Most trainers will say ‘yes I know, I have been around horses all my life and I don’t need a piece of technology to tell me when my horse is fit’. However, what if this technology really did do what it said on the tin and tell you when your horse was working at its very optimum capacity, how to keep it there and when to reduce the gas before fatigue kicks in and before injury happens.
Many injuries that occur in the sport horse and racing industries could have been prevented had the horse been running at peak fitness or if the trainer knew the horse’s max workload capacity before it began to break down. These are some of the main injuries that occur from high intensity sports such as racing:
- Tendon injuries;
- Epistaxis – bleeding;
- Tying up;
Tendon injuries and fractures are a common theme in the racing industry but if we could engage with technology and science and put ourselves in a position so that we can monitor when the threshold for injury is about to be breached and thereby take preventative measures - surely this can only be of benefit to the sport? It would help to reduce criticism of the industry through reducing injury rates while also reducing the huge costs of rehabilitating broken horses by ensuring fewer injuries are sustained to start with.
So how will this new technology really help? Tendon and fracture problems tend to occur more often when the horse is over exerted and tiring. Because the horse cannot tell us, we may continue pushing the horse in to injury unknowingly. When a horse is tired and over exerted it has a reduced capacity to balance properly, land safely, exert equal pressure to all limbs and use its muscles correctly. Reduced muscle functionality can lead to over extending tendons which in turn results in damage. The technology we are researching will tell you when your horse has reached this injury threshold, what it has taken to get your horse to the threshold and how to increase its ability to work within the threshold.
Another common injury in racing is a fractured pelvis. This may occur when the horse is fatigued and abnormal pressure is exerted on the bones in the limbs. The muscles can be stretched in all different directions due to un-coordinated movement again resulting in a fracture. This could be avoided by ensuring that you know when your horse is starting to fatigue and train in a way that avoids this while still increasing fitness.
Yet another common issue that could be avoided is ‘tying up’. This occurs when the body needs energy to ensure maximum muscle function but is so lacking in energy that that the muscles cannot release properly and therefore essentially rip due to inappropriate muscle release. The resulting effect is a horse that likely cannot race or compete for at least some time, whether this be a week or a month. The point is, that it could be avoided if you never pushed the horse to that extreme and beyond its capability in the first place. Yes, some might say you need to push the horse in order to get it fit, and yes this is true, but pushing within its boundaries is really what trainers should be aiming for, not pushing the horse outside of its boundaries and in to lameness.
How will it work? The technology attaches to the girth or bridle and tracks heart rate, respiratory rate, rhythm of footfall to gauge balance, the track gradient, the amount of force being exerted on the horse (amplitude) all while the horse is in work. The data is fed in real time straight to your phone via the associated app. At the point you see the heart rate reach a certain level or the rhythm become irregular, you know the horse is no longer working well at maximum capacity, it has dropped in to the realms of injury and workload should be quickly reduced.
Performance can be tracked over several weeks so that you can see the training progress and know when your horse is working at its peak and how long it can stay there for before it drops off. You will be able to gauge the best possible speeds and distances for your horses by knowing how their bodies perform as they run. They are all very different as we know and a distance that works well for one horse, will not work so well for another.
The only product I have come across so far that looks as if it will be able to tick all the right boxes is here: https://www.arioneo.com/en/home/performance-range/ We haven’t yet had the opportunity to test the product as it is not yet available, but hopefully when it is released for testing, we will be able to see what it is really made of, whether it can reduce the likelihood of injury and get our horses fitter and faster with minimal risk.
After all, if the NFL, NBA and Australian Football League use them on their professional athletes, why shouldn’t we use them on our performance horses?