Biochemical parameters of riding school horses compared to their competitive cousins

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The study team set out to compare a range of blood and biochemical parameters in riding school horses, endurance horses and racehorses.
Photo by Istvan

Riding school horses are the forgotten cousins when it comes to monitoring performance-related blood parameters, researchers have noted.

Blood testing is one of the most important ways to improve performance, facilitate recovery and monitor the training of endurance and racehorses.

However, little is known about the physical activity-dependent changes of blood parameters in horses used for pleasure and in riding schools.

Without knowledge of the effort of school horses under standardized work, the physical activity‐dependent accumulation of key blood and biochemical parameters can be difficult to interpret in the case of disorders, the researchers said.

Małgorzata Maśko and her colleagues at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences in Poland noted that leisure horse riding is a leading branch of the equine industry worldwide.

“Horses are used for pleasure and in riding schools represent a much larger group than sports horses,” they said.

The typical effort of leisure horses is variable, from horses ridden once a week for pleasure to horses ridden six days a week in riding schools.

Since little is known about the physiological demands and the nature of exercise metabolism in leisure horses, the study team set out to compare a range of blood and biochemical parameters in riding school horses, endurance horses and racehorses.

The blood work involved what the researchers described as a standard sport horse monitoring protocol.

The study involved 15 endurance, 15 race and 15 healthy riding school horses who underwent the typical effort for their disciplines. In the case of the riding school horses, they worked one to two hours a day, five days a week under a rider with standardized body weight and upper‐intermediate skills.

Blood was taken from each of the 45 horses before and immediately after each animal undertook 30 minutes of work.

A full blood count, creatine phosphokinase, aspartate aminotransferase, blood lactate and total serum protein concentrations were measured using the same protocol and equipment.

In the riding school horses, the physical activity-dependent increase of the white blood cell count (40.9%) and creatine phosphokinase (76.4%) was similar to endurance horses, whereas an increase of the red blood cell count (19.1%), hemoglobin concentration (18.6%) and hematocrit (19.4%) were more similar to racehorses.

The moderate effort-dependent increase of lactate concentration was lower than in racehorses and higher than in endurance horses.

Overall, the fluctuations in physical activity-dependent blood indicators were lower in the riding school horses than in the professional equine athletes.

The exception was the lactic acid profile, which achieved higher values than in endurance horses and lower than in racehorses.

The study team said that limiting the assessment of school horses to only the endurance or racing blood profile may result in the omission of significant changes in blood and biochemical parameters.

“More studies are required to determine the exact nature of the predominant school horses’ metabolism, the role of cortisol in white blood cell count redistribution and the clear recommendations for the monitoring of blood parameters in school concerning typical leisure effort in riding schools,” they said.

The study team comprised Maśko, Małgorzata Domino, Tomasz Jasiński and Olga Witkowska-Piłaszewicz.

Maśko, M.; Domino, M.; Jasiński, T.; Witkowska-Piłaszewicz, O. The Physical Activity-Dependent Hematological and Biochemical Changes in School Horses in Comparison to Blood Profiles in Endurance and Race Horses. Animals 2021, 11, 1128. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11041128

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

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