How fantastic would it be if you could determine your horse’s stress levels without all the guesswork? If a new gadget invented by a team of researchers in Belgium is anything to go by, then this might not be as unfathomable as it seems The new wearable technology comes with a reliable and objective way to monitor your horse’s stress levels while under the saddle.
According to Deborah Piette, PhD, of the M3-BIORES research study team at KU Leuven, the most common way of evaluating the mental state of a horse currently involves an error-prone visual assessment of the horse’s behavior; a method that is also quite subjective and time-consuming.
It’s for this reason that there has been an inherent necessity for a new approach to accomplish this, something that the scientific team’s work hopes to achieve.
Piette introduced her team’s new technology during the 2016 International Society for Equitation Science conference, held between June 23rd and 25th in Saumur, France.
Her group of researchers has developed a wearable device that a rider can place around his horse’s barrels like a heart monitor to register critical information about the horse’s heart rate. The new device connects via Bluetooth technology to a computer system that is able to separate “stress” response from “activity” response.
According to Piette, the presented methodology is based on the common principle that a horse’s heart rate is dividable into 3 parts: basic metabolism, physical activity, and mental state (also interpreted as stress). The device works on the general assumption that basic metabolism will remain fairly constant during a single riding session. With this in mind, the research team’s goal was to separate and differentiate between activity-related heart rate and that which is related to mental state or stress.
Using real-time adaptive algorithms that measure a horse’s actual physical activity, coupled with a calculation of how this activity naturally affects heart rate, they were able to develop a wearable system that determines how heart rate changes in real time as a result of the effects of mental state and stress alone. Their presented method provided a reliable, automated, and quite objective way to evaluate the mental state of a working horse.
Piette says that with the initial and typically most difficult part of the technology’s development having been accomplished, the next step for her team, or any other group of researchers that may take up the task, will be to advance the technology for the commercial market.
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