Flights of fancy: Horses benefit from jet fighter tech

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Horse arrivals in South Carolina, en route to the 2018 World Equestrian Games in North Carolina, USA.
Horse arrivals in South Carolina, en route to the 2018 World Equestrian Games in North Carolina, USA. © Tori Repole/FEI

Sensor technology normally used to manage cockpit conditions for fighter pilots has been adapted to improve conditions for sport horses being flown to competitions around the world.

Like human athletes, the performance of horses flying to international competitions can be adversely affected by the symptoms of long haul air travel.

Engineers at BAE Systems have developed Equus-Sense, a bespoke environmental monitoring unit for the British Equestrian Federation (BEF).

The project is part of BAE Systems’ ongoing technology partnership with UK Sport and will support the teams transporting horses to major events throughout the season.

Equus-Sense builds upon advanced sensor systems such as those that monitor cockpit conditions and air quality found in Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft for the fighter pilots. Novel integration techniques and additional sensors appropriate to equestrian transport were introduced to provide a complete monitoring unit for the horses. The system covers elements including sound, temperature, vibration, humidity, dust levels and oxygen, allowing trainers and athletes to monitor the environmental conditions for horses travelling to international events.

Equus-Sense can be housed in any travelling environment for horses, and will sense and log environmental conditions during transit. It allows trainers to evaluate the individual conditions of horses upon arrival at competitions to make informed decisions on their readiness to compete.

In time the technology could be applied to other sporting organisations outside the BEF to monitor transportation and welfare of other horses travelling to competitions worldwide.

Departure of the horses from Liege Airport in Belgium for the 2018 World Equestrian Games in North Carolina, USA. 
Departure of the horses from Liege Airport in Belgium for the 2018 World Equestrian Games in North Carolina, USA. © Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans

“When it comes to elite sport, marginal gains can help leverage a real competitive advantage – and that preparation begins before competitors reach their competition,” said Henry White, UK Sport Partnership Lead at BAE Systems.

“We develop aircraft and equipment monitoring technology which helps ensure our fighter pilots are as comfortable as possible to enable them to realise their incredible skills and there is no reason horses cannot benefit from this. Applying such technology to horse transportation had its challenges but our expert engineers have developed such a system allowing the equestrian competitors to benefit and help gain an advantage.”

John McEwen, director of Equine Sports Science and Medicine for the BEF’s World Class Programme, said the project had improved elite horse transport. “This is an area that can have a major performance effect and we are grateful to BAE Systems for their scientific support.

“Small marginal gains are very important to us, to provide maximal performance, and the travel environment is critical to this. The improvements made will ensure the highest level of welfare for our elite horses and ensure that they travel first class,” McEwen said.

The development of the environmental monitoring unit was co-ordinated by the Performance Innovation team from the English Institute of Sport (EIS), which is the science, medicine and technology arm of UK Sport.

BAE Systems is UK Sport’s Official Engineering Partner providing engineering expertise, time and materials worth £600,000.

Engineers and sports scientists at the two organisations, and at the English Institute of Sport, have worked together since 2009. In that time, 250 athletes from 30 different Olympic and Paralympic sporting discipline have benefited from some of the UK’s most advanced technologies.

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