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Keywords:

  • horse;
  • equine athlete;
  • injury;
  • periodisation;
  • performance;
  • time trial;
  • training

Summary

Human athletes taper or reduce their training load before a race to enhance performance, apparently because recovery from the effects of fatigue occurs faster than the loss of fitness from the reduced training. However, there appear to be no previous studies of tapering of equine athletes. Our aim in the present study was, therefore, to investigate the efficacy of tapering with Standardbred pacers. We determined the effect of repeated cycles of tapered training on performance of Standardbred pacers. After 8 weeks of jogging and 3 times 2 week cycles of pace work, 19 horses were randomised to a taper and a control group. The taper group completed 5 consecutive 2 week cycles, each incorporating a 7 day taper; some cycles included high-intensity interval training. The control group continued with 5 more cycles of pace work. All horses completed a 2400 m individual time trial after each cycle. Peak and mean speed of the taper group were faster than those of the control group in all cycles; the differences were clear-cut in all cycles for peak speed (overall 4.4%, 95% confidence interval 1.7 to 7.1%), but only in one of the interval-training cycles for mean speed (2.4%, 0.3 to 4.7%). Four horses in the taper group were injured during interval training. Repeated tapering produces a worthwhile enhancement of performance in Standardbreds, but the addition of interval training appears to increase the risk of injury.