Equine Physiological Responses to Competitive Barrel Racing


Brooke Harris

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Agricultural Sciences

Date of Award

Spring 2016


Previous studies have indicated correlations between physiological parameters during training or competition of equine athletes in different environments with concomitant changes in physiological exercise parameters such as salivary cortisol, heart rate, heart rate variability, blood glucose, and blood lactate levels. Related studies elaborate on physiological exercise parameters in English Dressage and Jumping horses during competition versus the training session done in a familiar environment. These studies reveal a disparity of exercise parameters between training and competition settings, whereby this discrepancy can be interpreted as the physiological distress response. This experiment elucidated physiological exercise as well as distress parameters in rodeo horses during practice sessions and during competitions. Ten barrel racing horses from CM Barrel Horses, located at a private training facility in Paris, TX, were measured during the period of their preparatory training regimen in order to evaluate the behavior and physiological distress symptoms between the familiar, and finally the competitive environment: A training session at home was compared with a rodeo event (competition). By observing 5 inexperienced horses and 5 more experienced horses, this study aimed to shed light on the degree of experience and habituation of horses during competition. Standard tools for exercise and distress parameter data collection were used: Heart rate monitors, plasma glucose and lactate monitors, and cameras for ethogram evaluation. Baseline parameters were established prior to practice sessions, and after baseline levels were established, data were collected at practice and competition. In conclusion, this study showed that this group of 10 barrel horses did experience an increase in distress parameters during exercise. In the home environment, during training, blood glucose and lactate demonstrated more disparity from baseline compared to competition. Interestingly, horses exhibited more distress behaviors at home compared to the competitive environment. During competition, physiological parameters were slightly increased when compared to the home environment, as were distress behaviors during the baseline period, e.g. stall walking, even more so in inexperienced horses. This data indicates that there is a correlation between the experience level of horses and the degree of physiological distress they experience at a competition.


Petra Collyer

Subject Categories

Agribusiness | Agriculture | Life Sciences