Think Your Horse Is Prepared For the Show Ring? Here’s What You Might Be Missing

(c) Hylofit

You know the feeling: rounding the last turn of your jump-off course or hunter round, the sweat furrowed at your brow, your horse breathing hard (though maybe not as hard as you are) and that thought pressing in at the back of your mind: Just two. More. Fences…

Though horse and rider fitness have long been the focus of professional equestrians, more and more amateurs are coming to realize the value of proper conditioning in our sport. But when it comes to one important aspect of that conditioning—the cardiovascular health of our horses—most of us are only guessing at what’s really going on.

The fact is, the heart rate of humans and horses can increase significantly in the ring, and for some horses, that increase can be as high as 20 beats per minute or more. Even if you’re working on your horse’s fitness at home in preparation for a competition, you might not be doing enough. Enter Hylofit: a heart rate monitor and app system for the horse and rider.

“We’re really trying to educate the equestrian market about the benefits of using heart rate, both in training and as a wellness tool. Obviously, your horses can’t talk to you, so knowing their heart rates gives you an idea of whether they’re in pain, anxious, stressed, or over-worked or underworked,” says Hylofit Co-Founder Laxmi Wordham.

“Knowing your horses’ resting heart rates is critical to knowing if there’s anything wrong with them—whether you’re trailering them, it’s day-of competition stress, the weather is changing, or you’re [detecting an early] illness.”

Founded in 2016 by Laxmi, Kate Motley, and Grand Prix dressage rider, Eliane van Reesema, Hylofit includes two transmitters that attach to the horse’s girth and a rider’s chest strap. The monitors use electrodes to detect and measure heart rate, storing the data in an app, which can be downloaded onto your phone. The resulting graphs chart everything from ride time, speed, and distance, to the average and maximum/minimum heart rates of horse and rider.

(c) Hylofit

It’s a tool that’s quickly gained traction among top competitors in varying disciplines, from eventer Boyd Martin and four-time Canadian Olympic dressage rider Ashley Holzer, to U.S. show jumpers Alexa Pessoa and Quentin Judge. “Traditionally, there is a lot of guesswork that goes into getting a horse fit to compete and to do the job we are asking of them without over exerting themselves,” Quentin says. “Hylofit [allows us] to track how hard our horses are working daily, how they cope with exercise, and how ready they are to compete.”

Quentin’s student at Double H Farm, U25 rider Caitlin Creel, says Hylofit has given her the confidence, as an amateur rider, to plan day-to-day training schedules for her horses. “Rather than having to rely on my trainer to tell me how to work my horses, I finally have a better understanding of how they respond to the work that we do, and can adjust accordingly,” she explains.

 All animals are unique, and discovering your own horse’s heart rate baseline, and understanding how it fluctuates, is all part of the process.

“The most interesting thing I find, when I use a heart rate monitor on my own horses, is how they react at a show. Some have an elevated heart rate showing stress prior to competition and others display no signs of stress but work harder during the actual event.”

 “One of the things we see a lot when working with riders is that their horse’s heart rate, when they’re in competition, is so much higher than when they’re in training,” adds Laxmi. “If your horse is competing at—180 beats per minute, let’s say—you need to make sure that you’re training at that level so you’re not putting your horse at risk.”

Hylofit can also help riders avoid another common pitfall in equestrian sport: overtraining horses that are returning to work after an injury. In fact, Eliane’s introduction to heart rate monitoring came after her own horse, Jewel’s Adelante, re-aggravated his injury while returning to competition in 2016. By establishing a heart rate baseline for her horse, Eliane could measure how Adelante was responding to his workouts, reinforcing her own intuition about what kind of schedule and intensity was appropriate for his conditioning.

“It was very important to me to make sure that on all fronts, [Adelante] was prepared, and to have the data to back that up. The data was speaking for my horse, so to speak, so that he could tell me, ‘You know what, I’m not fit enough for this yet,’ or, ‘I’m way ahead of you, I’m so [ready] for this,’” Eliane says.

(c) Hylofit

When it comes to riders, Hylofit also offers a range of tools that can help you monitor your fitness and stress level, and measure how hard you’re working in the tack compared to your horse. “It’s funny, finally, at the end of a recent ride, my horse was actually working harder than I was!” laughs Eliane. “For dressage, you want your horse to work harder than you. When you’re jumping, it’s the same thing—you’re counting [strides], and all those technical points have to be on key. If you’re doing a lot of the work, and carrying your horse around the ring, that’s just not going to be the best result for your test or course.”

 “There are a lot of things [that can impact] whether or not you and your horse are working together,” notes Laxmi. “For instance, are you, as the rider, anxious, and are you putting that anxiety on your horse?

“You can see a graphable image of your average heart rate, your max [and min] heart rate, and then a graph of the horse’s horse rate as it compares to their speed. If the horse’s heart rate increases, [you can see] what the correlation is there.” What’s more, you can even overlay a video of your ride—say, moving from the flatwork portion of a lesson into jumping—to see how your heart rate and your horse’s heart rate are impacted. 

The data is all stored under your horse’s profile, so you can see how he is progressing from day to day, and workout to workout over time. The goal: to give riders a real-time window into a critical aspect of their horse’s overall health, and with that, piece of mind.

Says Laxmi, “It’s [about] giving your horse a voice and having actual data that supports your gut instincts as a rider and owner.”

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