One of the best things anyone can say about an athlete is that ‘they have a lot of heart’. A new study of the GMC Rangeland Derby horses is going to find out a lot about the hearts of these equine athletes.
During the 2012 Stampede, nearly 100 horses will be fitted out with monitors to measure and record their heart rates and rhythms. Using wireless technology, this information is being gathered during warm-up, at maximum exertion and during recovery.
Chuckwagon horses are already examined as part of the Stampede’s ‘Fitness to Compete’ program and are not allowed to race more than four evenings in a row followed by two days of rest. By studying the cardiovascular health of the horses, the Stampede’s veterinarians hope to have another way of measuring whether current guidelines are good enough or if change is needed.
Conducted by the University of Calgary, the study should break some new ground in the understanding of the physiology of these high-performance equine athletes. Previous studies have centred on horses in other disciplines, but chuckwagon horses are different. First of all, they can be older than the horses in other forms of competition. The chuckwagon horses are, uniquely, part of a team of four. They train differently – and they race with three other outfits on the track at the same time.
This last factor is one reason that testing will not be restricted to practice days only. Every night of Stampede, at least a couple of teams will be wearing sensors during the heat races. Chuckwagon horses, like any other athlete, can perform differently on raceday in front of a cheering crowd.