Retrospective study of predictive variables for maximal heart rate (HRmax) in horses undergoing strenuous treadmill exercise

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Reasons for performing study:

Heart rate is one of the most commonly measured variables in equine exercise physiology and relative exercise intensity commonly expressed as % of maximal heart rate. A number of influences affect maximal heart rate (HRmax), including age of the horse but other factors have not been described.


To determine if fitness, health status, gender, breed, athletic use, body mass, in addition to age, are predictive of HRmax in the horse.


Maximal heart rate data from 328 horses which underwent treadmill exercise tests at 5 different laboratories were obtained retrospectively. Univariable linear regression analyses were performed on individual variables. Multiple linear regression analysis using a backward elimination modelling procedure was then used to relate the observed HRmax values simultaneously with different predictive variables. Variables were retained in the final regression model if they or any of their categories were significantly predictive of HRmax at P<0.05 and if there was a significant collective contribution to the model from inclusion of each variable, also at P<0.05.


Age, fitness status, laboratory, gender and breed/use (combined category) were all statistically significantly predictive of HRmax. Together these variables accounted for 41 % of the variance in HRmax. Age alone accounted for only ∽13% of the variation between horses in HRmax. Neither body mass nor health status were significantly predictive.


HRmax in the horse declines with age but is also influenced by other factors. As the factors investigated accounted for only 41% of the variation between horses, other unidentified variables with a strong influence on HRmax remain to be identified.

Potential relevance:

Factors such as fitness, age, gender, breed and use need to be considered when interpreting estimates or measurements of HRmax.

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