To investigate whether horses were able to acclimate to conditions of high temperature and humidity, 5 horses of different breeds were trained for 80 min on 15 consecutive days on a treadmill at 30°C and 80% RH. Training consisted of a combination of long duration low-intensity exercise, medium duration medium intensity exercise and short duration high intensity exercise. Between training sessions the horses were maintained at 11 ± 3°C and 74 ± 2% RH. Before (PRE-ACC) and after acclimation (POST-ACC) the horses undertook a simulated Competition Exercise Test (CET), designed to represent the Speed and Endurance Test of a 3-day event, at 30°C/80% RH.
Maximal oxygen uptake (VO2PEAK) was not changed following acclimation (PRE-ACC 141 ± 8 ml/min/kg bwt vs. POST-ACC 145 ± 9 ml/min/kg bwt [STPD], P>0.05). Following acclimation, 4 of the 5 horses were able to complete a significantly greater amount of Phase D in the CET (PRE-ACC 6.3 ± 0.3 min vs. POST-ACC 7.3 ± 0.3 min, P<0.05; target time = 8 min).
Resting body temperatures (pulmonary artery [TPA], rectal [TREC] and tail-skin [TTSK] temperatures) were all significantly lower following acclimation. During exercise, metabolic heat production (M) and heat dissipation (HD), for the same exercise duration, were both significantly lower following acclimation (P<0.05), although heat storage (HS) was significantly higher (P<0.05). The higher heat storage following acclimation was associated with a lower TTSK for a given TPA and a decreased total fluid loss (% bodyweight, P<0.05). Plasma volume was not changed following acclimation. The relationship of sweating rate (SR) to TPA or TTSK on either the neck or the gluteal region was not significantly altered by acclimation, although the onset of sweating occurred at a lower TPA or TTSK following acclimation (P<0.05).
The horses in the present study showed a number of physiological adaptations to a period of 15 days of exposure to high heat and humidity consistent with a humid heat acclimation response. These changes were mostly similar to those reported to occur in man and other species and were consistent with thermal acclimation and an increased thermotolerance, leading to an improved exercise tolerance. It is concluded that a 15 day period of acclimation is beneficial for horses from cooler and or drier climates, that have to compete in hot humid conditions and that this may redress, to some extent, the decrement in exercise tolerance seen in nonacclimated horses and reduce the risk of heat related disorders, such as heat exhaustion.