Horse Species Symposium
Hypoxic conditions encountered at high altitudes result in potential adaptations such as increased hematocrit, hemoglobin, and muscle mitochondrial function. However, living at high altitudes is not practical for many equine athletes. Unfortunately, many trainers have resorted to administering erythropoietin to stimulate red cell production or a large dose of cobalt which reportedly has a hypoxic-inducing effect. Both practices can result in serious health complications (including death) and are typically banned, with a testing threshold of 25 ppb for serum cobalt. Results from Spartan Equine Research confirmed that oral supplementation with 60X the 2007 NRC recommendation of cobalt resulted in serum concentration of 4.7 ppb – far below the testing threshold. These results suggest injectable cobalt, not dietary, is the source of concern. A means of inducing hypoxic effects in humans without living at altitude involves a “tent” covering a bed in which low oxygen concentrations are maintained while sleeping. Similar low-oxygen stalls have been designed for horses. Recent Spartan Equine Research failed to detect any improvement in racing performance in Thoroughbreds housed in such stalls. Challenges not experienced with human athletes were encountered relating to humidity and gases associated with urination and defecation within the airtight chamber – rendering such stalls of limited practicality and safety.