Equestrianism: Olympic three-day dilemma

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PRELIMINARY tests on horses, made by the Animal Health Trust, indicate that the 1996 Olympic three-day event in Atlanta cannot be run in its normal form. Modifications will have to be made to take account of the heat and humidity.

The AHT used four horses for its simulated speed, endurance and cross-country tests on a treadmill in its Controlled Environment Exercise Unit at Newmarket. All four horses completed two 'English summer' tests (at 20C / 40 per cent humidity) and one 'Barcelona summer' test (30C / 40 per cent).

But only one was allowed to complete the 'Atlanta summer' test (30C / 80 per cent). The other three were stopped on the final section, which corresponded to the cross- country - two because of high fluid loss, the other because of a rapid rise in body temperature.

Dr Andrew Higgins, director of the AHT, described the findings as 'disturbing', but said that it was 'too early to draw any firm conclusions'. More tests will be carried out in May, using two groups of horses in order to research the benefits (if any) of acclimatisation.

One group will spend four weeks under normal English conditions, the other in the simulated heat and humidity of Atlanta. Both groups will do the same treadmill tests under careful veterinary supervision.

The information provided by these tests will be vital when deciding on the modifications required for the Olympic three-day event, which now faces a number of problems. Cancelling the event (or moving it to another site) would almost certainly push it out of the Olympics. Any unhappy spectacle of exhausted horses would threaten its demise in many countries. Extreme alterations could make the competition virtually meaningless.