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CAFRE

Monitoring Equine Heartrate through the use of Technology

May 30, 2021

As the competition season gets underway after a long period of lockdown it is vital to ensure our horses are fit enough to meet the demands we now place on them.

This is where Heartrate (HR) Monitors can help.  The equine cardiovascular system is linked to its Respiratory system and controls the flow of oxygen and nutrients throughout the horses’ body. The horse’s heart is of vital importance to facilitate this and by measuring the HR and how it responds to different demands we can assess how fit our horse is.

At rest the average HR of an adult horse is 28 – 44 beats per minute (BPM). During exercise this can reach maximums of 220 – 240 BPM and while the Max HR is individual it will also decline with age.

Many trainers, veterinarians and horse owners across all disciplines are now utilising various HR monitors to assess horses HR and therefore fitness and stress levels. Many devices on the market can be attached to the horse’s girth and a wearable watch or app then transmits the readings to the rider, trainer or vet.  Analysis can then take place in real time or after the training sessions through the use of supporting programs. As more importance is placed on how vital HR readings are to accurately assess the demands placed upon the horse, better and more efficient technology is being designed to improve ease of use and analysis of results.

Real time analysis can sometimes be more accurate as sudden excitement, fear or pain can significantly raise the HR up to over 100 BPM and factors such as the horse’s activity, temperament and the terrain can all be considered as the session is observed.  Even a small spook or stumble may cause a significant rise in the HR reading.

The HR may be taken manually under the jaw, through the use of a fixed HR monitor placed on the girth line of the horse or by using new technology such as a handheld device which will take a reading when placed on the girth line for a moment.

These readings are significant as they can accurately assess the stress placed upon the horse and therefore how they are coping with the exercise asked of them. This can help to prevent fatigue, injury, over or undertraining and enable us to have a better picture of the horse’s ability at that point in time.  If we can use HR monitors to assess horses daily and factor in the horse’s normal HR chart we can then possibly detect minor injuries, which may cause career limitations, before they become acute. These issues are most commonly spotted through observing a more elevated HR than normal for the workload the horse is carrying out.  This ability to screen for potential issues is of the utmost importance in regards to equine welfare.

In general terms, the higher the reading the harder the horse is working. As the horse gets fitter the reading for the same type of work should get lower. The HR should also drop quicker after the same type of exercise as the horse gets fitter. This is known as the recovery rate and is best taken around 1 minute after exercise.

When reading or assessing the HR results the recovery rate can be used to monitor how a horse recovers from a set exercise and this alongside respiration rate is an accurate way to ensure the horse is not getting too much or too little exercise in order to achieve our goals.

CAFRE Enniskillen Campus has been using HR monitoring on the college racehorses throughout their training  to better inform students and the trainer on how horses are affected by factors such as terrain, ground conditions, workload and even how a change of rider may affect the horse overall.  The results are used to consider how each horse is responding to their training programme as an individual and whether any changes to the programme are required.  The results of HR monitoring have also been used as part of final year student research projects with students gaining valuable skills and knowledge in how to apply a range of technologies to enhance equine welfare and maximise the benefits of training programmes.