March 2020 - 2020 Vision
Written by by Alice Chan
Monday, 02 March 2020 20:09
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equinenutrition

The “internet of things” impacts the future of equine healthcare and training.

by Alice Chan

It’s a brave new world for equine healthcare and training for performance. As we embark on a new decade, a number of trends are converging that will positively impact how we manage our equine friends. By bringing together data, technology and analysis, there seems to be a real opportunity to remove some of the guesswork involved in keeping our equine partners healthy and fit.

 


It’s hard to believe that just 10 years ago, the FitBit had only just launched, there was no such thing as an Apple Watch and tracking our own exercise, diet and calories burned, was a largely a manual guessing game. Today, most of us are familiar with the “Internet of Things” (IOT)—the combination of sensors that measure activity or other inputs, and then combine with smart software and algorithms to reveal patterns and make recommendations.

 

The Smart Halter measures heart rate, respiration, and/or activity to act as an equine wellness and distress monitor. Ideal for predicting colic, when a mare is about to foal, and much more.

Veterinarians and technologists alike are starting to look at the equestrian world and are seeing lots of opportunities for IOT to demonstrate its value to owners and riders. Says Dr Carrie Schlachter, the founder of Animals In Motion Veterinary practice (AIM):

“Technology is getting to the point where we can have enough reliable data to monitor horses - and be alerted to a problem sooner than later.”

AIM is a new venture for Dr Schlachter—she previously built the highly successful Circle Oak Equine—and it’s her desire to develop a preventative healthcare model: one that takes more of a “Kaiser Permanente” approach to equine wellness.

The Seaver girth in action.

Dr Schlachter continues: “For the last ten years I have been fixing problems. It’s been the bulk of my practice, and I’m really good at diagnosing and resolving issues. Yet there is a huge opportunity for preventative approaches for competitive sport horses, and new technologies like the Seaver Girth and the SmartHalter mean we can not only prevent injuries before they happen or become chronic, but we can also determine how a horse can perform better, or if it’s fit enough to do the World Cup circuit, for example.”

Ask any horse owner, and the opportunity to avoid injuries, aka, expensive vet bills, time out of work and rehabilitation programs that make for bored horses and riders, and they likely want to hear more.

If you work with a vet like Dr Schlachter, it will likely entail four wellness and soundness exams each year, which are designed to catch any issues early. And as products like the Seaver Girth (from $399), which measures movement and heart rate to provide valuable data on symmetry of gaits, cadence, elevation while jumping, along with intensity and calories burned; and the Smart Halter ($997), which is designed to first establish a baseline for normal activity in the horse (outside of work) and then alert you when patterns might suggest that a horse is about to colic, not sleeping well during a show, etc. start to gain momentum, vets are hoping to include these valuable data inputs into overall performance planning.

Dr Carrie Schlachter at work

Learning from Elite Human Athletes

Dr Schlachter is also starting to collaborate with a professional cycling athlete and trainer, Giana Roberge, in a desire to apply some of the principles used in optimizing performance for elite cyclists to sport horses and their riders.

“I’ve been wondering why trainers aren’t using resting heart rate and sleep monitors, with horses,” says Giana Roberge. “We know that sleep is very important to recovery and helps us to understand how the stress of the training load might be affecting the athlete. When you look at all the data holistically, we can make better decisions about what the horse needs: whether to back off, train more, change nutrition, and so on.”

As the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure, and just as true: you can’t change what you don’t measure. The arrival of smart devices that connect to the Internet to upload data for analysis and provide findings you can share with your vet, will hopefully not only allow us to avoid heartbreak and expense, but also enable us to reach new heights with our equine partners.

As Dr Schlachter says: “The biggest thing to remember and realize is that the horses are athletes. We should consider their work on a day-to-day basis as a training program that is geared to performance. Don’t just ride to ride, think about the horses’ performance level.”

Giana Roberge

And Roberge cautions, “All the new technology collecting data is fascinating, but it’s only interesting if you can understand what it means and how to apply the findings properly.”

As is true with the adoption of any new technology, there will be trial and error in the beginning as vets, trainers, owners and riders learn how to combine the data with their tried and tested methods, but you can be assured of one thing: the march of progress is here and hopefully that will be a good thing for all of us.

Author Alice Chan is an eventing rider, mom to her fellow eventer, Benjamin, and she and their horses work with Dr Schlachter regularly.
(Look forward to detailed reviews of the Seaver Girth and the Smart Halter in coming months.)