High Tech Horsemanship: Smart Boots, Halters, And Monitors Give Trainers More Data

by | 07.26.2018 | 11:01am
Ekico Tendon Boots work to help detect lameness before it becomes visible

Technology that uses sensors to monitor a horse's health, its training sessions, and its well-being is being introduced in the equine industry. While many devices are in the research and development stage, three systems already are implemented and getting good results on the racetrack and at the farm.

For the racetrack, a British company Equinity Technology Ltd. offers a monitoring system that allows racehorse trainers to incorporate livestreaming data, such as speed, heart rate, stride length, and split times into their training programs. The application, equinITy, provides a visual display of the horse's data as it trains, or it can deliver it audibly so the trainer can watch the horse train while listening to the statistics of the gallop or workout. The trainer even can patch the rider into the audible feedback so he or she can use the data to get optimum benefit from the exercise session. The system's GPS shows the trainer the location of the horse on the gallop or racetrack as it exercises.

Data gathered can be analyzed after the workout to show how quickly the horse's heart rate and respiration recovered, an indication of how fit the horse is.

The application works on smart phones, tablets, and similar devices to provide real-time exercise data, video capture, photographs, and exercise-animation playback. Using equinITy, the horse's connections can watch it gallop or workout in real time anywhere in the world.

Top trainers Brian Ellison (Britain), Bjorn Baker (New South Wales), and Mike de Kock (South Africa) use the device in their training yards. Baker credited the device for helping him monitor his filly Egyptian Symbol's recovery when she became ill early in her career after her second win. After she recuperated, she spun off two more consecutive wins, then went on to post a record of 6-5-5 in 23 starts for earnings of $792,335.

Mike de Kock offered this testimonial after his trainee Mubtaahij (IRE) won the 2015 Grade 2 UAE Derby.

“I was thrilled with Mubtaahij's win in the UAE Derby on Dubai World Cup night. We used the new equinITy device on him in the build-up to the Derby, which was a great help. Not only did he look amazing physically, but his data backed up exactly what I was seeing in front of me. His work showed that he could cruise at a high speed with a long stride length allowing him to conserve energy and thus quicken off a strong pace, which is exactly what he did on the big night.”

The monitoring system and equinITy application are available by annual contact for about $500 for the basic system and $650 for the premium system with more bells and whistles. Total investment in equipment and monitoring is about $1,375.

Tendon Boot

French technology company Ekico offers a tendon boot to detect lameness before it is visible to the trainer's eye. Sensors in the boot analyze the horse's fetlock extension and through specific algorithms can detect abnormalities in the horse's gait that indicate a potential or developing lameness. Fetlock function is implicated in most soft-tissue injuries of the lower limb. Data results transmit to the trainer via a smartphone application.

The tendon boot was developed by jumping coach Morgane Gerout-Juban and computer science engineer Stephane Juban. Dr. Jean-Michel Vandeweerd, a veterinary radiologist at the University of Namur in Belgium, conducted the tendon-boot study and presented the research at last year's World Equine Veterinary Association (WEVA) Congress in Beijing.

The tendon boot is currently available to veterinarians and is expected to be available to horse owners in 2019. Ekico does not publicly disclose the cost of the tendon boot.

Nightwatch Halter

Back home on the farm, owners and farm managers can use sensors on a special halter to monitor foaling mares and other horses to assure they are safe and healthy. Nightwatch https://www.nightwatch24.com is touted as the world's first “smart halter” by developer Protequus. The system, which monitors a horse's vital signs and transmits them via 3G/cellular and WiFi networks to designated individuals, launched in the United States and Canada in April.

Protequus founder and CEO Jeffrey Schab developed Nightwatch after his horse Snoop colicked and died alone in his stall one night. An accomplished equestrian and biomedical engineer with 15 years of experience in human health, Schab saw the need for an early warning system to alert horse owners of an unfolding health situation, typically colic, foaling, or being cast. Protequus worked with experts at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York to develop the system.

The Nightwatch halter system monitors real-time data of the horse's vital signs via a sensor at the horse's poll that detects heart rate and respiration, two indicators of pain and/or distress. Various types of sensors monitor the horse's activity and posture. The software “learns” the horse's normal behavior so it can flag anything abnormal — pawing, kicking, looking at its flanks, repeatedly lying down and rising, lying down for extended periods, violent rolling, and thrashing. GPS capability also tells the owner exactly where the horse is, a feature that can save precious minutes if the health crisis occurs when the horse is turned out.

An LED light on the halter's nameplate shines green when the horse is normal and has good vital signs, providing a quick check for the night watchman or an owner who has video surveillance in the barn or paddock.

The breakaway, leather halter system sells for $800; a collar version is $700; and a combination halter/collar system is $850. Because the system uses cellular and WiFi networks, buyers must pay an annual $330 monitoring fee and enter into a lease agreement with an early termination fee of $200. Nightwatch is patented and has received regulatory approval in the U.S. and Canada.

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