Courses for horses: Effects of showjumping on the heart put to the test

Researchers in Hungary assessed that a 100cm jumping course was not particularly strenuous exercise for showjumping horses.
Researchers in Hungary assessed that a 100cm jumping course was not particularly strenuous exercise for showjumping horses. Image by Trine Melinda Vollan

Showjumping courses may be more challenging as the obstacles get higher, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your horse’s heart rate is going to get higher too.

Researchers who measured the heart rates of showjumping horses tackling courses at heights of 100cm, 120cm and 130cm found no statistically proven differences in average heart rate or maximum heart rate among the different competition levels.

However, the study team from Hungary did find differences in various measures of heart-rate variability, which they concluded was more sensitive for detecting smaller differences in workload than heart rate alone — at least in the lower-level showjumping horses used in the study.

The study by Csaba Szabó, Zsolt Vizesi and Anikó Vincze is described in the journal Animals.

The trio noted that heart rate is one of the gold standards used to assess the workload level and fitness of horses. However, when slight differences need to be detected, it is not sensitive enough.

They devised an experiment to determine the effect of the various phases of competition (warm-up, resting period, tackling the showjumping course, and cooling down) and the difficulty of the course.

Fourteen horses were used in the study. Four jumped at 100cm, six at 120cm and four at 130cm.

“The level of the course had no significant effect on average and maximum heart rates throughout the entire exercise,” they reported, concluding that the average and maximum heart rates are not sensitive enough for workload differences between lower‐level show jumping competitions to be detected.

But the various heart-rate variability parameters they measured were significantly different in horses competing at 100cm from those competing in the 120cm group.

They assessed that the 100cm jumping course was not particularly strenuous exercise for the showjumping horses.

“Nevertheless, we have to emphasize that these findings are related to amateur level riders and involved a small sample of horses. Therefore, studies with more and higher‐level equine athletes are needed to fully explore the relationships among heart rate, heart-rate variability, exercise strenuousness, and other influencing factors.”

Szabó and Vizesi are with the University of Debrecen; and Anikó Vincze is with Szent István University.

Szabó, C.; Vizesi, Z.; Vincze, A. Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability of Amateur Show Jumping Horses Competing on Different Levels. Animals 2021, 11, 693.

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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