New research from Korea suggests that exercise reduces stress in horses, just as it does in people.
Researchers at the Jeju National University divided 61 horses into three groups: those who gave tourists rides, those who served as lesson horses and those not ridden at all.
They collected saliva samples from each horse four times a day---in the early morning and then three times throughout the day. In the working group, the samples were taken after each exercise session; the same schedule was followed for the resting group.
The saliva samples were then tested for levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. In all of the horses--even those in the resting group---cortisol levels were the lowest in the third daily samples. As a percentage of the early morning cortisol levels, the horses working in the lesson program had the greatest decrease in cortisol throughout the day, followed by the horses ridden by tourists. The horses at rest showed the smallest drop in cortisol levels.
In addition, the saliva samples were analyzed for spikes in cortisol levels, which would indicate periods of increased stress. The smallest spikes were found in the horses from the lesson group, while the resting horses had the highest peak levels of cortisol.
The researchers conclude that exercise reduces stress levels in horses even “in cases where riders are clumsy or lack appropriate horse-riding experience” and that “resting without any particular exercise can also increase the stress levels in horses.”
Reference: “Changes in salivary cortisol concentration in horses during different types of exercise,” Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences, May 2016
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #466, July 2016.