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Animals 2019, 9(3), 84;

The Use of Infrared Thermography (IRT) as Stress Indicator in Horses Trained for Endurance: A Pilot Study

Department of Veterinary Medicine (DIMEVET), University of Milan, 20133 Milano, Italy
Department of Agricultural and Food Science (DISTAL), University of Bologna, 40127 Bologna, Italy
Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bari, 70010 Bari, Italy
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 9 January 2019 / Revised: 20 February 2019 / Accepted: 2 March 2019 / Published: 7 March 2019
PDF [1425 KB, uploaded 7 March 2019]

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The aim of this study was to evaluate the possibility of using infrared thermography technique (IRT) to detect physiological stress in endurance horses. Infrared thermography technique, serum cortisol, blood count, and hearth rate (HR) were used as stress-indicators before and after training of different intensities (low, moderate, and high). As expected, all the studied parameters increased after the training, but HR remained below 64 bpm as requested by Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) endurance rules. Heart rate and white blood cells were the only parameters which significantly rose with the training intensity. Max temperature in the left and right eye (ET) was positively and significantly correlated with HR. These preliminary findings suggest that the tested horses were sufficiently fit and IRT may be a useful non-invasive tool to assess physiological stress in endurance horses.


The aim of this pilot study was to document the effects of endurance training at different intensities on heart rate (HR), blood count, serum cortisol, and maximal temperatures of different body locations, namely eye, crown, pastern pasterns, gluteus and longissimus dorsi muscle (mm), measured by infrared thermography technique (IRT) in horses trained for endurance. Possible associations among the studied parameters were also investigated. Our hypothesis was that temperature, measured by IRT after endurance training of different intensities would vary depending on the intensity and would be positively correlated with HR and serum cortisol. Eight horses were tested before and after training of different intensities (low, moderate, and high). The results partially supported our hypothesis; all the studied parameters increased after training (p < 0.05), eye temperature (ET) correlated positively with HR (p < 0.01), and crown temperature (CT) correlated positively with cortisol (p < 0.01). However, only HR and white blood cells increased with the intensity of the exercise (p = 0.0016 and p = 0.0142, respectively). Our findings suggest the evaluation of ET and CT may become a useful non-invasive tool to detect physiological stress during training and to evaluate how the horses cope with the training. Infrared thermography technique may also become a useful tool for the early identification of horses that are not fit to compete or to continue the competition. However, further studies should be conducted on a larger number of horses and during competitions to ascertain our preliminary findings. View Full-Text
Keywords: thermography; training; endurance; horse thermography; training; endurance; horse

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Redaelli, V.; Luzi, F.; Mazzola, S.; Bariffi, G.D.; Zappaterra, M.; Nanni Costa, L.; Padalino, B. The Use of Infrared Thermography (IRT) as Stress Indicator in Horses Trained for Endurance: A Pilot Study. Animals 2019, 9, 84.

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