Background: Physiological testing is extensively used to assess current physical status, target strength/deficiencies, and determine predisposition to injury in athletes. No studies exist regarding these issues on equestrian athletes. The purpose of this study was to quantify the physical, hematological, and exercise response of female equestrian athletes in order to provided greater insight into the health fitness of this unique competitor, and to compare results to other better studied sport athletes.
Methods: Following written informed consent, physiological assessments were performed on 24 collegiate female equestrian athletes (23.6+/-1.8 yrs; ht = 161.8+/-5.0 cm; wt = 64.9+/-9.3 kg) to quantify aerobic power (VO2max, VEmax, Timemax), anaerobic power (peak power, total work output, fatigue index), body composition (%BF, LBM), muscular strength (curl-ups, reverse sit-ups, pushups, handgrip strength), blood chemistries, and coronary risk profile.
Results: Data indicated that mean (+/-SD) LBM (49.0+/-4.5 kg) and BMI (24.8+/-1.7 wt/ht2) fell within reported athletic norms for females. Percent body fat (24.5+/-6.0%), however, was above average. Mean VO2max (33.9+/-4.5 ml/kg/min), treadmill time (10:06+/-:36 min:sec), and VEmax (90.3+/-16.0 l/min) were lower than predicted values. Observed peak power (5.3+/-0.9 w/kg), total work output (315.9+/-48.1 j/kg), fatigue index (66.9+/-7.9%), and handgrip strength (27.8+/-6.6 kg) were also lower than established norms for young females. Mean curl-up, reverse sit-up, and pushup responses (56.5+/-15.8, 36.6+/-13.2, 32.1+/-10.6, reps/min, respectively) were considered average to above average for this age group. Mean resting blood chemistry values were within normal ranges. When analyzing the blood pressure, body composition, and serum lipid data, results indicate an average to low risk for coronary heart disease in this population. Wide variation in lipid profiles in this group as compared to athletes in other sports is a concern.
Conclusions: Although working with equine poses a constant danger, the lack of adequate physical conditioning of the equestrian may be a contributing factor in the growing number of injuries. When compared to female athletes in other sports, exercise performance was found to be lower. Equestrian athletes need to supplement conventional sport activity with traditional aerobic and anaerobic training regimens.