Innovative horse ‘Fitbit’ aims to boost welfare and performance

A new “Fitbit-style” monitoring device for equines could help boost welfare and performance, its creator believes.

The EquiVi, a wearable device similar to fitness and activity trackers used by humans, can provide real-time measurements of horses’ vital signs, including cardiovascular health.

It has been developed by Ben Metcalfe, a researcher at the University of Bath who presented his work to The Queen during a royal visit to Somerset on 28 March.

“The ability to monitor [horses’] vital signs over long periods of time and during exercise could potentially bring significant benefits to training horses both in terms of enhancing performance, reducing risk of injury and improving welfare through the early detection of disease,” a university spokesman said.

“Metrics such as heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen saturation, temperature, blood pressure and heart rate variability can be simultaneously tracked and provide immediate and accessible data to owners, trainers, veterinarians, and other stakeholders during all aspects of a horse’s day-to-day activity including stabling, exercise, travel, and veterinary in-patient monitoring.”

The device, currently in an early prototype form, comprises three sensors, which sit on different parts of the horse’s body. Those responsible for measuring heart rate do not need conductive gel, hair removal or adhesive pads, as the electrodes use sprung pins designed to conform to the skin, making them non-invasive.

The electronics will be embedded into a package designed to fit in a modified girth or headcollar, with data transmitted via wireless link to a tablet.

The measurements will mean creation of detailed profiles of each horse, and the device is designed to work during movement.

“This device will make it possible to continually monitor a horse’s numerous vital signs, improving early diagnosis of any illness or disease and ultimately help to prevent unnecessary fatalities,” the spokesman said.

It is hoped the device will also allow racing trainers to note the relationship between performance and cardiovascular activity.

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“The continuous monitoring will enable tracking of these vital signs during and after training, helping trainers to suitably tailor their programmes and treatment of those horses who may become distressed or ataxic immediately post exercise,” the spokesman said.

Dr Metcalfe said he grew up riding and horses’ welfare and wellbeing “really matters to me”.

“The development of clinically validated sensors that can provide real-time data from ambulatory animals to owners, trainers, and veterinarians represents a major step forwards and has the potential to drastically improve the wellbeing of the animals,” he added.

John Keen, clinical equine cardiologist and RCVS and European specialist in equine internal medicine at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, added: “We are very excited to be working with the University of Bath developing innovative and robust wearable health monitoring devices, specifically designed for horses. We can see fantastic potential for these as an aid in fitness programmes, for the early and accurate detection of diseases and for minimally intrusive monitoring of sick horses.”

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