Becker-Birck, M., Schmidt, A., Lasarzik, J., Aurich, J., Möstl, E. and Aurich, C., 2013.
Equestrian competitions require both physical activity and mental adaptation in horses. Cortisol, heart rate, and heart rate variability (HRV) are accepted stress parameters and, in this study, have been determined in horses (n = 13) participating in equestrian competitions for up to 3 consecutive days. Participation in competitions caused an increase in salivary cortisol concentrations (e.g., on day 1 from 1.0 ± 0.2 before to 2.2 ± 0.4 ng/mL after the competition, days 1 and 2: P < 0.001, day 3: P < 0.05) and an increase in heart rate (days 1 and 2: P < 0.001, day 3: P = 0.01). A consistent decrease in HRV occurred only in response to the final competition on day 3 (P < 0.01). When horses competing in dressage and show jumping were compared, cortisol release and HRV did not differ between groups, but after the competition, heart rate was lower in dressage than in show jumping horses (P < 0.05). Heart rate increased not only during the actual competition but already when horses were prepared in their stables (e.g., day 1: −60 minutes, 38.6 ± 2; −5 minutes, 77 ± 7; competition, 81 ± 10 beats per minute; P < 0.01). In conclusion, participation in equestrian competitions caused an increase in cortisol release and heart rate and a decrease in HRV variables. However, competitions were not a major stressor compared with other anthropogenic challenges such as transport, to which horses are exposed regularly.