The purpose of this study was to define the most suitable treadmill slope for reproducing the same heart rate response as in horses being ridden on a track. Seven French saddle horses were exercised first on a level turf track and then on a treadmill. On the track the exercise test consisted of four periods of three minutes of increasing speeds at the trot and the gallop (96 to 600 m/minute). The treadmill exercise tests consisted of seven steps of increasing slope (0 to 9.6 per cent) at the trot (252 m/minute), followed, after an active recovery period at the walk with a 0 per cent slope, by five steps of increasing slope for two minutes each (0 to 6.3 per cent), at the gallop at 493 m/minute. The mean heart rate at each step of the exercise tests was measured with a heart rate recorder. On the exercise track there was a strong linear relationship (R = 0.89, P < 0.01) between heart rate and speed. The heart rate response of the horses exercised at different speeds and slopes on the treadmill was best fitted (R = 0.96, P < 0.01) by a multilinear model. The optimal treadmill slope was determined by equalizing the equations derived from the two tests: s = -0.001 V + 3.658. It was concluded that the optimal treadmill slope ranged between 3.0 and 3.7 per cent. In order to verify this result, a comparison was made between the heart rate response of the horses during the same incremental exercise test performed on the track and on the treadmill with a 3.5 per cent slope.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)
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