Recent studies have reported significant alterations in horse physiological and gait parameters when exposed to increased rider weight during moderate to high intensity exercise. This study aimed to evaluate the effect of increased rider weight (+15% and +25% of the regular rider’s bodyweight) on horse behavioral, physiological and gait symmetry parameters during a standard dressage test. Twenty rider-horse equipages performed the same test three times in a randomized, crossover design. Salivary cortisol (SC), heart rate (HR), heart rate variability (HRV), behavior and gait symmetry (GS) were measured. SC concentrations increased from baseline (p < 0.001), but there was no significant treatment effect (difference from baseline (ng/mL): Control: 0.21 ± 0.1; +15%: 0.37 ± 0.1; +25%: 0.45 ± 0.2, p = 0.52). Similarly, there were no overall treatment effects on HR or HRV variables (avg HR across treatments (bpm): 105.3 ± 1.3), nor on GS parameters. There was large individual variation in conflict behavior but no effect of weight treatment. We conclude that increasing the weight of the regular rider by 15% and 25% did not result in significant short-term alterations in the measured parameters. Maximum rider:horse weight ratios were 15–23% and the exercise intensity was relatively low; thus the results should not be extrapolated to other weight ratios and exercise intensities.
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