“The training and management of showjumping horses is still largely based on traditional beliefs instead of scientific evidence,” Katharina Kirsch and her fellow researchers noted in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.
“The relatively low speed and short duration of exercise during showjumping frequently leads to the misconception that aerobic fitness is not particularly important in this discipline,” they said.
Traditionally, they said, jumping ability is evaluated based on qualitative parameters that are not only highly subjective but also require extensive experience and equestrian knowledge.
More objective performance indicators for showjumping horses would be better, they said, allowing caregivers to monitor the animals’ long-term adaptation to training. It may help to recognize whether a horse is coping with the applied workloads or not and to minimize exercise-associated injuries.
A study has been performed om German showjumpers, whre 49 horses aged 8 to 17, were involved. Each horse had blood taken for analysis immediately after their showjumping competitions. Each horse took part in one to five competitions, leading to a total of 100 samples.
The blood lactate concentrations measured in response to these competition events indicated a significant contribution of anaerobic glycolysis to energy supply – that is, energy production by the muscles when limited amounts of oxygen are available.
Blood lactate concentrations in response to showjumping competitions rose with increasing levels of difficulty. Blood lactate increases during intense exercise when there may not be enough oxygen available to complete the normal bodily process of using oxygen to break down glucose for energy.
“This effect was statistically significant even though the horses observed in this study were all competing at a relatively similar level of difficulty (140 to 150cm),” the researchers observed.
An increase in fence height by only 10cm, with a related required increase in speed of 50 metres per minute, was enough to induce significantly higher blood lactate concentrations, they said.
The researchers also found that post-exercise lactate values also increased significantly with the horses’ age.
“The association between a lower contribution of anaerobic glycolysis to energy supply during jumping exercise and a greater resistance to fatigue emphasizes the importance of aerobic fitness for performance in show jumping horses.”