This study hypothesized that ginger (Zingiber officinale) and cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) extracts would alter the physiological response to exercise as well as markers of muscle damage, and mRNA expression for the inflammatory cytokines tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interferon-γ (IFN-γ) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) after an exhaustive bout of exercise in horses. Nine unfit Standardbred mares (age 10 ± 4 years, ~450 kg) completed three graded exercise tests (GXTs) in a crossover design, where they were assigned to the initial order of treatment in a randomized fashion. The GXTs were conducted between 07.00 and 12.00 hours, 7 days apart. Mares received either water (2 l), cranberry (~30 g in 2 l of water) or ginger (~30 g in 2 l of water) extract 1 h prior to testing. Blood samples were taken prior to dosing (pre-exercise), at the end of each step of the GXT, at the end of the exercise and at 2, 5 and 30 min, 1, 2, 4 and 24 h post-GXT. Plasma total protein (TP) concentration and haematocrit (HCT) were analysed immediately following the tests. Analysis of creatine kinase (CK) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) was done commercially. There was no effect of treatment (P>0.05) on VO2max, run-time to fatigue, core temperature, TP or HCT. CK was substantially elevated (P < 0.05) in the ginger group at 4 h post-GXT. All CK levels returned to baseline 24 h post-GXT. No change (P>0.05) was noted in AST. A slight increase (P < 0.05) in CK was seen in all groups at 2 h post-GXT. The cranberry group had significantly lower TNF-α mRNA expression than the control and ginger groups. Ginger appeared to influence (P < 0.05) the upregulation and expression of IFN-γ mRNA at 30 min post-GXT, but, more strikingly, significantly decreased recovery time defined as the time for VO2 to recover from the peak observed at fatigue to a post-exercise plateau (ginger = 101 ± 3 s, water = 130 ± 14 s, cranberry = 131 ± 16 s). No effect of treatment or exercise (P>0.05) was seen on IL-6 mRNA expression. Results suggest that cranberry extract blunts the upregulation and expression of TNF-α mRNA, while ginger extract reduces cardiovascular recovery time in horses completing a short, exhaustive bout of exercise.