Badminton Veterinarian Weighs in on Eventing's New Short Course

At the May 4-7 Badminton Horse Trials in England, veterinarians conducted an informal study to assess weight loss of elite eventing horses during the sport's new shortened endurance phase. Preliminary results suggest weights of well-conditioned horses change the least during the cross country phase. The study could help establish a baseline for examining fitness and weight loss in the horse.

In eventing's former endurance format, horses performed controlled exercise in roads and tracks and a gallop over steeplechase obstacles in phases A, B, and C. Now, the horse only does cross country (formerly called phase D).

According to Paul Farrington, BVetMed, MRCVS, director of the study, "Outwardly one says the degree of endurance has been reduced, but actually the degree might have been increased in terms of the impact on the horse and the way it responds," he explained. "It's rather like a 10,000-meter human runner suddenly being asked to run 5,000 meters. Personally, I think eventing in the new format is a different sport, but we don't yet know if that means it has a different effect on the horse."

Volunteers weighed their horses on dressage day and again after cross country. Measuring weight during competition is not new, and Farrington said it could be helpful to establish a correlation between weight loss and the degree of dehydration and exhaustion.

"Horses will be competing in very different environments with wide climatic changes in terms of temperature and humidity," said Farrington, who practices at the Coach House Veterinary Clinic in Newbury, England, and serves on the FEI veterinary committee. "So to establish the expected weight loss under differing circumstances could be very useful as just one of the parameters that is easily checked."

Since this study was uncontrolled and had many variables, it could be difficult to assess its significance. However, it might be helpful in providing baselines for horses competing in ideal circumstances, since cross country day during the study was held in comfortable temperatures, medium level humidity, and excellent going.

"Many horses remained exactly the same weight," said Farrington. "Some lost up to 10 kilos (about 22 pounds). Vets were getting the impression when checking temperature, pulse, respiration, and speed of recovery, that the horses that were slower to recover seemed to be the ones that lost weight." 

Farrington will collate the results relative to each horse's finish in the competition on an anonymous basis (the winner, Andrew Hoy, did not participate in the study). He also wants to factor in breed. "Everyone is interested in how the new format will influence what type of horse we should be breeding, developing, and training for future competitions," he said.

About the Author

Sharon Biggs Waller

Sharon Biggs Waller is a freelance writer for equine ­science and human interest publications. Her work has appeared in several publications and on several websites, and she is a classical dressage instructor.

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