In order to assess the influence of strenuous exercise on collagen characteristics of articular cartilage, the response of the collagen network was studied in seven 2-year-old Thoroughbreds subjected to strenuous exercise compared to 7 nontrained individuals. After 13 weeks, the animals were subjected to euthanasia, fetlock joints of the forelimbs were scored macroscopically after Indian Ink staining, and articular cartilage from different locations of the articular surface of the proximal first phalanx was sampled and analysed for water content, collagen content, hydroxylysine content and amount of hydroxylysylpyridinoline (HP) crosslinks. Gross lesions were significantly more severe in the exercised than in the nonexercised group. In the control animals, the characteristic site-specific differences in collagen parameters were found as described earlier, but in the strenuously exercised animals this physiological biochemical heterogeneity had disappeared. In the exercised animals, an increase in water content and a sharp decrease in HP crosslinking was found that was correlated with the presence of wear lines. It is concluded that the strenuous exercise provoked significant alterations in the characteristics of the collagen network of the articular cartilage of the fetlock joint which were suggestive of microdamage and loosening of the collagen network. The collagen component of cartilage, in contrast to the proteoglycan component, is known to have a very limited capacity for repair and remodelling due to an extremely low turnover rate. Therefore, alterations within the articular collagen network might be expected to play an important role in the pathophysiology of degenerative joint disorders.