This is my dilemma. My horse, Beau, is a low-level eventer and a field hunter, activities which require a reasonable level of fitness. However, the nature of my journalism career frequently calls me away from home. I don’t have a trainer living nearby to help me keep my boy in work, so often there are undesirable gaps in our training and conditioning schedule. As a result, I frequently feel the need to “leg him back up” every time I come home from a trip for fear that I push him too hard and cause an injury or make him sour and sore. As you can imagine, this routine means we manage to maintain a certain level of fitness, but we don’t progress very far very fast. Now, with the help of the Hylofit, fitness is no longer a guessing game.
The Hylofit is a fitness tracker for horse and rider. Transmitters snapped into place on a girth attachment and a rider’s chest strap communicate with electrodes measuring heart signals. That information is sent to an app downloaded on to your phone where you can view heart rate, speed, time, distance, and how they all correlate. Data is shown to you in several different ways on the app, including min/max and average heart rates of horse and rider, graphs displaying the horse’s heart rate as it relates to speed, a comparison of the horse and rider heart rate together, and workout intensity. The cardio output by the horse is indicated by zones, which clue the rider in to how hard a horse is working at any given moment. You can attach a video of your ride, make notes, and share the whole ride summary with your trainer or vet or friends on social media. Having that information at my fingertips feels very smart, and studying all the facts and figures is seriously addictive.
Let’s circle back to my darling Beau. He’s a kick ride, trustworthy on a loopy rein, and usually unphased by his surroundings. Put it this way – he’s the horse that you take out on the trails or put in the trailer to set the example for a less confident horse (#proudmom). But he’s a Thoroughbred, and the Hylofit showed me his base of fitness, despite having some time off, is far better than I previously thought.
We spent most of last year going on long walks around the farm, doing trot and canter sets between rows of tomato plants, and building up Beau's core strength. Come the fall, we were fit and raring to go, but as it often happens with horses, plans changed. Unfortunately, Beau suffered a minor injury that kept us out of action for a bit. He recovered, but unending rain and snow in December brought about excessive layers of mud and foiled any plans we had then, too (what I would do for an indoor!). During this stretch of time we were restricted to hand walks and hacks.
So here I am in January legging back up. And I’m staring at this Hylofit data and back at Beau “Hay Belly” Threlkeld in confusion because he didn’t make it out of zone one during several rides. That was fine for a while so his muscles could get back to work, but not ideal for building fitness. It was that same old dilemma; I wasn’t helping him progress because he wasn’t working hard enough to give him any sort of cardio challenge.
My horse's level of fitness is no longer a guessing game.
So, armed with the Hylofit, we ventured back out into the tomato fields for a brisk trot set and easy canter. With the ability to track Beau’s heart rate in real time, I could tailor my ride to ensure I stayed within zone two (light/strengthening) and zone three (aerobic power). I also know exactly how long our canter set should be before he starts to struggle – even though he’s telling me he’s having a grand time and maybe we should try going faster – and watch how quickly he achieves a resting heart rate as we cool out.
Besides tracking fitness progress, the Hylofit can help you improve your relationship with your horse in other ways, like measuring his stress levels in almost any given situation. I put it on Beau last time the farrier came to see if he was stressed out about getting shod or just being a brat for the sake of it. In doing so I discovered my normally cool as a cucumber horse’s heart rate jumps while getting new shoes. So instead of fussing at him to stand still, I can search for ways to reduce his stress and make the farrier’s visit a more pleasant experience.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve become obsessed with riding with the Hylofit and studying the resulting data. As spring mercifully approaches I have lots of plans for using it, from hunter paces to cross-country jump schools. Some of my barn mates are anxious to try it, too, especially one owner whose horse has a mild heart murmur. “I wonder what that would look like on the graph,” she exclaimed.
One of the best things about the Hylofit is anyone can use it. It isn’t discipline specific (in fact, you can select your activity for each ride, from in-hand to hill work to gymnastics) and it’s a useful tool for amateurs and pros alike. While I may not be prepping for a spring three-day or jumping rounds at WEF, I feel armed with the information that I’m doing right by my horse in our day-to-day training and able to steer our workouts in a direction that is appropriate for his current level of fitness.
Oh yeah, and as for my own heart rate data? Let’s just say I’ve laid off the cookies and started working in a little cardio training at home.
All photos by Crystal Dawn.
Written by Hossein Maleki
Having grown up on horseback, Leslie Threlkeld, Managing Editor at NOËLLE FLOYD, treasures her career in the equestrian industry as a writer, photographer, and eventing technical delegate. Leslie thrives on frequent travel but never tires of returning home to the serene mountains of North Carolina.