Does an Audience Have an Effect on Stress Levels?

Most of us have been in the show ring before, and if you haven’t you have seen the show jumpers or watched the Kentucky Derby. They all involve a large audience watching both horse and rider. We all know we get stressed when being the center of  attention in a show ring, but how do our horses react?

Horse scientists recently completed some research showing that we may be a nervous wreck while in the ring, but audiences have little to no effect on our horses stress level. Mareike Becker-Brick, PhD is a researcher at Graff Lehnforff Institute For Equine Science in Neustadt Germany, who presented this study at the 8th International Society of Equitation Science conference.

Becker-Bick used 8 geldings who were trained in classical dressage and their male riders during a rehearsal and a public performance that would be in front of thousands of spectators. The science team measured both horse and human salivary cortisol (known as the “Stress Hormone”), heart rate and heart rate variability (heart rate variability seems to be a better indicator of stress level than the heart rate).

Both the horses and the humans cortisol levels and heart rates rose during both the rehearsal and the performance. The male riders heart rates rose considerably more during the show performance. Thus making the humans much more stressed than the horses. The horses treated the show performance as the same as a practice or training. Becker-Bick stated “so the spectators induced an acute stress response in the riders, but at the same time (caused) no additional stress on the horse.”

So just because your stressed out in the show ring, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will make your horse nervous. We might be shaking when we enter the ring, but our horses are treating the show like any other practice or training session!


A large audience has little to no effect on our horses, but stresses us out more than a training or practice run.

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