Wearable activity monitors have gained such popularity that everyone seems to count steps in an attempt to reach specific mobility goals. This enthusiasm has spilled into the equine industry. One recent study investigated the practical features of activity monitors for horses with an eye on learning more about their mobility in general.*
Monitors can be used for many purposes, including:
Tracking the activity of broodmares to identify impending parturition, which increases due to pacing and standing/lying cycles.
Keeping tabs on horses prone to illness, such as colicky horses, to allow for early intervention. Similar to the aforementioned broodmares, activity monitors may identify horses circling excessively and lying down frequently.
Assessing mobility in horses after bone and joint surgery, such as arthroscopic procedures or fracture repairs. Increased mobility could indicate the horse is comfortably using its injured limb. “Prolonged immobilization following surgery can put horses at risk for colic or diarrhea due to altered gastrointestinal tract motility and potentially lead to support-limb laminitis,” said David Nash, director of nutrition technology at Kentucky Equine Research.
Following mobility trends of horses in rehabilitation programs for tendon and ligament injuries. Increased activity could indicate improved comfort in response to soft tissue repair and may guide the horse’s return to function.
Detecting decreased mobility of pastured horses could identify those with chronic, painful musculoskeletal conditions such as osteoarthritis or laminitis. This information could improve pain management strategies for those animals.
“Decreased activity due to osteoarthritis may also highlight the need for oral joint health supplements. Those including glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid may provide these horses with additional comfort and slow the progression of their disease,” suggested Nash.
In the study, activity monitors remained affixed and functional when in use. Further, the monitors were well tolerated by the study horses with no apparent change in normal behavior. Monitors appeared to be particularly well suited to limbs when attached to equine boots.
“One drawback to the studied activity monitor that the actual number of steps appeared to be overestimated in many situations. At this point in time, the monitors cannot be used simply for counting an absolute number of steps,” Nash noted.
Horse owners looking for an accurate way to measure distance traveled under saddle should look into KER ClockIt, a science-based equine fitness tracker. KER ClockIt also measures heart rate, which helps riders gauge fitness.