Potential effects of stress on the performance of horses
During normal exercise activity the heart rate and cortisol levels increase which are beneficial for the short term performance. However, maintaining a high concentration of cortisol for a long period can have negative effects on the immune system and can lead to muscle waste. The stress experienced by the horse is influenced by and can have influence on these 5 main areas:
- Conformation, gate and movement
- Temperament and behaviour
- Health and reproductive ability
A good sport horse has a combination of a superior conformation, an appropriate temperament, a healthy physical condition and primed physiological mechanism and function. This optimal fitness keeps the horse performing well. Stress can potentially influence this characteristics.Two main general types of stress coping strategies are described in this article. The active/ proactive copers (the fight or flight mechanism with predominance of the sympathetic nervous system) and the passive/reactive copers (predominance of the parasympathetic nervous system with freezing, withdrawing and lower locomotion).
Examples of stress origins can be the daily environment of the horse, competition circumstances, rider influences and training techniques. Some training techniques may give positive sport results in short term but can become a negative influence on the long term due to stress experience in the horse.
> From: Bartolomé et al., YJEVS 2032 (2016) .(Epub ahead of print). All rights reserved to 2016 Elsevier Inc. Click here for the online summary.