Whether it’s a mobile phone or a piece of technology worn like watch, many of us now use some form of ‘gadget’ to count our steps and monitor our sleep. However, what if we could also use a piece of technology to monitor the activity of our horses? New research funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board and conducted by the Royal Veterinary College, in collaboration with us through WALTHAM, set out to answer this very question…
Activity monitors are a commonly used way of monitoring physical activity in people, and research has linked low levels of activity and a sedentary lifestyle with obesity and disease. However until recently, activity monitors had only been validated for use in horses exercised in hand.
Initially 6 horses completed 3 types of controlled activity whilst wearing a research grade tri-axial accelerometer (ActiGraph):
*5 minutes standing – tied loosely on the yard allowing free head movement
*5 minutes grazing – turned out in their paddock. This included small steps taken whilst grazing
*5 minutes walking in hand
Data recorded by the activity monitors was analysed in order to determine ‘cut off values’ which could be used to identify the different activities. The same horses were then turned out 24/7 for 20 days; 10 days in a ‘standard paddock’, followed by 10 days in a ‘small paddock’. Activity monitors were fitted at the poll using a field safe head collar.
*The accelerometers were able to reliably identify grazing, standing and walking.
*Horses spent significantly more time standing in the smaller paddock compared to the ‘standard’ paddock (although they spent same amount of time grazing).
*Horses spent significantly less time grazing at night compared to during the day (only monitored in the standard paddocks).
*Horses spent significantly more time standing at night compared to during the day (only monitored in the standard paddocks).
What does this mean?
This was a small, ‘proof of concept study’ using research grade accelerometers, which means more research is needed in order to fully evaluate the potential for using activity monitors in horses. However, these results do suggest that activity monitors could be a reliable way of monitoring voluntary activity. This could make them a valuable tool when assessing various management strategies.
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- Maisonpierre, Isobelle; Sutton, Madeline; Harris, Pat; Menzies-Gow, Nicola; Weller, Renate; Pfau, Thilo Validity of Accelerometer Activity Tracking in Horses and Effect of Pasture Management on Time Budget . Equine Veterinary Journal (in press)