The study objective was to determine if there was a relationship between behavioral and physiological stress measures in sport horses and their performance. Nineteen horses competed in show jumping events (6 housed at the center and 13 transported), while 5 horses at home training served as controls. The competition horses were assigned to “light” (obstacles ≤100 cm) and “difficult” class (obstacles >100 cm). The conflict behaviors (CBs/min) in two rounds were calculated. Total faults were classified as “less faults” (≤one fault) or “more faults” (>one fault). Salivary cortisol concentration (SCC) before the first round (SCC-SP1), 20 minutes (SCC-SP2), and 60 minutes after the second round (SCC-SP3) was measured. The increase (SCC-in) and decrease (SCC-dec) in SCC were calculated. No effect of competition was found. Horses that waited longer for the second round had greater CB (P < .05). Conflict behavior was more frequent in horses from the “more faults” (P = .05) and “difficult” (a tendency; P = .06) classes. No correlation of CB with SCC was found. SCC-SP2 was greater in “more faults” (P < .01) and “transported” (P < .01) horses. Competition increased the SCC (P < .05), whereas SCC-SP2 was greater in less successful horses (P < .05). Transported horses and horses with more faults had the greatest SCC-SP2 and SCC-dec (P < .05). Our results suggest that horses which presented stress response were also less successful in competition. The adoption of effective methods to reduce transport and competition stress could enhance welfare and performance of sport horses during competition.
Animal & Bioscience
Animal & Grassland Research & Innovation Programme