By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology
Horse racing is high stakes at Fairmount Park Racetrack in Collinsville, Illinois. A jockey’s skilled riding technique can push a horse to victory. Truly understanding the four-legged athlete’s abilities and limitations is another key to success.
Some of the owners and trainers at Fairmount Park are first to experience new technology for better understanding of their horses’ capabilities. It’s made possible through technology created by St. Louis-based Equine Smartbits, LLC.
The company created a ‘smartbit’ for measuring the horse’s biometrics while training. Biosensors measure vital signs in real time. Trainers can monitor the horse’s heart rate, body temperature and blood oxygen in correlations with the horse’s movements while running the track.
The smartbit is an add-on feature equipped with sensors for the center of an otherwise traditional horse bit, so that the placement is under the horse’s tongue. The smart sensors take measurements through the mouth.
“The tongue combined with saliva for biometrics is absolutely perfect. It’s internal, it’s not invasive,” said Mike Saigh, co-founder and CEO of Equine Smartbits, LLC. “You’re really getting accurate readings by looking at the mouth from a scientific standpoint. This is the first time in equine history that a scientific method has been used on a horse.”
Trainers can access vitals through the company’s mobile platforms. The real-time measurements can be used to improve training and understanding of the horse’s capabilities. Owners and trainers can see the measurements on their smartphone, tablet or computer.
“You can see if a horse has more athletic potential. You can push it harder, or you can slow it down,” said co-founder Shower Zhang. “You can adjust the training intensity according to the readings.”
Zhang said the information is then stored in the cloud for “post-analysis”.
“With more data collected, you will be able to see historically what is the horse’s benchmark” said Zhang.
Zhang said the acquired data allows trainers to recognize problems, be proactive and adjust training to prevent injury.
“They (horses) can’t talk. They go around the track and some of them are stressed,” said Saigh. “Creating this new humanity for equine is extremely valuable.”
Equine Smartbits is partnering with leading horse bit manufacturers to offer the technology in new product lines.
Jim Watkins is a Thoroughbred horse trainer at Fairmount Park and he’s president of the Illinois Horseman’s Association, HBPA.
“If you have a horse that underperforms and you can’t figure out why, you’re always searching for an answer as to why that performance was not up to standard. This additional information can be helpful in that manner. You might adjust the feed, the training schedule, medication intake,” said Watkins.
“Thoroughbred racing has really lagged behind other professional sports,” said Mike Moore, owner and breeder, as well as managing partner of Saddleback Stables. “The smartbit will provide important real-time information that will be valuable to horseman and really enhance their chances for success.”