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Horses wired for optimum performance

Racehorses fitted out with GPS technology and jockeys with antennae on their helmets sounds like something from Star Wars, but it’s happening today.

Researchers at Massey University’s equine research centre in New Zealand are studying new ways of measuring the fitness and athleticism of racehorses. Through two seasons of racing and training, two- and three-year-old horses carried GPS units in their saddlebags and their jockeys’ helmets were fitted with receiver antennae.

This enabled researchers using heart monitors to assess heart-rate data against the speed and time information collected by the GPS receivers.

Chris Rogers, a senior researcher in the Institute of Veterinary and Animal Biomedical Sciences, said, trainers used heart rate, the time taken to run a furlong (200m) and visual assessment of a horse’s rate of recovery to assess performance in training.

At peak fitness, a horse’s heart rate remained constant at its training galloping pace. With an over-trained horse, however, the rate would rise or fluctuate. The equine team is also applying GPS technology to the study of thoroughbred foals to quantify their paddock activity.

International interest in the high standards of health and strength of New Zealand-raised racehorses had prompted collaborative research into raising and training methods. A Dutch masters student has also been working on the project.