Article Text

Heart rate, heart rate variability and behaviour of horses during air transport
  1. C. C. B. M. Munsters, MSc1,2,
  2. J-W. de Gooijer, MSc, DVM3,
  3. J. van den Broek, PhD4 and
  4. M. M. Sloet van Oldruitenborgh-Oosterbaan, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECEIM1
  1. 1Associate professor in Equine Internal Medicine Department of Equine Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, Yalelaan 114, Utrecht 3584 CM, The Netherlands
  2. 2Moxie Sport Analysis & Coaching, Raam 107, Uden 5403 TH, The Netherlands
  3. 3Team Amstelstreek, Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, The Netherlands
  4. 4Department of Farm Animal Health, Utrecht University, Yalelaan 7, Utrecht 3584 CL, The Netherlands;
  1. E-mail for correspondence: carolien{at}


Heart rate (HR), HR variability (HRV) and behaviour score (BS) of nine horses were evaluated during an eight-hour air transport between The Netherlands and New York. HR and HRV parameters were calculated every five minutes during the air transport. Compared with transit (40±3), mean HRs were higher during loading into the jet stall (67±21, P<0.001), loading into the aircraft (47±6, P=0.011), taxiing (50±8, P=0.001), and during periods of in-flight turbulence (46±7, P=0.017). During the flight, individual horses showed differences in mean HR (P=0.005) and peak HR (P<0.001). By contrast with HR data, HRV data did not differ between stages or horses. BS was highest during turbulence (3.2±0.4). However, behaviour did not always correspond with HR measurements: the least responsive horse had the highest HR. Loading into the jet stall caused the highest increase in HR and was considered the most stressful event. During transit, HR was generally comparable with resting rates. Previous studies have shown that loading and transporting by road caused more elevation in HR than during loading and transporting by air. HRV data were not found to be useful, and caution is needed when interpreting HRV data. Not every horse exhibited stress through visible (evasive) behaviour, and HR measurements may provide an additional tool to assess stress in horses.

  • Horses
  • Heart rate variability
  • Transport
  • Welfare
  • Behaviour

Statistics from

Request permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.