The majority of horses competing at WEG in Tryon will have changed owners at least once through their lives. The purchase will have been made with a number of considerations, such as: competition performance, health status, video analysis, trials under saddle, and expert opinion. These methods of evaluation have been around for decades now, and although the process has become more refined, the amount of available information has remained constant.
Contrast this process with player selection for professional sports teams in North America where teams are informed by a massive amount of data points. Since the early 2000s, numerous measures have been developed and refined for these sports to provide information regarding the potential of an athlete to make a valuable contribution to their team.
I was listening to an online discussion a few weeks ago describing the NBA draft, and the Director of Player Personnel of Boston Celtics Austin Ainge had a very elegant analogy describing the process of choosing a player to add to his team:
In the video above, you can see how easily information about a horse’s (and rider’s) heart rate can be assessed. The Hylofit heart rate monitor can provide riders with real-time data regarding how the horse is responding to exercise. A horse that responds atypically to exercise may be displaying early signs of overtraining or chronic stress. Conversely, you may try a horse that performs a lot of work at a low heart rate, which may indicate this horse finds the work easy and has the potential to increase the level of work.
Another potential application of technology may be assessing the ‘resting’ activity of the horse. Although often not considered during the buying process, it is well known that periods of rest and relaxation are needed to help the body repair and recharge between bouts of exercise. A horse that doesn’t relax in its’ stall or in the paddock may be predisposed to developing injury over time. Activity monitors that can be worn 24/7 to track movement represent an interesting avenue, as constant movement throughout the night indicates the horse is not resting at this time.
Using technology already readily available, it is possible to greatly increase the amount of information about a horse you may be looking to buy. Although careful interpretation of the data is needed, it may provide important clues as you hunt for your next superstar.
I will finish this idea by acknowledging that the concept of using technology to help select horses will likely receive fierce opposition from some in the sport. The idea of divulging more information than the norm about a horse you are attempting to sell is not an appealing thought for many horse dealers. Thus, a potential buyer’s request to put a heart rate or activity monitor on a horse may be rejected. However, a buyer confident in their horse’s health and training would welcome the idea, and the data provided by the sensors would solidify the seller’s comments about the horse and improve buyer confidence.
Dr. Tim Worden is a biomechanics advisor for Hylofit and specializes in the translation of human high-performance training theory and techniques to equestrian athletes. With expertise in both equestrian sport and sports science, he is uniquely positioned to move training techniques from ‘human to horse’; improving the performance of horses and reducing injury risk. Tim completed his MSc (Biomechanics and Neuroscience) and PhD (Biomechanics) at the University of Guelph, Canada. He has published a number of peer-reviewed articles on human navigation through complex environments and the control of stability during locomotion. During his time as a doctoral student, Tim concurrently worked as an equestrian sport scientist, with a clientele composed predominantly of FEI-level show jumping riders. Follow him on Instagram - @twordentraining.