Rules regarding the importation of horses for the 2008 Olympic Games have been relaxed and horses will now be allowed to take part in the equestrian events without completing a 10-day post-arrival quarantine. The original protocol announced by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) in March, required competing horses for the Olympic events to undergo a seven-day pre-export isolation at designated hubs around the world and another 10 days of isolation after arriving in Hong Kong. The 10 days, however, would not have counted until the last contingent of horses had reached Hong Kong, so that period could have added up to a total of 15 days, meaning a delay of as much as three weeks before a horse could actually start the competition. Some countries, notably Germany and the US, expressed anger over the prolonged period and threatened to keep their best horses at home. Many owners are anxious to minimise the time their horses are tied up in the Olympic events so that they can return to the lucrative commercial arena as soon as possible. The new measures mean that a horse could effectively compete one day after arriving in Hong Kong. The seven-day pre-export quarantine, which will take place in accredited stables overseas, will still be in force as it is the minimum required to observe if a horse was infected with equine influenza. A source close to the Hong Kong Equestrian Federation said the revised protocol was not unexpected although the government refused to admit it was made because of the threats from some horse owners. AFCD director Stella Hung Kwok Wai-ching said the revision was not a 'concession' but a decision based on 'science, proper risk management and open consultation'. 'The protocol is neither rigid nor overcautious as we have to strike a fine balance among the interests of different parties,' she said, adding that some European countries have so far raised no objections to the protocol. Hung said some teams from Europe had actually asked if their horses could come to Hong Kong earlier for acclimatisation. Assistant director Thomas Sit Hon-chung (Inspection and Quarantine) said the revision did not violate the intention of the protocol to protect local horses from infections. 'Since they are separated from local horses, it is acceptable to allow more flexibility,' he said.