Smart Textiles: Future Use in Equine Research

Smart Textiles: Future Use in Equine Research

Master’s student Johanna Ternstrom holds a smart textile monitor designed for equine-related research.

Photo: Courtesy Johanna Ternstrom

When a horse is standing still, equitation scientists and veterinary researchers can take measurements with ease—well, depending on the horse. In theory, a heart rate, respiration rate, and temperature are relatively simple to collect from static animals.

Put the horse in movement, though, and things can get tricky fast. And let’s face it, horses are dynamic creatures. This offers a unique challenge to equitation scientists who need accurate heart rate, respiration, and saddle and tack pressure (among other) data for research into horse behavior and welfare.

To try to find a solution for evaluating horses in movement, researchers in Sweden and Australia are investigating the use of smart textiles and technology in equine science. The team includes individuals from Chalmers University of Technology, the Swedish School of Textiles, Gothenburg University, the Australian Equine Behavior Centre, and the University of Sydney. Johanna Ternstrom, a master’s student at the University of Gothenburg and Chalmers, presented the fabrics’ potential for use in equine research at the 9th Annual International Society for Equitation Science, held July 18-20 at the University of Delaware, in Newark.

Smart textiles, also known as electronic textiles or e-textiles, are designed to seamlessly integrate electronic components or monitors for taking physical measurements into fabric.

“Smart textiles enable measure of different variables with minimal interference,” Ternstrom explained. “The goal is a noninvasive method to measure physical parameters of the horse.”

The textile sensors are incorporated into normal horse equipment such as a saddle or girth. That means researchers can monitor physiological changes in the horse without irritating or distracting him from his task or impeding natural movement.

Smart textiles are commonly used in human medical research, integrating measurement tools such as electrocardiogram (ECG) and pressure sensors with electrodes. Following their human-research counterparts' lead, the equitation science team developed a smart textile ECG prototype for horses.

“All parts in contact with the horse are totally made of textile,” Ternstrom said of the device. Tests have shown the device has potential for collecting both pulse and ECG measurements, she added.

The prototype fabric is 1-2 millimeters thick, is flexible, and offers potential incorporation of sensors into a horse’s normal tack and equipment. Researchers at Chalmers are currently developing three different kinds of textile sensors for use in veterinary and equine science to measure heart rate, equipment pressure, and body elongation: “The pressure sensors could be used to measure, for example, pressure from the saddle or noseband and could be incorporated into almost any kind of equipment, even jodhpers or gloves,” Ternstrom said. “The elongation sensors could be used to measure swelling on the legs during training.”

She added that possible future applications for smart textiles in equine medicine include use in exercise physiology studies, veterinary clinics, and breeding sheds.

About the Author

Michelle N. Anderson, Digital Managing Editor

Michelle Anderson serves as The Horse's digital managing editor. In her role, she produces content for our web site and hosts our live events, including Ask the Vet Live. A lifelong horse owner, Anderson competes in dressage and enjoys trail riding. She's a Washington State University graduate (Go Cougs!) and holds a bachelor's degree in communications with a minor in business administration and extensive coursework in animal sciences. She has worked in equine publishing since 1998. She currently lives with her husband on a small horse property in Central Oregon.

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