Study tracks real-time contact between horses and humans


Horses and people at several equine operations in Canada are being tracked for a study into contact patterns in horse barns.

Researchers have attached small radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to horses and humans at both racing stables and sport horse facilities in order to learn about how contact patterns might contribute to disease spread.

University of Guelph doctoral student Rachael Milwid is conducting the study with her supervisors, professors Amy Greer and Terri O’Sullivan, from the Ontario Veterinary College’s Department of Population Medicine.

“This pioneering research can set the path for future veterinary research in this field, as this technology has done for human research,” Milwid said.

Rachael Milwid
Rachael Milwid

RFID tags – about the size of a $2 coin – will be attached to the halters of horses, and worn as lanyards on barn staff, to measure and track contacts. When two tags are close together, the tags record who they came in contact with and for how long. This data is used to create contact network diagrams showing which horses and staff came in contact on each day of the study.

From that data, Milwid, Greer and O’Sullivan will be able to quantify contact patterns within different horse barns.

“A lot of studies make simplifying assumptions about the way in which animals contact one another which are unrealistic,” Greer said.

“The RFID tools we have developed for this project provide a unique, cheap, easy to use system to measure contacts between horses and horses and people in real-time. There are many areas of veterinary research where these tools could be used to collect more detailed contact pattern data.”

The study is to last for two one-week periods, and the research team is seeking more participants to take part.


Reporting: Sydney Pearce


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