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Keywords:

  • horse;
  • 2-year-old Thoroughbred;
  • 3-year-old Thoroughbred;
  • exercise;
  • workload;
  • conditioning;
  • musculoskeletal system

Summary

Reasons for performing study: No data exist on the effects of conditioning exercise at foal age on workload and subsequent clinical injury rate during their 2- and 3-year-old racing careers.

Objectives: To investigate the effects of subjecting TB foals to conditioning exercise prior to the start of race training on: the workload required to reach a level of fitness sufficient to compete; and the prevalence of orthopaedic injury during the first 2 seasons of their racing careers.

Methods: Twenty 18-month-old TBs, 12 subjected to conditioning exercise at foal age (CONDEX) and 8 exercised spontaneously at pasture only (PASTEX) were trained and entered in competitive events. Workload was quantified using the cumulative workload index (the product of average velocity and distance at a specific gait) and the animals were monitored clinically and radiographically for signs of musculoskeletal disorders.

Results: Workload to reach the desired fitness level was similar for CONDEX and PASTEX. CONDEX performed more prerace training sessions as 2-year-olds (P<0.05). The incidence of orthopaedic injuries was low in both groups and there were no differences in the occurrence of orthopaedic ailments. PASTEX animals tended to show signs of musculoskeletal disorders earlier than CONDEX animals. This time difference was significant for metacarpophalangeal joint pain on flexion, reduced carpal flexion and hindlimb lameness (P<0.05).

Conclusions: Subjecting TB foals to conditioning exercise early in life does not have adverse effects on racing careers at ages 2 and 3 years, and does not influence the workload needed to reach a fitness level that is sufficient for racing.

Potential relevance: The lack of negative effects and the indications of some positive effects of early conditioning exercise in the Thoroughbred encourage further large-scale comparative studies.