As much as the winter race in New York may not bring as much drama and excitement as the summer in Racecourse Saratoga, something critically important to the sport as a whole and to the well-being of equestrians will happen this winter at Aqueduct race track.
An innovative program involving individual races and runners at the Aqueduct is underway, using sensors to analyze racehorses’ gait in the hopes of detecting musculoskeletal injuries or abnormalities before they result in serious or catastrophic injury.
Dr Scott Palmer, New York State Game Commission, said: “I think this will be a game changer in screening horses with pre-existing gait abnormalities and it will give Out the flags that a horse needs to be checked. medical director. “This shows us that the horse is doing something very unusual when it’s running and it needs to be looked at.”
It was extended to the current state of every NYRA race with the start of Belmont Park meet the fall and also include morning equine workouts from several trainers. All told, thousands of horses have been tracked, providing loads of data that can pinpoint an existing problem and create a baseline so changes in gait can be quickly detected. of the horse.
“This is a proactive step. We’re capturing data that we can look at, and at this point, what we’ve gathered so far has been very helpful, and that’s what we’re going to build on.” “This is something that’s going to grow and evolve. There’s no question we’ll be,” said Glen Kozak, senior vice president of operations and capital projects at NYRA. worthy. When I went to see (NYRA CEO and President) Dave O’Rourke to discuss the implementation of the program, he fully supported it. We invited the riders and (NYTHA president) Joe Appelbaum was amazing. It has been a very useful program. “
Glen Kozak, Senior Vice President of Capital Operations and Projects, NYRA
Appelbaum says riders have embraced the concept, realizing the benefit of detecting a minor problem with a horse’s stride and treating it before a serious injury occurs on the track.
“I think everyone is very excited about what this technology can bring to us. Every coach we ask is willing to do it and is enthusiastic about it. We need to use every feature. Technology can be found to improve the health and welfare of our horses,” said Appelbaum. “It reveals problems that can be treated with a further examination by a veterinarian.”
According to Palmer, there have been a number of cases where data has provided trainers with important information about a developing problem that is reflected in a horse’s stride, leading to treatments that have the potential to prevent further deterioration. try. In each of those cases, the issue was not obvious and obvious to anyone involved with the horse and was discovered using StrideMASTER’s groundbreaking technology.
“We’re looking at their gait, using GPS as a sensor — a very precise sensor that sends a signal to the satellite at a rate of 2,400 bytes of information per second. So we get that. a very precise measurement of a horse’s gait in a race. Each horse has a unique fingerprint when they are running fast. We are not good enough to detect problems with the human eye. This device is for them. I know things the human eye cannot handle, as well as horses cannot handle,” said Palmer. “We are just getting started but so far we have handled more than 3,000 racehorses and we are collecting data that will eventually allow us to very specifically track horses with gait abnormalities that can lead to injury.”
The kind of information the sensors can provide is best reflected in a race during a Saratoga encounter as it pinpoints bad steps and injuries to an unnoticed horse shortly after the race.
“After reading the race data, I told one coach that there was an anomaly at 35 seconds in the race and an even larger one at 50 seconds in the race. It showed that there was something went off the track during the race,” Palmer said. “What happened was the horse finished second. The rider dismounted and said everything was great. The horse was taken to the test barn and passed very well. Then, once there, it went. lame and had to be brought back to his stall Turns out he broke his leg No one knew he was injured, but we’ve seen it through our data and our technology with the screen.”
The NYRA program was born out of a US pilot program that tracked 400 horses last year in Emerald Downs. Before that, StrideMASTER, an Australian company, had great success with its products in its home country.
“Every horse has its own way of moving, generating power and generating force,” says Dr. David Lambert, CEO of StrideSAFE and president of Equine Analytical Systems. “The timing of loading and unloading structures. This is very important to gallop smoothly and safely. Often, low-level injuries that have occurred long before the incident cannot be seen or felt by the trainer or rider. At gallop, the horse is moving too fast for the changes to be noticeable to the naked eye. When any of the measurements exceed the critical limit, we flag those horses for further clinical evaluation by the veterinary team. “
Dr. David Lambert, StrideSAFE CEO and president of Equine Analysis Systems
It didn’t take long for the riders to learn that they shouldn’t be shy about the show.
“It’s not a spy device so we can get the horses out of them,” Palmer said. “We only use the data to inform them that their horse may have been injured during a race or practice session and to prevent injury. I have seen several instances where the problem could have been. get treated and remedied if we see data from a job We’re moving forward and answering questions throughout the process to reassure people and explain what we’re doing. “
Kozak says the focus is on gathering information and learning how to best use it to protect horses and their riders.
“We’re not trying to be the judge and jury on this. We’re just trying to determine something that a vet or a henchman can’t. learn to evaluate data and apply it. We understand that sometimes a particular gait is just the way a horse runs. That is not the point and we can tell by collecting and saving it. data storage,” said Kozak. “That’s why I’m very optimistic at the start of this. This has enormous value in the future, not only for the safety of the horse, but also for the trainers to see the horses being trained. Can be read to see if there is a deviation from previous work or race or if it is consistent. With extended use, trainers can also read their horse data. at different tracks to better understand how they are performing.”
The NYRA, for its part, provided funding to purchase the sensors and also ordered new saddle fabrics to include the Trakus chronometer, which the horse has worn for several years, and the StrideSAFE sensor. Both items are small and similar in size. It has also hired Davis Klein to oversee the data and coordinate its application, which will over time include extended use for the exercises over time.
Although the results are in the preliminary stages, they have provided some positive results as well as promise many good signs for use in new areas in the future.
“At the end of each race we get a report and we need humans to read the data and understand it. But in time we can apply artificial intelligence to it and we will have the real-time applications,” Palmer said. “I could see in the future that we could have an indicator light in a rider’s helmet letting them know that something was wrong and they could pull the horse up before a serious injury occurs. Usually, a horse will break a bone, and through no one’s fault, will run another quarter of a mile before they fail.”
Since the data provide precise information about the exact location where the horse’s musculoskeletal system was initially impacted – as opposed to where the injured horse fell after it resumed running on the injured leg – It can also be used to determine if there is a certain part of the track where injuries occur frequently. Through that information, the track supervisor can focus on repairs to avoid future problems at that point.
“This is very helpful in terms of determining the exact location that we need to test,” said Kozak. “We can now focus on certain areas of our surface and see what’s happening there.”
Given the way sensors can cut injuries and save horses’ lives, the program’s boosters find no downside at the moment. Although the initial results have been optimistic, given how the technology will become more advanced and even more valuable over time, there is every reason to believe that the project will have a future. bright and fruitful hybrid in New York and other areas.
Joe Appelbaum, President of NYTHA
“This is just the beginning,” says Appelbaum. “It’s going to be a whole new world of understanding what’s going on with the horses while they race, and ultimately when they train.” “It’s always good to catch things early.”
Indeed it is.