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 conditi