Study: Horses Able to Stay Fit When Kept at Pasture

Pastured horses maintained their fitness level, plus had greater bone mineral content than other horses.
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Study: Horses Able to Stay Fit When Kept at Pasture
Researchers found that pastured horses maintained a similar level of fitness as the stalled horses. | Photo: Photos.com
There are many theories on how to best manage performance horses during periods with no forced exercise (whether after sustaining an injury or just for a rest period), and owners are often left with a dilemma: stall rest or pasture turnout? To find the answer, a team of researchers recently completed a study evaluating how well horses maintain a certain fitness level with either pasture turnout or stall confinement.

Patricia M. Graham-Thiers, PhD, and a team of Virginia Intermont College researchers assigned 16 horses in light to moderate work to one of three groups: pasture turnout (P), stalled and exercised (E), or stalled with no exercise (S). During the 14-week study, horses in the P group roamed on approximately 100 acres of pasture, while horses in the S and E groups stayed in stalls during the day and were allowed access to a one-acre paddock at night.

The researchers exercised horses in the E group five days per week for one to two hours per day at the walk, trot, and canter. The team also used GPS units attached to the horses’ halters to estimate the distance each horse traveled in a 24-hour span at intervals throughout the study period.

The team put each horse through a standardized exercise test (SET, lasting 20 minutes, with consistent increments of walk, trot, canter and hand-gallop work, and a 10-minute cool down period) at the beginning and end of the 14-week study. Researchers took blood samples and rectal temperatures before the SET, at peak exercise, and during recovery; they recorded horses’ heart rates at intervals throughout the SET

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Kristen M. Janicki, a lifelong horsewoman, was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky, studying under Dr. Laurie Lawrence in the area of Equine Nutrition. Kristen has been a performance horse nutritionist for an industry feed manufacturer for more than a decade. Her job entails evaluating and improving the performance of the sport horse through proper nutrition.

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