This study compared the usefulness of in vitro culture, PCR, and nested PCR for the diagnosis of Theileria equi in horses submitted to stress during exercise. Blood samples from 15 apparently healthy horses, previously conditioned to a high-speed equine treadmill, were taken prior to and after exercise. The animals were divided into two experimental groups: 30-day training schedule (G1) and 90-day training schedule (G2). Statistical analysis was performed using a chi-square test and kappa statistic was used in order to assess agreement. No significant difference was observed between samples collected at resting or after exercise. In G1, merozoites of T. equi were detected in the blood smears of four horses before in vitro culture, whereas 14 samples were positive, confirmed by culture. In G2, five and 11 horses were positive before and after culture, respectively. No PCR amplified product was observed in any of the tested animals although the PCR system based on the 16S rRNA gene of T. equi detected DNA in blood with an equivalent 8x10-5% parasitaemia. The nested PCR based on the T. equi merozoite antigen gene (EMA-1) allowed the visualization of amplified products in all the horses. Therefore, nested PCR should be considered as a means of detection of sub-clinical T. equi infections and in vitro culture could be used as a complement to other methods of diagnosis.