I’ve read a couple of articles recently about equine wearable technology.
Technology advances all of the time and is all around us in many forms such as veterinary equipment, waterproof fabrics and information technology; ‘wearables’ for animals is set to be one of the fastest growing sectors. Mostly, much of this technology is still out of the reach of the leisure rider but is being employed more and more to improve performance. The way the technology works is to send feedback about a particular aspect of the horse which, over time, can be collated to inform their management and training.
On the face of it, I can see the benefits; a monitor that tells us if tendons are hot, thus allowing us to cool them to avoid injury; pressure sensor under the saddle to check how it fits etc, monitors that helps us observe birthing mares. And, let’s face it, we’re all using mileage trackers, step counters, fat measures etc. I’ve seen technology work very successfully with Centaur Biomechanics where Russell Guire works with riders applying technology to them and their horses to help improve performance and welfare. Russell then uses the results of his work to inform saddle fitting, rider position and balance and use of kit such as breastplates and boots etc. I’ve had a session with Russell, and he quickly picked up an asymmetry in my riding using video technology and sensors that was having an impact on my horse. Other areas where technology can help include monitoring heart rate, recovery analysis, gait analysis, calorie counting etc and, largely, has been developed out of racing.
There are a couple of areas, though, where I'm not so sure about how it's being used;
As a leisure rider/amateur competitor, many usually don’t have access to these monitors and kit. They rely on the professionals to use it and analyse the information, and, therefore, have to pay for the service. Every day, this isn’t within the reach of most, nor is the purchase of the equipment to use it at home. There is an argument that this then creates an unlevel playing field in competition where other riders do use it and can gain the edge accordingly. Of course, areas such as the development of different bits, different cuts/materials of saddle etc have always strived to improve performance, but, largely, there is a range of equipment available at all prices meaning it’s all pretty much accessible. The result is that the differential between those who have and those who don’t isn’t so obvious. When the technology becomes much more sophisticated, I wonder if this difference might increase, and we’ll see the elite rider at grass roots competitions, creating large gaps within classes.
In addition, sometimes the more information we have, the more complicated things become. Whilst I’m all for making our horses as comfortable as possible, and their welfare is paramount, I know for certain that if I had a monitor that told me that my horse was a little cold and I wasn’t there to do anything about it, I’d be worried. In reality, my horse is likely to resolve the issue for himself and be perfectly well without my intervention at all, and in fact, if he was quite happy and relaxed in the field, would it have been more detrimental to bring him in and disturb his routine?
Also, I think the use of technology can change the way we think. If you’re like me, you won’t know the telephone number of your nearest and dearest as they’ll all be in your smart phone. Perfectly fine, until you lose your phone! How much will the use of technology reduce our ability to make judgements based on our experience about how well a horse is training and how to adapt the programme, or his feed? The ability to feel how our horses are going, to detect lameness, to know how to decide what to feed them is, somehow, the feeling part of being with horses. Will the increased use of technology distance us somehow from this? It could be argued that this is just the way of the world, and every generation says it about the next, but I hope good old-fashioned horsemanship isn’t on the way to being obsolete!
You could be forgiven for thinking I’m a Luddite, standing against developments in case they do me out of a job and change the world too much. In reality, I welcome advances in technology; I’m typing this on my laptop, I adore my new heated jacket and if I didn’t have my four wheel drive, I wouldn’t have been out and about over the last few days, but I’d like to think that it can be used mindfully, in conjunction with, instead of isolated from, that ‘feel’ that most of us really value in being around horses.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about how technology is entering your equestrian life