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Prev Vet Med. 2013 Feb 1;108(2-3):199-208. doi: 10.1016/j.prevetmed.2012.08.005. Epub 2012 Sep 5.

A prospective study on fitness, workload and reasons for premature training ends and temporary training breaks in two groups of riding horses.

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  • 1Department of Equine Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, Yalelaan 114, 3584 CM, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Little is known about wastage in riding horses and the factors like fitness and workload that may reduce injuries and maximise welfare. To evaluate fitness, workload and reasons for premature training ends (PTEs) and temporary training breaks (TTBs) during a nine week training period, two groups of riding horses were used: Group A consisting of 58 horses used for student equitation courses (32 with training prior to admission and 26 without) and Group B consisting of 26 horses owned by two riding schools (school-I and school-II). To assess fitness, all horses performed a standardised exercise test (SET) at the start (SET-I) and end of the training period (SET-II) measuring heart rate (HR bpm) and speed (m/s). In addition, all horses were monitored daily during the training period for their health and workload. In Group A, trained horses had significantly lower HRs in SET-I (P=0.05) compared to untrained horses and in SET-II, trained horses tended to have lower HRs than untrained horses, though this was not statistically significant (P=0.057). During the training period all horses received an identical workload. A total of 19.0% of Group A horses ended the training period prematurely for veterinary reasons (PTEV); of those untrained horses had earlier a PTEV in the training period (after 2.8 ± 1.3 weeks) than trained horses (after 4.1 ± 1.5 weeks, P=0.030). In Group B, school-I and school-II horses did not differ significantly in fitness level nor in workload. More school-II horses ended the training period prematurely for veterinary reasons (n=7; 70%) compared to school-I horses (n=4; 25%, P=0.032), although seven (63.6%) of these horses were still continuously used in riding lessons. In both groups (A and B), small injuries (without a temporary training break) were significantly associated with premature training ends for veterinary reasons later on: in Group A small injuries preceded 27.3% of the PTEVs (P=0.005) and in Group B small injuries preceded 54.5% of the PTEVs (P=0.030). In conclusion, as all horses in each subgroup had the same workload, the occurrence of PTEV seemed not associated with the workload. In Group A horses, level of fitness seems to be an important factor for the point in time injuries will occur during the training period. In all horses, injuries were more likely when a temporary training break was not taken following seemingly minor injuries. Since a lot of injured Group B horses were used in riding lessons against veterinary advice, this may indicate that riding school owners have different perception on welfare and if true this may cause serious welfare problems.

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