Eventing's Short and Long Formats Compared

Three-Day event horses performing the short format endurance portion of an event and horses completing the conventional long format experience a similar amount of stress, according to a recent study. The public has speculated on whether or not horses were adversely or positively affected by the short format since it was introduced to events in 2004 as the long format is being phased out.

Ellen Singer, DVM, DVSc, Dipl. ACVS, ECVS, of England's University of Liverpool, presented research on the topic on April 29 at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in Lexington. The research was funded by  British Eventing and was carried out by Singer and Jane Murray, MSc, PhD.

The traditional long format includes four phases of endurance: Phase A--Roads and tracks (walking and trotting); Phase B-- Steeplechase (galloping over about eight steeplechase fences); Phase C--Roads and Tracks (walk and trot as a cool down); and Phase D, cross country. Short format horses only perform the Phase D.

In the study, two groups of horses competed in long (53 horses) and short format (69 horses) divisions at one event (Weston Park International Three Day Event CCI** in Shropshire, England). Prior to the event, competitors completed questionnaires about the horse's fitness level, and experience, on a voluntary basis.

A research team of took the temperature, pulse, and respiration rates of horses at rest before cross country, and at specified increments after completion of Phase D. Additionally, screeners checked the horses for blood gas levels (how gases are being exchanged), blood lactate (lactic acid accumulation to estimate fatigue), electrolytes, and packed cell volume (PCV, the percentage of  red blood cells in the blood ). Muscle enzymes were examined to see how horses recovered from their efforts.

Common reasons for entering the short format were that the rider felt the horse didn't have the fitness for tackling the long format, they wanted to "save the horse's legs," or they needed to do the short format to qualify for a particular event.

The researchers found that the horses in both the short and long format groups started the events at the same basic level of fitness. The warm-up plans typically mimicked the competition in which they were competing.

In comparing the short and long format groups physiologically, temperatures and respiratory rates did not differ significantly before, during, or after competition. The heart rate recoveries of the two groups were similar after phase D.

Blood lactate and blood gas levels were similar between the groups, indicating that the horses underwent similar challenges. The horses' electrolyte levels were similar except for the levels of ionized calcium, where short format horses showed lower levels of ionized calcium after completing cross country--these levels didn't cause clinical problems. Both groups were in a reasonable range of PCV numbers. There were no significant differences between muscle enzymes in each of the groups after six hours.

Singer would like to repeat the study at a higher competition level, but it can only be done if the two formats are running side-by-side in similar conditions, and there remain few opportunities for this with the advent of more short format events.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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