for the quickest recovery.

We have an idea and we can use common sense, but it would be great to get a scientific edge over other nations on what a horse and rider need to eat, drink and supplement, and when, in relation to performance, in order to be in the best state to succeed.

Over the next 12 months, research and preparation will be carried out in heat chambers that simulate the conditions in Tokyo. Horses cannot be worked in such chambers, but riders can go in and sit on a simulator horse.

This is a step on from 2008 when we were able to go into such a chamber in preparation for Hong Kong conditions, but only to walk on a treadmill in the high temperatures and humidity.

I remember walking on a treadmill in the chamber, with my dad asking me maths questions. We were testing my ability to stay sharp and focused mentally while my body was under stress, but the problem was that my maths is not great at the best of times.

By the time I had thought about my answer, even Dad, who was not on the treadmill, had forgotten the question. Let’s see if the results are greater three Olympic Games later.

Ref Horse & Hound; 1 August 2019