According to Mareike Becker-Birck, PhD, researcher at the Graf Lehndorff Institute for Equine Science in Neustadt, Germany, show horses have no more parasympathetic (nervous and hormonal) stress reactions during public performances than they do during training, even if their riders do.
Well, here’s the thing. To come to this conclusion, Becker-Birck and colleagues employed eight geldings–classical dressage horses from the French National Equestrian School
in Saumur–and their seven male riders during a dress rehearsal and during a
public performance in front of hundreds of spectators. Both activities occurred
at their home arena in Saumur.
So how often to do you get to show in the same arena you train in? For a few years I actually boarded at a rather large show facility. I could do a dressage show every other weekend and three horse trials a year without dramatically changing my horse’s turnout schedule. I got to sleep in my own bed every night, didn’t have to clean a 10×10 tent stall or do late night “hope he hasn’t killed himself” checks. Life was pretty good. Not so much anymore.
Not to mention, most times I am not showing in front of hundreds of spectators. In fact the few times I have, I don’t think my horse gave a hoot about the “hundreds” of people in the stands, he was more concerned with the scoreboard, WHICH MADE A HOST OF CRAZY SOUNDS, and the goofy people hiding behind the TV cameras at B, C and M. Nice study, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with the reality of showing horses on a weekend to weekend basis.
Having studied more than eight geldings, my personal conclusion: take your horse to a show and he has stress and he doesn’t perform as well as he does at home. Back to your regularly scheduled spook at the judges box.