A preliminary study into whether duration of nocturnal sleep behaviours are associated with competition performance

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation at Conference


Research in human sleep patterns demonstrates links between sleep, cognition, memory and performance; three categories also important to horse training and performance. Knowing if sleep patterns in horses affects performance may instigate interest in considering sleep as an important management factor. The behaviour of seven horses (average age 12yrs ±4) of mixed breed, sex, and height was recorded 8PM – 6AM for two consecutive nights. Using continuous focal sampling the frequency and duration of the following behaviours were observed; sternal and lateral recumbency, and standing sleep. On the third consecutive day each horse completed a 7 fence show jumping (SJ) course of 0.76m twice. Performance was measured by calculation of a competition score based on the show jumping course completion time and faults acquired. Management and performance variables were controlled by using horses housed at a single SJ facility. To address ethical and safety concerns a qualified course designer was employed, and all participants had previously competed at 0.76m. Pearson’s Correlation Coefficient was used to test for correlations between duration and frequency of nocturnal sleep behaviours and competition score. Competition scores were derived using a standard SJ competition calculation and ranged from 2.67 (1st place) to 9.37 (last place). Sternal sleep duration ranged from 0 minutes (competition score 2.76) to 67.33 minutes (competition score 7.15); with average sleep sternal duration of 30.70 minutes. A significant negative correlation (R=-0.807, P=0.028) was found between sternal recumbent sleep duration and competition score. Frequency of standing sleep ranged from 16 occurrences (competition score 7.05) to 33 occurrences (competition score 2.76); with an average of 20.79 sleep standing occurrences. A significant negative correlation (R=-0.907, P=0.005) between frequency of standing sleep and competition score was found. No significant correlation was found between competition score, standing sleep duration (R=-0.688, P=0.087), lateral sleep duration (R=0.439, P=0.324), sternal sleep frequency (R=-0.0475, P=0.282), or lateral sleep frequency (R=0.526, P=0.225). Results indicate an association between some sleep behaviours and performance in SJ, and indicate the preliminary study was successful in identifying a line of study for the future.

LP: The preliminary research indicates horses’ sleep patterns may have an effect on their performance in line with sleep research in humans. More research is needed to confirm the results of this study.
Event title11th International Society of Equitation Science conference 2015: Ethical Equitation for All Equestrian Disciplines – Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges
Event typeConference
LocationVancouver, Canada