Horse Conditioning

Horse Conditioning

Physical conditioning

Refers to the body’s long term adaptation to exercise. The goal of conditioning is to increase the ability to perform specific tasks. The capacity to exercise is increased, and the likelihood of injury and related health issues are reduced.

Conditioning is most effective when individualized to the horse and performance goal. Employed methods are directed by the horse’s intended use, capabilities and response to exercise, management schedules and routines, the trainer’s ability, and the environment. Even so, there are general physiological responses that occur with all conditioning.

The Effect of Conditioning on the Body’s Systems , exercise and conditioning affect all of the body systems.
The systems that receive the most attention among researchers of horses and exercise physiology are the muscular, cardiovascular, respiratory and skeletal system; it is the coordination of these and other systems that make exercise possible and allow for improvements with conditioning.

Muscular Muscle tissue is responsible for the mechanical process of movement:
Muscle tissue moves the body through series of contractions and relaxations of muscle fibers.

Conditioning increase the availability of substances needed for contraction and relaxation, and the size, contraction strength, and coordination of muscle fibers. The results are increased strength and coordination, delayed fatigue and fewer injuries. Substances that aid in the production of energy are delivered to the muscle by the cardiovascular system. By-products of metabolism within the muscle are removed by the cardiovascular system. With proper conditioning, changes occur within muscle that result in more blood flow through the muscle tissue, an increase in the capacity to download oxygen from the bloodstream, and an increase in the activity of enzymes that assist metabolism.Conditioning can build up levels of energy-containing compounds, enzymes, and organelles that aid performance ability.

Cardiovascular:

The system of the heart, arteries, capillaries, and veins is responsible for delivering and removing substances from the body’s tissues. Conditioning can increase the mass of the heart, the ability of the heart to pump blood, blood plasma volume and red blood cells, the integrity of blood vessels, and the number of capillaries. The overall effect is more efficient transport of substances to and from the muscle which aids to increase performance and delay fatigue. Heart rate is an accurate indicator of how well a horse is responding to exercise. Normal resting heart rates of mature horses are monitored generally within the range of 30 to 40 beats per minute. Conditioning doesn’t greatly affect the resting heart rate of horses. Maximum heart rate depends on age, but may be as high as 240 beats per minute. Heart rate increases more or less linearly as exercise rate or length increases. Exercise levels that elicit small increases in heart rate are largely supplied by aerobic pathways. Energy must be supplied progressively more anaerobically as exercise level increases. Heart rate responses fewer than 150 to 180 beats per minute indicate that exercise is largely aerobic. Heart rates over 150 to 180 beats per minute indicate that exercise levels have overwhelmed the aerobic pathways so energy is supplied largely by anaerobic pathways. Conditioning allows for lower heart rates at the same level of exercise or higher levels of exercise at similar heart rates.

Respiratory :

The respiratory system is comprised of the airways and lungs. The system delivers oxygen to the blood and removes carbon dioxide from the body. Similar to heart rate, respiration rate increases almost linearly with increasing workload. The system responds to exercise by dilating airways which reduces resistance and increases airflow. Frequency of lung contraction and dilation is increased with exercise so more air transfer can occur within a given time. The production of carbon dioxide increases as exercise level increases. Respiration rates, or number of breaths per minute, increase so the build up of carbon dioxide can be expelled from the body. This response also allows for more uptake of oxygen. Conditioning may increase the elasticity of airways, the transfer of blood gases to and from the blood, and the integrity of lung and diaphragm tissue. However, conditioning has less of an effect on the respiratory system as compared to the previously mentioned systems. The increases in oxygen uptake and decreases in ventilation rate seen with conditioning is for a large part a result of improvements in muscular and cardiovascular systems.

Skeletal system :

Bone, tendons, and ligaments function to provide the framework for movement. Bone strength is related to bone mass and density, which relates to bone shape and the arrangement and levels of bone minerals. Movement causes stress on bone, and stress is essential for improvement of bone mass and density. As such, conditioning can improve the ability of bone to prepare for and handle the stress of movement. However, like all tissue, excess magnitude or frequency of exercise can overwhelm the capacity of bone to handle stress. The results of excess stress include stress fractures, abnormal growth and bone failure (breaks). The conditioning of bone and connective tissues is less predictable as compared to the body systems previously mentioned. Differences between horses, age, stage of conditioning, training environment, and desired skills have a large impact on bone integrity. As such, condition of the skeletal system, especially the bones, tendons and ligaments of the leg, are monitored closely to detect small changes that if undetected might lead to damage, especially when conditioning young horses. Comparatively less is known as to conditioning effect on tendon, ligament and joint integrity. Tendon elasticity and strength can decrease with lack of exercise, and there are significant changes in the composition of the makeup of tendons with conditioning. Cartilage thickness as well as joint flexibility and lubrication may increase. Other systems As previously stated all body systems are affected with exercise and conditioning. Rate of flow of digesta may be altered with exercise, although intake and diet effects seem to be larger influences. Water balance is affected, as increased losses through respiration and sweat require higher intakes. The nervous system adapts by altering the control of muscle tissue. Memory influences the ability to perform and the capacity to accomplish more highly skilled tasks.

References

Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources • Oklahoma State University are also available on our website at: http://osufacts.okstate.edu David W. Freeman OSU Extension Equine Specialist

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