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The heart remains the core: cardiac causes of poor performance in horses compared to human athletes

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Cardiac remodelling occurs in response to exercise and is generally beneficial for athletic performance due to the increase in cardiac output. However, this remodelling also may lead to an increased prevalence of cardiac murmurs and arrhythmias. In most cases, these are not considered to be significant. However, in some cases, there may be potentially deleterious consequences. Whilst sudden cardiac death (SCD) is a rare occurrence, the consequences are catastrophic for both the horse and potentially the rider or driver. Furthermore, the sudden death of a horse in the public arena has negative connotations in regards to public perception of welfare during equestrian sports. Prediction of which individuals might be susceptible to potential deleterious effects of exercise is a focus of interest in both human and equine athletes but remains a challenge because many athletes experience cardiac murmurs and exercise-induced arrhythmias that are clinically irrelevant. This review summarises the effects of exercise on cardiac remodelling in the horse and the potential effects on athletic performance and SCD. The use of biomarkers and their future potential in the management of athletic horses is also reviewed.
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Keywords: arrhythmia; equine; murmur; sudden death; training adaptation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 7, 2017

More about this publication?
  • 'Comparative Exercise Physiology' is the only international peer-reviewed scientific journal specifically dealing with the latest research in exercise physiology across all animal species, including humans. The major objective of the journal is to use this comparative approach to better understand the physiological, nutritional, and biochemical parameters that determine levels of performance and athletic achievement. Core subjects include exercise physiology, biomechanics, gait (including the effect of riders in equestrian sport), nutrition and biochemistry, injury and rehabilitation, psychology and behaviour, and breeding and genetics. This comparative and integrative approach to exercise science ultimately highlights the similarities as well as the differences between humans, horses, dogs, and other athletic or non-athletic species during exercise. The result is a unique forum for new information that serves as a resource for all who want to understand the physiological challenges with exercise.
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