A high-tech electronic system that automatically warns a rider if trouble is brewing with their horse is being developed in Europe.
Funded by the EU’s 7th Framework Programme, Equisafe aims to develop an electronic system via GPS receivers fitted to the horse’s tack. This would detect “abnormal and undesirable behaviour” in the stable and when the horse is being handled and ridden, developers say. “All data is collected and analysed and can trigger an alarm when abnormal behaviour is detected.”
In includes real-time location tracking of horses; online health monitoring with automatic alarms and horse movement and behaviour recognition. It is intended to be used both by expert and non-experts.
The project aims to help combat the high number of equestrian incidents, including those that go unrecorded.
According to the European Association for Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion, equestrian activities in 2009 (the last year for which figures are available) accounted for no less than 15 per cent of all fatal sports injuries in the EU. Most were due to bolting and nervous and runaway horses. Head injuries made up 13 per cent of all horseback riding accidents with the vast majority of injuries suffered in the 25 to 59-year-old age group.
Equisafe also encompass rider monitoring, including detection sensors that can raise an alarm to a nearby instructor and headquarters if, for example, a rider feels in distress. The system will automatically inform an instructor if a horse separates from a group or becomes nervous, or if a rider falls.
The project is being developed by a group of seven entities in Spain, Malta, Estonia, and France, whose expertise encompasses research, electronics, engineering and innovation. Equestrian expertise is covered by the state-owned Institut français du cheval et de l’équitation and the SARL equestrian centre, both in France, and the Doñana Golf Resort, which has an advanced equestrian center including therapy horses.
Christopher Spiteri, of Malta-based Ateknea Solutions, which will coordinate the project, points out that horseback riding attractions are available in over 30 countries across Europe. They have a ‘considerable’ economic impact on tourist attractions and are becoming more popular.
“Horseback activities address the needs of riders with different levels of riding proficiency, from beginner to advanced. However, currently there are no safety measures available for such activities. Present-day equestrian activities do not provide the horse rider with horse health conditions and this may adversely compromise the safety of the activity,” he said.
In recent years, several celebrities have suffered severe injuries or have even died as a result of horse-riding accidents. Actor Christopher Reeve was paralysed in 1995 from the neck down following a fall from his horse, and Cole Porter, the American composer and songwriter, was left in chronic pain and largely crippled after a horse-riding accident in 1937 in which his legs were crushed.