University of Guelph Researchers Investigating Racehorse Heart Rates

Exactly how fast is the heart rate of a racehorse as it flies around the track?

For the first time ever, two University of Guelph researchers will be able to answer this question as part of a study aimed at recording the maximum heart rate of racehorses when they're pushing themselves to the limit.

With the help of a lightweight heart monitor tucked under their harness, Standardbred horses competing at Mohawk Raceway will give the two an accurate picture of what happens to the heart under actual racing conditions.

"We've studied horse's hearts on the high-speed treadmill and in training conditions, but it's only recently that the technology has existed to be able to record these electrical signals at real racing speeds," said researcher Kim McGurrin, DVM. "The idea is to establish a range of normal, then begin to shed some light on how abnormal signals from the heart might factor into poor performance."

McGurrin and Peter Physick-Sheard, BVSc, MSc, FRCVS, associate professor of large animal medicine, have teamed up with the Ontario Racing Commission, the Ontario Harness Horse Association, and Woodbine Entertainment Group for the landmark study, which is running throughout the summer.

The purpose of the study is to not only determine the maximum heart rate achieved by horses when racing but to also determine the variation in heart rate and rhythm during racing conditions.

"We hope to evaluate the range of variation in Standardbreds as they race," said McGurrin. "We're lucky in that there's such a range of horses at Mohawk from beginners to real superstars, so there's all sorts of potential to analyze the data by gait, gender, track conditions, and other factors."

The researchers will be attaching the monitors to horses competing in the first and ninth races on Monday and Thursday nights.

The monitor weighs less than a pound and records the electrical impulses sent from a horse's heart during the race as well as the warm-up and cool-down.

The two researchers and a team of six graduate and undergraduate students will be gathering readings from at least 300 separate racing performances for the eventual database.

Physick-Sheard said there's been great cooperation and enthusiasm for the study from all the partners, including the horse owners, trainers, drivers, and grooms.

"I've even been approached by horse owners asking if their horses can wear monitors," he said. "We've very conscious of the importance the data has to horse owners and the industry, and the importance of this opportunity as researchers to interact directly with industry members. The database this will generate will be unique."

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