Satellite technology is being used to monitor the fitness and speed of racehorses with an accuracy that will astonish the amateur punter.
Massey University scientists are using global positioning system (GPS) satellite signals to measure how far and fast horses gallop each day and how quickly they accelerate.
They are combining this information with heart rate monitors to judge the fitness of each horse.
Senior lecturer Janene Kingston said the GPS system, originally designed to guide United States missiles on to enemy targets, was now so accurate that it could follow horses round a racetrack.
“GPS used to have an error factor which was put into civilian uses deliberately for defence purposes,” she said.
“Bill Clinton took that away, and now most GPS units can be very accurate. You only have to change a few metres here and there and the unit can convert that information into a speed at which you have travelled.
“We have seen acceleration and deceleration that we were not aware of. We can now compare that with the trainer’s record and measure the horse’s blood and heartbeat and see how well they are responding to their training programme.
“The next step might be to take it into other equine industries. It will be very useful for endurance, cross-country and eventing.”
Until now, she said, horses could not be fitted with the kind of speedometers used for human athletes because their speed changed depending on which gate they were running at. GPS provided the solution.
“We’ll have a little speedo between the horse’s ear which the rider could use to get information on how fast you are going and the horse’s heart rate,” said Dr Kingston.
“At the moment it’s all done on feel. You can see them spending a lot of time fighting the horses. This will give them the information to go out and do a specific speed.”
But there are still some problems to overcome. Dr Kingston is using a system developed by Perth former jockey Andrew Stuart that was not designed for the wet, sandy conditions of the Foxton Racecourse.
“But they are planning to develop wireless ones, and then sand won’t be an issue and they can be watching on a telephone or a little laptop computer in real time.”
Dr Kingston said GPS would transform racehorse training into a science.