Fitness trackers are wearable technology that offer feedback on physical activity. Basic trackers count a person’s steps, distance travelled, and calories burned. More advanced versions log heart rate, sleep and at-rest patterns, offer statistics and milestones, and even remind the user to breathe.

Just as the wider population is increasingly catching on to observing the details of their physical activity, so too are equestrians. While to date, no gadgets exist that specifically track the more subtle particulars of riding, horse people have found ways to use regular fitness trackers to monitor and motivate themselves.

Riding and Otherwise

Jennifer Viitala, from East Gwillimbury, ON, uses a Fitbit Charge 2 wristband when riding her 16-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred, Finnigan. The wristband monitors cardio fitness, activity level, her heartrate and minutes of activity. “Because the Fitbit tracks both cardio and steps, it easily tracks my rides on Finnigan,” says Viitala, 44. “When riding alone, most often I found I wasn’t riding as long. By using the Fitbit, I can ensure that I have done a good distance through steps and time each ride to see how much has been done. And because it tracks my horse’s steps as my own, this level of tracking is made easy.”

The pair recently switched from competing in the jumper ring to dressage. As a discipline newbie, Viitala uses her Fitbit to help her “learn the finer points of the sport” as she aims for second-level next season.

“If my heart rate gets too high, I’m working too hard. If my steps are low, we’re not engaging enough. It’s strange to say, but my goal each ride is for my Fitbit to think that I’m a cardio superstar, because I can do eight kilometres without breaking a sweat!”

Equestrians spend a lot of time on their own two feet, too – catching horses, grooming, barn chores, etc. Viitala uses her Fitbit to account for miscellaneous steps three days a week as she turns out and mucks at her friend’s facility where Finnigan lives. “Everyone knows that barn work is true exercise. It’s only a five-stall barn, but I generally do approximately 7,000 steps at a fat-burning heartrate for 60 minutes each morning. It’s a satisfying feeling.”

At the Store

Fitbit, Garmin, Samsung, TomTom, Huawei and Misfit are some of the many brands of fitness trackers available. They come in a wide range of styles, from wristbands to watches, clip-ons and even models that could be mistaken for jewellery in the form of neck pendants and rings.

Trackers work in tandem with companion mobile apps allowing you to analyze the data, set goals and connect with other users. It’s worth considering a tracker with on-device display, so you can check your activity status without having to rely on a smartphone or tablet.

“It’s so easy to just look on my wrist for information,” says Viitala.

Many trackers offer mobile features such as music storage capability, cellular connectivity allowing you to receive texts and calls, and built-in GPS technology that will give you an idea of how much ground you’ve covered and where you are. Likewise, smartwatches are equipped with health-tracking functionality. The Apple Watch even allows equestrians to choose horseback riding from a list of activities – a rarity in the tracking world.

Obviously, the higher the price tag, the more bells and whistles. A bare-bones tracker will set you back $20 to $50, but rough-and-tumble equestrians might want to pay extra for certain features like aluminum construction versus plastic and waterproof/water resistance which is handy when cleaning buckets, bathing horses, or falling in the water jump. More robust models will land in the $100 to $500 range. Smartwatches, like the just-released next-generation Apple Watch Series 3, are more expensive at prices between $400 and $1,000.

The Wearable Future

Trackers become more sophisticated every year as manufacturers learn what users need from their devices, especially for niche sports like equestrian. The not-so-far-off future will likely see more “smart clothing” and tack with embedded sensors that relay fitness information about both athletes – horse and rider. Italian researchers are already studying sensors woven into a T-shirt for riders and a knit-like girth for the horse to measure the “emotional” interaction between horse and rider.

Meanwhile, riders like Viitala can be content with current technology. “We all are aware that fitness is so important to horseback riding. Having an easy-to-use tool to assist with fitness goals is great for someone as busy as myself,” she says. “Whether it’s to keep me moving when I’m not feeling up for it, or the sense of accomplishment when I reach my daily goals, the Fitbit has given me a new sense of awareness.”

Exciting Innovations

Equisense Motion
Equisense Motion is a connected sensor fastened to the horse’s girth that provides objective and accurate data in order to aid in your training sessions and anticipate potential lameness.

Thanks to real-time data and exercise and program ideas suggested by the mobile app, you can follow your progress and your horse’s form over time, plus share the data with your trainer.

Thematic training programs can assist you in attaining your goals. The sensor can accurately determine trot symmetry, time spent at each gait and lead, elevation, number of jumps and transitions carried out, cadence and regularity, and the session’s different phases of rest, intensive work, and cool down.

Equisense Care
Currently in development, the Equisense Care is a bodysuit for horses that monitors their heart and respiratory rates, as well as sweat output. As with other wearable devices, the data helps you spot problems such as whether your horse is stressed or developing colic, so it can be treated early. Info is accessible via an app, which lets you record medical care to keep track of veterinarian visits, vaccinations, deworming, etc. In addition to vitals, owners can also track the horse’s activity level and how much time they spend sleeping and eating.

Equisense Care is currently on Kickstarter and already exceeded its goal of €50,000. The product is expected to ship globally next fall. Requires a subscription.