This study examined the effects of two housing systems (free-range and box stalls) on recovery of energy balance after competition-like exercise in Standardbred horses. Eight adult geldings (mean age 11 years) were used. The study had a change-over design, with the box stall (BOX) and free-range group housing (FreeR) treatments each run for 21 days. The horses were fed forage ad libitum and performed two similar race-like exercise tests (ET), on day 7 and day 14 in each treatment. Forage intake was recorded during the last 6–7 days in each period. Blood samples were collected before, during, and until 44 h after ET. Voluntary forage intake (measured in groups with four horses in each group) was higher in FreeR horses than BOX horses (FreeR: 48, BOX: 39, standard error of the mean (SEM) 1.7 kg (p
= 0.003)). Plasma non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) was lower at 20–44 h of recovery than before in FreeR horses (p
= 0.022), but not in BOX horses. Housing did not affect exercise heart rate, plasma lactate, plasma urea, or total plasma protein concentration. Thus the free-range housing system hastened recovery in Standardbred trotters, contradicting anecdotal claims that it delays recovery. The free-range housing also had positive effects on appetite and recovery of energy balance.
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