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So this is maybe a weird question. I'm not sure if the phrase "perceived exertion" is really right, but here's what I'm wondering. What contributes to a horse's perceived exertion, besides just the physical acts he is being asked to perform?

Examples: Pony used to get really pant-y with exercise, even fairly moderate exercise. He has never been one to sweat much, he would just pant and pant and pant. Even just ridden lightly at a walk and trot. However, so far with me riding him bareback, he hasn't been pant-y at all, even though we've been doing more cantering. Plus, he was being ridden regularly then, and he's just getting back into work now. I know now that his old saddle didn't fit him -- could the pain of the saddle fit have caused his perceived exertion to be greater than his actual exertion? In other words, it was more tiring to him to do less exercise, because he was in pain?

Another example: Teddy is in pretty good shape. However, when I'm trying to teach him something new, if it's hard for him to learn (and it usually is), he gets really sweaty. So I could ride him mostly at a trot for 45 minutes without asking anything much of him mentally, and he's fine. But if I ride him at a walk and trot for the same amount of time or even less, but ask him to try to learn something new at the same time, he gets really sweaty. Is the stress of having to think and move at the same time causing his perceived exertion to be greater than his actual exertion? In other words, it's more tiring for him to do the same amount of work, because he is having to think at the same time? He doesn't like learning new things because he gets stressed out thinking that he's going to get yelled at for giving the wrong answer.

If you think about yourself, or at least if I think about myself, I know that if I add some sort of mental exertion to my physical exercise, it seems more exhausting and I get tired sooner. I can also imagine that being in pain would make it seem like more exertion as well.

Is this what is happening with my horses? I always feel weird when their bodies are acting like they were working so hard, when I haven't been asking for much (physically) from them. It makes me concerned that I'm pushing them too hard.
 

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I have seen horses break out in some pretty intense "mental sweats" from either being anxious, or having to do a lot of thinking, during a ride! The first horse I owned (whom I smartly sold on to someone braver than I) would get DRENCHED, some rides with her, when he was having, ahh, difficulties.
 

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Yes on both, pain and mental discomfort. Adrenaline increases the heart rate and breathing speed and volume in order to get more oxygen to the muscles and the brain. I am not an expert on any of that but this part of the adrenaline function has been extensively studied and proven.
 

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One of the horses here gets drenched when ridden by upper level riders. Not so much now with the beginners but it used to be with anyone. I figure he knows what is expected and he is giving rides by rote. With the advanced he has to think.
 

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Any stress, good or bad, has an effect on one's body. Too much stress can be very damaging. When an animal trusts someone, that decreases their stress (normally) and thus able to do more.

Humans, horses, dogs, we all suffer when subjected to too much stress; physical, mental or both.


I would not term the phase "perceived" exertion, it is stress.
 

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Any form of training can cause more exhaustion than plain exercise. Being made to use their brain can be tiring.

One dog I had would be more tired when I spent 30 minutes going through obedience exercise than if he had been out on a ride for three hours.
 

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Interesting topic. I had a horse that I ended up having to sell simply because we weren't well suited for each other. He would get extremely anxious when out on the trail in a new to us area. Sometimes it can be low confidence issues. He didn't have a horrible sweating issue but I was compelled to spend a lot of money on a complete vet exam and chiro because his breathing was alarming! I thought for sure he had severe asthma or something. Nope. He had anxiety.

I feel that the pain caused by bad saddle fit can cause anxiety two fold. Simply dealing with the pain plus holding their bodies in a subtley unnatural way to move forward. If my back hurts I walk ever so slightly off which expends more energy than carrying myself straight and true. That would be perceived exertion. However, I think what you are describing with Teddy is anxiety. Learning something new is outside of his comfort zone.

If this is a problem getting him to learn something new, I would break it down and learn one tiny step at a time, adding the new step only when he's comfortable with the first one.
 
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