The world’s most prestigious equestrian event just started in Florence’s path

The world’s most prestigious equestrian event just started in Florence’s path

(CNN) – As Hurricane Florence approaches, one of the biggest sporting events of the year kicked off Tuesday with a pledge from organizers to ensure the safety of all participants, human and equine.

The World Equestrian Games is the sport’s premiere event, held every four years. Hundreds of horses and their humans have already traveled from around the world to Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina, for the 13-day celebration of dressage, vaulting and more.

The center is more than 300 miles from the state’s mandatory evacuation zones on the coast. But areas in the western part of North Carolina are at risk of heavy rain and flooding depending on the track Florence ends up taking, CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said.

But organizers and participants are maintaining a hopeful outlook. And they say they have a plan if Florence interrupts the show.

Opening ceremonies began late Tuesday afternoon under cloudy skies. By the end, rays of sunshine had fought through the cover.

Tryon was a refuge for horses from five states during 2017’s Hurricane Irma and “robust contingency plans” are in place, said the World Equestrian Federation, which is known as the FEI.

The center has 1,288 permanent stalls on site and all barns are built to conform with the International Building Code to withstand winds up to 90 mph, FEI said. Numerous generators are on site, along with two high-volume wells, both of which are attached to emergency generators and supply drinkable water, the statement said.

“The horses are in the safest place here on site,” the organization said.

Multiple sheltering options are on-site for personnel and grooms. And in the event of severe weather, FEI said it will coordinate with Emirates airline on return flights.

Emirates SkyCargo began trans-Atlantic flights earlier this month intended to carry more than 500 horses on 19 planes. Remaining flights are scheduled to arrive this week.

State and federal health officials inspected each animal upon arrival. Some with equine piroplasmosis, a tick-borne disease, were allowed to compete, “following agreement of stringent biosecurity protocols that will minimize the transmission of EP to domestic horses and other competition horses,” FEI said.

The animals were considered to have a “low-risk, poorly transmitted” disease that is uncommon in the United States, said Dr. Michael Neault, director of livestock health programs for the state agency the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The state agency worked with the United States Department of Agriculture to develop a quarantine plan, as has been done for animals in previous international competitions on American soil.

“This allows for a true world championship. Mitigation strategies were developed and implemented by both agencies to prevent establishment of these disease in the US,” Neault said.

Both North and South Carolina have temporarily suspended some requirements restricting the movement of horses from one state to another if evacuations become necessary. As host of the World Equestrian Games, North Carolina’s waiver says the exceptions do not apply to animals participating in the games, the state’s waiver says.

“The current plan is to keep all horses secured on site and shelter in place. If evacuation becomes necessary because the location cannot keep them secured, they will be transported under USDA seal to the federal quarantine facilities located in New York and Florida,” a USDA spokeswoman said.

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