Heart rate variability (HRV) is a commonly used metric in animal science to quantify an aspect of the physiological response to stressors. HRV analysis relies upon accurate detection of the electrical activity of the heart to define inter-beat interval (IBI). In horses, this can be problematic due to specific features of the equine ECG waveform and a high incidence of 2nd-degree atrioventricular (AV) block in clinically normal horses at rest.
The current study validates the collection and interpretation of IBI data from two heart rate monitors (HRMs) principally designed for human personal monitoring (Polar V800 and Actiheart 5). 30 min of synchronous IBI data was collected using the two HRMs and a 4-lead telemetric ECG that is widely used in equine veterinary clinical practice (Televet 100). The study was conducted using a mixed sample (n = 17) of general riding horses, with (n = 4) and without (n = 13) cardiac dysrhythmias. HRV data was derived from each IBI data set and compared following application of a series of correction factors.
There was a very strong inter-class correlation of HRV parameters from both the Actiheart 5 and Polar V800 with the Televet 100 data. Both HRMs providing an acceptable level of agreement with both time and frequency domain HRV parameters. The data from the Actiheart 5 were found to be interchangeable with the Televet 100 in respect of beat detection whereas the Polar V800 data required a 0.4 s artefact correction to give best agreement. Both HRMs have utility in equine research for demonstrating the direction and magnitude of change in HRV parameters, although users must apply appropriate artefact correction to maximise data validity.