Polo Players Edition

DEC 2018

Polo Players' Edition is the official publication of the U.S. Polo Association. Dedicated to the sport of polo, it features player profiles, game strategy, horse care, playing tips, polo club news and tournament results.

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POLO P L A Y E R S E D I T I O N 17 California-Davis) and Dr. Anne Rodiek (California State University-Fresno) worked on several research projects involving transport, one of which was to study physiology of horses during 24 hours of transport and the 24 hours of recovery after transport. The results of this study were publicized in 2003. The horses' physiological responses during travel and during recovery (resting in individual stalls) were documented to see how quickly they returned to normal. Body weight, rectal temperature, white blood count, hydration and other factors were measured. The horses lost about six percent of their body weight during transit due to sweat loss and decreased gut fill (eating less than normal), but they all recovered about half of this weight loss during the 24-hour rest period after transit. Hematocrit and total protein concentrations increased during transit, which is an indication of dehydration, but these measurements returned to normal during the 24-hour recovery period. Stress levels can be also be measured by checking cortisol levels in the blood. This hormone (produced by the adrenal glands in response to triggering mechanisms originating in the hypothalamus and passed to the adrenal glands via the pituitary) is generally a good indicator of stress. The concentration of cortisol in the 15 study horses increased during loading into the transport van and continued to rise during the 24-hour travel, peaking at the end of the trip. After the horses were unloaded, their cortisol levels dramatically dropped. Since cortisol hinders the immune system, its influence can be measured by the ratio of two types of white blood cells (neutrophils and lymphocytes) instrumental in fighting disease. This ratio in the study horses increased during transit and did not return to normal by the end of the 24-hour rest period. The fact it takes longer than this to recover from the effects of stress may be one reason why horses are susceptible to illness following long transport. In newer studies, investigators continued to look at markers of stress such as increased heart rate during transport. Increased heart rate is probably an indicator for stress, but horses are all different. Some of them travel well and some don't. One study showed that horses can be habituated to travel, and that the horses accustomed to traveling have lower heart rates than the ones that were inexperienced. Social Stress Horses are social creatures and herd animals. In the wild they lived and traveled in groups. A fine-tuned social structure was essential to their daily lives, and part of their defense against predators--relying on each other to be alert to danger. Horses are mentally healthiest and happiest when they have herdmates/buddies they can hang out with. With domestication, we have thwarted a normal herd existence. We often confine horses and isolate them in individual stalls or pens, denying their natural need for social interaction. Some individuals adapt better than others to an artificial existence and some are more stressed. This stress often shows up in horses that are confined or living alone. The innate need for moving and living in a group is frustrated and the resultant stress may be exhibited in different ways. Some horses develop stereotypies like stall walking, weaving or cribbing, or channel their anxiety into pawing or kicking the stall walls. Being social animals, horses also experience stress if forced to live with or next to an individual they don't get along with. In a stall, for instance, if the horse next door is incompatible, this can be a stress. If two horses share a paddock and don't get along, this can be stressful for both of them. You might have to change the living arrangements and for the stalled horse find a neighbor that the stressed horse can get along with better. In a group situation, a new horse may get picked on and chased around, and this can be a stress. A horse at the bottom of the pecking order may also be socially ousted, constantly bullied or chased away from the feed. To alleviate this type of stress you may have to put that horse in another pen or pasture with one or two horses he gets along with or won't be bullying him. Work Stress Training and conditioning always result in physical stresses but these can usually be handled (helping the horse become more fit and capable of doing the work required) unless overdone. Work can also become a mental stress (continued on page 58) Not all horses are made for polo. If a horse is incapable or unwilling to do the job you are asking, it can lead to stress. Horses that are overworked can also burn out and become stressed.

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