Benefits of "Tapering" in Athletic Horses Studied

The effects of tapering could be beneficial to equine athletes.

According to the results of a recent study, the effects of tapering--the practice of reducing exercise prior to a big competition commonly used in human athletics--could be beneficial to equine athletes as well.

"Tapering is widely used in human athletes to obtain maximal sports performance at competition, as well as avoiding overtraining, but has not yet been well-studied in horses," said Arno Lindner, DVM, Dr.Med.Vet, from Arbeitsgruppe Pferd in Jülich, Germany.

Training sport horses is mainly empirical, and existing studies on exercise in horses has primarily focused on training rather than recovery from training and tapering, he said.

Lindner and colleagues recently studied the effect of tapering in horses by implementing a week of reduced workload after two weeks of treadmill conditioning in six athletic horses.

All horses underwent a standardized exercise test (SET) on a treadmill before beginning the two-week conditioning program followed by a one-week period of reduced workload. This pattern was repeated three times consecutively, and various parameters of "fitness" were evaluated.

This study showed that reducing the workload resulted in an increase in a parameter called "V4," a performance parameter indicating the horse's speed that produces a blood lactate concentration of 4 mmol/L (millimoles per liter). Essentially, a higher V4 indicates the horse is more fit and will perform better because it either takes longer or higher speed for blood lactate levels to rise; V4 is generally considered the target for a horse in optimum fitness condition.

"A steady increase in V4 was noted throughout the three conditioning/rest phases of the study, indicating that instituting recovery periods during conditioning training could be instrumental in improving the effectiveness of training," noted Lindner.

According to Lindner, future studies that look at the effect of other tapering programs like reducing the duration of exercise while maintaining speed need to be performed to optimize the effect of tapering.

The study, "Effect of Recovery Periods during Conditioning of Horses on Fitness Parameter," appeared in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science in Nov. 2011. The abstract can be viewed online

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.