Background: Domesticated horses adapt to environmental conditions through seasonal fluctuations in their metabolic rate. The seasonal change of metabolic rates of domesticated horses in pastures is documented. However, there are few investigations on seasonal body weight change of domesticated horses housed in stables, which are provided constant energy intake throughout the year. Both seasonal changes and gain in body weight of racehorses during their athletic career is known to a lesser extent because their body weight are not measured in most countries. Here, we used a seasonal-trend decomposition method to conduct a time series analysis of body weight of Thoroughbred racehorses participating in flat races held by the Japan Racing Association from 1 January 2002 to 31 December 2014.
Results: We acquired 640,431 body weight measurements for race starts and included 632,540 of these in the time series analysis. Based on seasonal component analysis, the body weight of male and gelding horses peaked in autumn and winter and reached its nadir in summer. In contrast, the body weight of female horses peaked in autumn and reached the nadir in spring. Based on trend component analysis, most of the increase in body weight was observed when all sexes approached 5 years of age. The slope of the body weight gain was smaller after that, and an approximately 30 kg gain was observed during their careers.
Conclusion: These results indicate that the body weight of a Thoroughbred racehorse fluctuates seasonally, and that there may be sex differences in energy balance mechanisms. Moreover, the present results suggest that the physiological development of Thoroughbred racehorses is completed just before they reach 5 years of age.
Keywords: Body weight; Growth; Racehorse; Seasonal change; Sex difference.