New equine healthcare technology that may revolutionise the way racehorses are trained is due to become available soon. The system, called Trackener, is unlike anything else in the marketplace in that it automatically monitors a horse’s health and welfare round-the-clock, detecting and preventing problems, as well as helping recovery from injury and optimising training and feeding programs.
The technology is operated through a small device worn by each horse 24/7, either in a bib or a girth sleeve, and an app that displays the wealth of data being gathered constantly, meaning owners, trainers and stable staff have immediate knowledge of the horse’s well-being wherever they are.
“The heart-rate monitors currently on the market are very limited in comparison,” said Pauline Issard, co-founder of Trackener, the London-based company that has developed the technology. “They have been made to be used only during training and are very difficult to utilise on a horse resting as the electrodes require contact with the skin.
“By comparison, Trackener can be placed within our ergonomically designed horse bibs comfortable on the horse in the stable and field, and in a girth sleeve for when the horse is being exercised.”
Detecting signs of lameness
Trackener was set up two years ago by Issard and Jeremie Charlet, who are both French. They have developed the product with a hardware engineer, a fashion designer and a user interface designer.
“We’re incorporating a very innovative contactless heart-rate sensor in our product, which enables monitoring 24/7, in order to get a much more precise and accurate overview of the horse’s condition,” said Issard. “By measuring the horse’s heart rate, activity and behaviour at exercise and resting, we are able to detect any sign of lameness or other health issues.
“After Trackener’s device has been worn by the horse for a couple of months, the user will be able to know what are the normal readings for each horse individually, enabling more precise detections and recommendations on the app, which is accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop.”
An alert is sent out as soon as any potential health issue is detected, which means problems like colic can be caught early. Indeed, the horse’s behaviour generally is monitored, so even conditions like anxiety are spotted. “[This helps to] optimise the horse’s health and performance, and it provides the perfect training, feeding and environment for each horse,” said Issard.
The app is operational even if the user is in a different country from the horse.
It is designed not just for horse racing, but for all equestrian activities. It will be particularly useful for jump racing, and other demanding sports like three-day eventing, show jumping and polo, where injuries and joint stresses are more common.
Trackener is currently selecting testers for pilot testing, which starts in March. The idea is to have up to 100 horses wearing the device with owners, trainers and carers using the app. “Then we are planning to open up sales more widely in the early summer and will have ambassadors in each country and equine discipline, which will help us spread the word,” said Issard.
Anyone interested in taking part in the testing can sign up on the website or email email@example.com.
The testing will involve a diverse set of horses. “There will be some racehorses, some polo horses and some involved in other equestrian disciplines - both at professional and amateur level, including horses with, or prone to, diverse health problems [like colic or lameness],” said Issard. “The feedback will enable us to understand even better the needs of each category of app users and to get a complete data set to improve our data analysis in order to bring the best product to the market.”
Trackener has already received support from many professionals who believe it is the future of equine healthcare.
Equine veterinarian Nicola Pursey, of English company Farr & Pursey, is quoted on the Trackener website as saying: “Trackener is an exciting innovation that should help owners better understand their horse’s behaviour and health, making it easier to detect problems early on in the course of the condition, thus significantly improving horse welfare.”
The technology keeps a record of each horse’s condition, which is particularly helpful for veterinarians.
Trackener will be sold on a monthly subscription basis, with one device per horse and the possibility of putting as many horses as required on one account.
At present, around a third of the 71 trainers based in the Newmarket area now use girth monitors for fast work for their best horses and those with racehorse entries approaching, although often they work three or four horses together with only one wearing a monitor. And some trainers who may have 50 or more horses often own just two or three monitors.
Issard and Charlet, who are currently seeking angel investors for their first round of funding, have come a long way since coming up with the idea as students in 2015. Charlet, who had been working on innovative software projects for four years already, teamed up with Issard, who was studying at University College London.
“I have been riding horses since I was three, and Jeremie’s parents used to own horses,” said Issard. “The idea of Trackener came from all the anxiety and frustration I have seen in many horse owners, despite always trying their best to take care of their horses but still experiencing health problems.”
They chose to set up their business in England rather than their native France due to what they saw as a better business climate and a wider interest in equestrian sports.
“When studying for my Masters in Technology Entrepreneurship, I built up a strong network within the London start-up community, and Trackener has benefited a lot from this amazing service,” said Issard. “There is a also a real culture around horses here. Eventers are known to be very concerned about their horses’ health and welfare and the British are in general open to new technology.”
One hurdle for it to overcome is the tendency of some trainers to rely on methods handed down from generation to generation, trusting their instincts about an animal’s condition rather than embracing new innovations.
Although for the time being the device can’t be used on the racecourse, constant monitoring of the rest of a horse’s life could be a huge step forward in the prevention and detection of health problems, helping to improve performance.