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Research with KU Leuven University

We are collaborating with KU Leuven University to measure the emotional states and interaction of mares and foals during training. Deborah Piette, PhD student, of the M3-BIORES research study team at KU Leuven, has developed new algorithms for wearable technology to monitor horses’ stress levels while under saddle in a reliable and objective way.

Her group of researchers use a wearable device around the horse’s barrel like a heart monitor to register critical information about the horse’s heart rate. The new device connects via Bluetooth technology to a computer system with algorithms that are able to separate ‘stress’ response from ‘activity’ response.

The presented methodology is based on the principle that a horse’s heart rate is dividable into three parts: basic metabolism, physical activity, and mental state (also interpreted as stress). The algorithm works on the assumption that basic metabolism will remain fairly constant during a single training session. With this in mind, the research team’s goal is to separate and differentiate between activity-related heart rate and that which is related to mental state or stress.

Using real-time adaptive algorithms that measure a horse’s physical activity, coupled with a calculation of how this activity naturally affects heart rate, they can determine how heart rate changes in real time as a result of the effects of mental state and stress alone. Their method provides a reliable, automated, and objective way to evaluate the mental state of a horse.

We have adapted these methods and collected data from a heart rate monitor and accelerometer placed on both the mare and the foal.  We have data on 15 foals that completed between six to nine sessions with us.