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Assessing Fitness in Friesian Horses



In a very new piece of research coming out of the Netherlands, the investigating group had as the aim of their study “to generate more in-depth information about the exercise physiology of the young Friesian horse and to see how they respond to training. The further aim is to study the accumulation of lactic acid in response to different standardized exercise tests (SETs) performed throughout a 2-month training period.” They hypothesized that exceptionally long periods of continuous catering could cause significant blood lactic acid accumulation in these young horses. The study aimed to “check whether a SET test that encompasses equal duration of catering, spread out over shorter but more frequent intervals, can prevent this.”


Nine young, relatively inexperienced Friesian horses were monitored over a period of 2 months. Horses performed two different SETs (designated A and B) every other week, and their heart rate and blood lactate were measured at given times. SET A was performed on day 1 of each week and SET B on day five. SET A contained episodes of steady canter, and SET B alternated short episodes of canter with brief episodes of trot and walk in both directions. The total cantering time was the same for each SET. Results showed that the maximal blood lactic acid concentrations were higher for SET A compared to SET B, with the blood lactate levels lower in week eight compared to week 0. Heart rate parameters also showed a mild decrease over the 8-week study, but not enough to be statistically relevant. A comparison of blood lactate and heart rate between the two SETs revealed that short intervals of cantering limit lactic acid accumulation and all horses showed a significant training response after eight weeks. The horses that started the project with the lowest fitness level displayed the most significant training response.


The researchers concluded that SET A seems more suitable for assessing fitness in Friesian horses, and SET B provides “a good template for training Friesian horses in the aerobic window. Friesian horses reach their anaerobic threshold quicker than Warmblood horses.” In conclusion, they emphasized “the importance of being careful with categorizing a Friesian horse as predisposed to poor performance and unfit for a sportive career based upon training parameters assessed at the beginning of training.”


Scientific Article: Houterman, Willem “Monitoring blood lactate and heart rate during two different Standardised Exercise Tests in Young Friesian horses,” published online, June 2015.

Supervisor: Catherine DeLasalle, Co-supervisors: Andrea Gröne, Marco deBruijn



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