Animal advocacy group, People for Ethical Treatment towards Animals (PETA), is seeking to continue its campaign for all equine events to be taken off Olympic Games in the future. Senior vice president Kathy Guillermo, who had written to IOC in August for the scrapping of horse riding in pentathlon, believes that equestrian events too must go. Horse riding is already on course to being replaced by cycling in modern Pentathlon after Paris 2024.
“We’ll be urging our 9 million supporters and many others who agree with us to tell IOC what is obvious to everyone: The Olympic Games should be modernized to include only willing participants,” Guillermo tells ESPN, “Competitions involving animals must end and this means horses, who don’t care at all about medals, should be left out.”
Equestrian rider Fouaad Mirza, who’d represented India at this year’s Olympics, finds the rationale unwarranted. He offers that there’s always going to be a case both for and against the sport depending on how one views involving animals in competition. “Ours is perhaps the only sport in the world where men and women compete on equal terms and which involves a human and animal partnership. In terms of Olympic values, it ticks all the boxes of sport, courage, compassion and team work. One needs only to walk amongst the stables to see how much care competitors take of their horses and how devoted we are towards them. Horses are an extension of our families.”
Unlike riding in Pentathlon, where horses and riders are randomly paired with each other 20 minutes before they enter the course, equestrian is built around partnership between rider and mount, choreographed to move harmoniously to invisible aids. Kathy argues that familiarity between man and animal doesn’t necessarily acquit the sport. “Riding in pentathlon is of course particularly cruel, pairing a human and horse who’ve never met. But in all equestrian events, the horses have no power,” she adds, “Agreed, the horses and humans have a level of familiarity in equestrian. But make no mistake, horses learn early on that they must submit – no matter how they are feeling. It’s a relationship involving dominance. Horses may be less tense when they know the rider, but they are no less exploited or endangered.”
As a sport, equestrian is seen as freakishly expensive and overwhelmingly white, and descriptors such as ‘breaking a horse’ – preparing it for riding, haltering and following basic commands, don’t help either. “I hate that term and wish we didn’t call it that,” says Olympian Imtiaz Aneez, who runs a boutique stable and residential riding school in coastal Gujarat, “But to the argument of horses being forced in any manner, whether it’s for dressage or show jumping, I’d say when horses compete at the elite level, it has to be willingness. It can’t be coercion. Horses are tested often so you can’t get away with using needles or painkillers. At our facility, we give them alternate therapy, rest, bandage, multani mitti (fuller’s earth) and the strongest medication we use is doses of homeopathic Arnica or Calendula. I wish those criticizing our sport would look at the amount of care and money we devote toward our horses’ recovery, whether it’s removing lactic acid from their body or loading them on electrolytes. At the cost of sounding pompous, our horses are well-tended to than a lot of human athletes.”
Equestrian at the Olympics comprises three disciplines – show jumping, eventing and dressage. Ahead of the 2012 Games in London, there was a furore over an alleged video of Swedish rider Patrick Kittel using rollkur – drawing the neck round in a deep curve so nose almost touches its chest – on his dressage horse. Kittel would later deny any such occurrence. Dressage, essentially horse ballet, has the animals side-stepping, pirouetting and performing extended trots to music. Aneez offers that it helps horses “stay supple and sound”. Many outside the sport view it as an unnecessary and somewhat ironic routine to put a free-spirited animal through rehearsed choreography.
In recent years, IOC has been trying to address the Olympics’ young-people problem – making itself more appealing to millennial and Gen Z audience. In Tokyo, surfing, sport climbing, 3×3 basketball and Freestyle BMX made their introductory appearance. Paris 2024 will welcome breakdancing into its roster and E-sports will feature as a demonstration event for the first time. This year, IOC directed world equestrian body, FEI, to trim down its participant number and reduce team jumping to a three-person team, instead of four. “Like all sports in the Olympic movement, we received a clear message from the IOC president – ‘change or be changed’ – inviting the Olympic sports to make their events at the Olympic Games more universal, more exciting, easier to understand and more attractive, particularly for new young audiences,” FEI had said.
Kathy insists the core issue is about the practice of the sport itself, not specifically the Olympics but events at other levels too. What put these events on their radar, she explains, was an incident involving a show jumper earlier this year. She received a video revealing abusive whipping in a California show ring by a rider named Kevin Lemke. “We lodged complaints with both the FEI and the US Equestrian Federation (USEF). In response, the USEF suspended Lemke for four months and fined him $4,000. As Lemke was no longer registered with the FEI, that body could not take action. While we knew these events could be dangerous, this year we decided we could not ignore what can only be called abuse.”
Aneez counters the argument of possible harsh training methods and unnatural routines and cites that almost all riders at the elite levels of the sport are animal lovers. The evolution of the sport and medical science he points out implies that injured horses aren’t not put down anymore, instead they can even return to complete fitness and competition. “When we don’t agree with something, doing away with it can seem like the easy choice. But that’s hardly ever a solution. The tough yet sustainable option is to educate those within the sport. I’ve been around horses since I was four, grew up bathing, grooming, feeding and brushing them and today I teach those training at my facility to do the same. It can go a long way.”
Kathy is bracing for a long campaign. “How far we go depends on what happens. But we’re watching. We’re also receiving complaints from those inside equestrian world who are deeply troubled by what they see. Those involved in equestrian events may wish to rethink their future plans.”
Exploring the psychological impacts of a two-month, solo Antarctic expedition
Next month, British explorer Sam Cox will spend two months, completely alone, trekking across one of the Earth’s last true wildernesses – Antarctica.
While travelling 2,000km across snow and ice requires a huge amount of physical endurance, the mental impacts of this journey are perhaps, even more significant.
Alexandra de Carvalho from the Austrian Space Forum will be working closely with Sam pre- and post-expedition, to understand the psychological impacts of the journey.
“The first thing to consider is the sheer isolation of this challenge. Two months with extremely minimal human contact is not something to be underestimated,” she said.
“Our work is mainly concerned with space, and people usually think that space is more distant than Antarctica, but actually it’s not true. It’s much easier sometimes to come back from space, to come back to Earth if there’s an emergency.
“More people have gone into space than trekked to the South Pole.
“To come back to the mainland from Antarctica can be extremely difficult, which exacerbates that feeling of distance. You cannot just be evacuated if you want.”
The only link Sam will have to the outside world is a beacon plotting his incremental location in case of emergency, and very limited communications via satphone.
Alexandra added: “Separated from family and friends, this kind of study will help to really understand more about the psychology of people.
“In fact, this is the main reason we were so keen to work with Sam. He’s in a very special situation, being alone with nobody to share his feelings with, nobody to share his thoughts with.
“It’s rare that scientists can study subjects that are completely isolated for this amount of time, let alone in conditions as extreme as those in Antarctica.
“We really want to get an idea how a person emotionally regulates in this kind of scenario.”
Sam will be taking daily voice recordings of the experiences and emotions he’s feeling during this period of extreme isolation.
Alexandra said: “For this research to be useful, it’s really important that we hear frequent and specific audio diary entries from Sam.
“It’s common for people to look back on an experience like this and say – it was stressful, but it was nice – which is not precise enough for us.
“We’re using audio equipment to make this as accessible for Sam as possible – writing could be a challenge in extremely low temperatures.
“In similar studies, we’ve asked participants to keep written diaries as the fear of being overheard by other participants might stunt their honestly, but that’s not going to be an issue with Sam, since he’ll be completely alone.”
There will be other psychological challenges for Sam, as well as isolation.
Sam said: “An important thing to consider is the 24-hour daylight, and how my body will adapt to that.
“Because I’m travelling during Antarctica’s summer months, the sun will never actually set, meaning my circadian rhythm is likely to get pretty confused.
“A lack of sleep could be detrimental to my physical and mental well-being, so it’s something I’m having to prepare for.”
Alexandra said: “Sensory deprivation could also be a challenge. It’s an interesting environment, but it’s very monotonous, so it depends on the person and how they perceive it.
“For example, Sam might find it interesting to have the colour green. While other people would be fascinated by the sky and the sea, he might be like wow – I really miss the forest and more complex environments.”
Alexandra continued: “This research is not only helping us understand the emotional impact of extreme environments, but it’s helping us understand the type of person that’s suitable for working in these remote places.
“We want to know how people feel in these environments, which emotions are more dominant? How do these people deal with that?
“When people are stationed in distant locations, either from Earth or in polar expeditions, they have to be really trained to deal with their feelings autonomously.
“But we can only do that by understanding when happens within a person and what they’re likely to feel so we can prepare them beforehand. You can prepare, but you cannot run away from your emotions.”
Sam leaves the UK for Antarctica on 24th October, with plans to complete the expedition by mid-January.
He has been supported by Team Forces and Resilient Nutrition to embark on this epic adventure.
For more information, follow Sam on www.frozendagger.co.uk
Improve your marathon time with proper pre-hydration
Andy Blow, sweat expert and founder of leading sports fuelling and hydration company Precision Fuel and Hydration, discusses how pre hydration can help improve your marathon time.
Dehydration can seriously impact an athlete’s performance, and enjoyment of a marathon.
Yet according to the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 31% of amateur athletes arrive at training sessions or events dehydrated.
For those looking to shave minutes off their race time – simply starting properly hydrated could be the answer.
We caught up with Andy Blow, CEO of Precision Fuel and Hydration, to find out how pre hydration can have such a dramatic effect on your marathon, and how runners can start a race in the best possible condition.
The benefits of pre-hydrating
Optimising your hydration status before a marathon, or ‘preloading’, can increase your blood volume and significantly improve your performance.
According to Sport Nutrition by Jeukendrup and Gleeson, dehydration of just 8% of each individual’s total-body water could half their exercise endurance, based on a 121 minute session.
Research has proven that taking onboard a high concentration of electrolytes, the salts and minerals that help your body function, promotes fluid retention which in turn increases the blood volume in your body.
This increased blood volume supports cardiovascular function helping transport oxygen and fuel to your muscles, and your body’s ability to dissipate heat produced by your working muscles.
This can reduce fatigue and improve endurance performance – helping you run your best marathon possible.
On the other hand, exercising in a dehydrated state can reduce blood volume, limit cardiovascular performance and limit the body’s ability to cool itself through sweat – all limiting the body’s ability to perform.
Pre-hydration is more than drinking water
Hydration is much more than just the amount of water we drink.
Your body is constantly aiming to maintain a balance between water and electrolytes.
It’s therefore important to take on correct levels of both to properly hydrate.
Drinking just water can upset that balance, diluting the body’s concentration of salt. Always wanting to maintain equilibrium, the body’s solution to this is to expel the excess water through urine. It’s basically going make you pee!
Unfortunately, this will also take with it some of the electrolytes in your system, further diluting your blood sodium levels and impacting your performance (and wellbeing in extreme cases).
However, consuming a strong electrolyte solution in the build up to a marathon will boost your salt levels, encouraging your body to retain the water you drink, helping you to start the race fully hydrated.
How to hydrate before a marathon
The timings of a race day, particularly an event as large as the London Marathon, can be vastly different to an athlete’s usual routine.
That’s why planning your hydration strategy is key.
Athletes preparing for a marathon should drink a strong electrolyte drink the night before the race to encourage your body to retain fluid, which will boost blood volume.
Aim for drinks containing >1,000mg of sodium per litre.
The morning of the race, 90 minutes before the start is recommended, athletes should drink another bottle of strong electrolyte drink to top-up blood plasma volume.
It is important to finish this drink 45 minutes before you set off to give the body time to process it.
While this plan will enable the average marathon participant to arrive at the start line hydrated, every person’s sweat concentration and sweat rate will be different, so athletes looking to maximise their potential should know their numbers, do a sweat test and form a more personalised hydration plan.
Dangers of over drinking
As much as beginning a marathon dehydrated can negatively impact your performance, there is also a danger that athletes can drink too much water in anticipation of a race – leading to a new set of problems.
Nervous drinking before a race is common for newcomers to marathon running, and those who haven’t planned their hydration.
Drinking too much water without taking on electrolytes can lead to hyponatremia.
Hyponatremia can be summarised as low blood sodium levels. This can be caused by inadequately replacing the sodium lost when sweating, compounded by drinking plain water or weak sports drinks mixed that further dilute sodium on the body.
Sodium is vital for several bodily functions like blood pressure and working nerves and muscles.
Hyponatremia can cause nausea or vomiting, fatigue, loss of energy, muscle weakness and cramps; all things you want to avoid when running a marathon.
According to National Kidney Foundation, when sodium levels are particularly low, more serious health implications can occur, even resulting in death.
Don’t waste your training
It’s probable that if you’re signed up to a spring marathon, you’ve done months of hard training.
By making sure you start the race properly hydrated, you not only reduce unnecessary discomfort, fatigue and muscle weakness, but will allow your body to realise its full potential come race day.
Training is also an ideal opportunity to test out your hydration strategy. Try running through your pre-race hydration and timings with the confidence that you are in the best possible shape.
Finding time for training in the busiest of schedules
Whether you’re a serious runner or casual athlete, fitting your training sessions into a busy schedule can be tough. Once you factor in rigid work hours, family duties, or other commitments, it can feel like there are few available opportunities to get your trainers on and hit the roads. Andy Blow, former elite triathlete, leading sports scientist, and CEO and founder of sport nutrition multinational Precision Fuel & Hydration (PF&H), shares his tips for training with a busy schedule.
Make a plan that works for you
Planning ahead is the key to making the most of every hour in the day.
Consolidate all your commitments onto one central calendar. Whether it’s work meetings, school runs, or domestic chores, you’ll be able to get a clearer idea of your schedule, and what is going to be a realistic amount of training for you to achieve.
Instead of picking a high intensity programme, then trying to cram it into your week, start with non-negotiable commitments and build up your plan around these.
It’s a more sustainable way to train, which means you’re more likely to stick to the plan and hit your long-term goals.
Use your time wisely
Waking up an hour or two earlier means you can get some training in before your day has even begun.
Not only does this add extra hours into your schedule, but they’re hours which are unlikely to be filled with other commitments. How often do you plan an evening run, only for something more pressing to be added to your diary halfway through the day?
Hit the trails early and clock up those morning miles before the world wakes up.
If you’re responsible for taking children or other family members to clubs and appointments, use this time to your advantage. Keep a pair of running shoes in the car and plan a route to complete while you wait.
If your office building has a shower available, turn your commute into a training opportunity by running part or the whole of your journey.
Training smarter also means you’ll get the most out of your time. Instead of running for the sake of running, incorporate sessions that are specific to your end goal, whether this means regular hill sessions, speed intervals or longer, slow runs.
Fuel, hydrate, and recover
What you do between sessions can be as important as the training itself; you’ll never get the best out of a run if you’re lacking energy or have improperly recovered and hydrated. When you’re short on time, every run must count.
When people talk about hydration, it’s often about what and how much you should drink during exercise. But your performance is also hugely influenced by how hydrated you are when you start exercising in the first place.
There’s strong evidence to show that taking in additional sodium with fluids before you start sweating is effective in promoting increased acute fluid retention and improving endurance performance, especially in the warmer weather.
There’s more to fuelling than just calorie intake, and there’s a few common pitfalls which can catch you out.
Not taking enough carbohydrate to adequately support your rate of energy expenditure is the number one fuelling mistake, but it’s possible to take on too much carb as well – primarily because of the gastrointestinal (GI) distress a sugar overdose can cause.
Fuelling using pre-packaged sports nutrition is a no-brainer for short to moderate training sessions or endurance events, where taking in palatable, simple carbohydrates is the key to success. They’re convenient and can simplify getting your carb intake just right.
Despite already recommending getting up that bit earlier sleep is also worthy of mention and is an extremely powerful tool for recovery – something many of us are guilty of neglecting. If you’re an athlete, getting enough sleep should be as big a part of your training program as your exercise sessions.
Set a clear goal
Even if you’re a casual runner, take on the challenge of a race or event you can train for. Having a goal will keep you motivated, especially if it has a fixed date to work towards.
True performance comes from long term consistency, not weeks of hard training, so a long-term goal is a great way to stay accountable over a sustained period.
With busy schedules and multiple commitments, life can very easily get in the way of our goals. But I truly believe that there’s time for training in even the busiest schedule if you train smart, set priorities, and plan your time carefully.