• horse;
  • endurance;
  • α-MSH;
  • TNF-α;
  • TBARS;
  • performance


Reasons for performing study: The inflammatory and neuroendocrine response to endurance exercise and relationship of these parameters to performance is not well documented in horses.

Hypotheses or objectives: Evidence of systemic inflammation is associated with poor performance in horses competing in endurance events.

Methods: Blood was collected prior to and at the finish or elimination point from horses competing in both the 80 and 160 km American Endurance Ride National Championship competitions in 2006. Immunoreactive alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH) and tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) were quantified utilising radioimmunoassay (RIA) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) techniques, respectively. The concentration of total thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) was measured fluorometrically.

Results: Thirty horses were included in the study. Endurance exercise was associated with a significant increase in TBARS in the 80 km group but not the 160 km group. TNF-α and α-MSH did not significantly change as a result of exercise in either distance group. Precompetition TBARS was significantly higher in horses that failed to finish the 80 km race, as well as when distances were combined. In addition, precompetition α-MSH was significantly lower in nonfinishers in the 160 km group. Furthermore, competition speed was positively correlated with precompetition α-MSH in the 80 km and negatively correlated with precompetition TNF-α when distances were combined.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that basal oxidative stress markers, circulating cytokines and anti-inflammatory neuroendocrine hormones appear to correlate with endurance performance in horses.

Potential relevance: Basal oxidative stress markers, circulating cytokines and anti-inflammatory neuroendocrine hormones may be predictive of athletic performance in endurance horses. Future studies evaluating the effect of training on these markers in endurance horses are warranted.