Whole-Body Vibration Might Have a Relaxing Effect on Horses

Researchers determined that Equivibe-treated stalled horses had lower heart rates, cortisol levels.

Whole-Body Vibration Might Have a Relaxing Effect on Horses
Anecdotally, many people in the horse industry believe whole-body vibration (WBV) therapy can improve horses’ performance; however, little research into its effects has been done.To put some science behind these vibrating platforms, Seneca Sugg, MS, a graduate student at Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro, conducted a study to determine WBV’s effects on horses’ stride length and gaits, heart rates, and cortisol (the stress hormone) levels. She presented her findings at the 2019 Equine Science Society Symposium, held June 3-6 in Asheville, North Carolina.

Sugg studied 12 healthy and sound performance horses being stalled continuously—six received the WBV treatment, and six served as controls. The treatment group horses spent 45 minutes on an Equivibe platform vibrating at 50 Hz five days a week for 28 days. The control group simply remained stalled.

Sugg collected data from all horses on Days 0, 1, 14, and 28. She used a heart rate monitor to measure heart rate, and saliva swabs to measure cortisol levels. Using a Lameness Locator, she measured stride length and gait normality as horses were jogged down a 30-meter (100-foot) track. Sugg found that:

  • The control group had higher average heart rates than the WBV group;
  • In the WBV group heart rate dropped immediately after treatment, then returned to normal within an hour;
  • Cortisol levels also declined immediately after treatment;
  • Cortisol levels were lower in the WBV horses on Day 28 than Day 0;
  • All horses’ stride lengths shortened over the study period, likely as a result of being stalled, said Sugg; and
  • There was no difference between horses’ stride lengths or gaits.

“The lower heart rates and cortisol (in the treatment group) shows that whole-body vibration has an acute relaxation effect,” said Sugg.

While she did not see an effect of whole-body vibration on healthy, stalled horses’ gait parameters, treatment horses did have lower pelvis displacement, meaning their hind end appeared more stable with treatment. “This could give merit to future research looking at how whole-body vibration affects lame horses’ gait abnormalities,” she said.

In the meantime, Sugg said owners might consider the therapy as a relaxation method.

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Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

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