Body composition in young Standardbreds in training: relationships to body condition score, physiological and locomotor variables during exercise

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Reasons for performing study:

Body composition is an essential factor in athletic performance of human sprinters and long distance runners. However, in horses, many questions remain concerning relationships between body composition and performance in the different equine activities.


To determine relationships between body composition, body score, physiological and locomotor variables in a population of young Standardbreds in training.


Twenty-four 2-year-old Standardbreds were studied, body condition on a scale 0-5 and bodyweight recorded, and height at withers measured. Percentage of fat (%F), fat mass (FM) and fat free mass (FFM) were estimated echographically. During a standardised exercise test on the track, velocity, heart rate, respiratory frequency and blood lactate concentrations were measured. V4 and V200 (velocity for a blood lactate concentration of 4 mmol/l and velocity of 200 beats/min) calculated. Basic gait variables were measured at 3 different speeds with an accelerometric device.


Body composition variables: %F and FM were significantly related to body condition score and physiological variables. Body score was highly correlated to %F (r = 0.64) and FM (r = 0.71). V4 was negatively correlated to %F (r = −0.59) and FM (r = −0.60), P<0.05. V200 was also negatively related to %F and FM, (r = −0.39 and r = −0.37, respectively, P<0.1). No relationships were found between body composition and gait characteristics.


Body composition was closely related to indirect measurements of aerobic capacity, which is a major factor of athletic performance in middle distance running horses.

Potential relevance:

As in human athletes, trainers should take special note to evaluate optimal bodyweight and body composition of race horses to optimise performance.

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