Are you a high-tech horse owner? Or does the thought of apps and data analysis send you running for cover?
There are opportunities out there in technoland that we should all appreciate. Gait analysis has been a vital tool for our Olympic equine athletes as well as “ordinary” riders who want the best for and from their horses.
I spent a fascinating day watching a combined gait analysis and saddle-fitting clinic. Sticky markers were applied to a horse’s joints and a camera 25 times faster than the human eye measured his gaits and identified any deviations, such as one hindlimb flexing less than its partner.
Rider analysis, using a special jacket and the same cameras, was equally absorbing. No rider is symmetrical, and it cheered me up no end to learn that I have the same problem/bad habit as a top Olympic rider – but learning to correct the problem and remember how it feels for you and your horse when you get it right is a great motivation.
When gait analysis was combined with saddle fitting, you could see how a slight tweak could make a big difference. It also showed that a “favourite” saddle might not be doing a horse or rider any favours.
You may also see benefits from a headcollar that is safe to leave on a horse overnight and which monitors his vital signs, adapting to his normal patterns and sending an alert if these change beyond an acceptable level. It was invented by an owner whose horse died from colic; even if someone lives on site, there are occasions when signs of distress might not be spotted until it’s too late.
There are apps galore for your mobile phone, from ones which track your hacking route to some I can’t appreciate. For instance, I won’t be asking Santa for headphones which fit inside an ear bonnet and play music from my mobile playlist into my horse’s ears. In case you’re wondering, I did check that this information wasn’t released on 1 April.
The idea is that it distracts a nervous horse, but how do you know you’re not distressing him further? And I don’t just mean inflicting a dedicated Abba playlist.
Some high-tech applications are just the same old things we’ve always done, in a different format. I know when the vet and farrier are due and when I need to arrange worm egg counts, because I have these quaint-old fashioned things called a calendar and a diary. I can also set my phone to remind me, should I need to, so I don’t need to pay for a special horse owner’s app.
As an oldie who had to learn about technology rather than grow up with it, I’ve learned that it’s as good as the people who develop and apply it. The brilliant saddle fitter who worked with gait analysis combined his skills with the information it provided and the data was recorded and analysed by someone who is also a rider and trainer.
Technology can’t work alone, but in the right hands, it’s awesome. It can’t tell you how to ride, worm and feed your horse, but it can provide information that helps you make decisions and corrections.
At the end of the day, the responsibility rests with you. And if you have a favourite app – or even if you’re a total technophobe – we’d love to hear from you.