Packed with technology that analyzes your horse’s biometrics and behaviors, the NIGHTWATCH™ smart halter may be the ultimate tool for tracking equine health.
It doesn’t get much more traditional than the sport of horseback riding — but innovators are finding new ways to blend technology and equestrianism every day. Our “Horse Technology” mini-series examines these innovations and the ways that technology is changing the face of the equine world. We caught up with Jeffrey Schab, Founder and CEO of Protequus, which is the company developing NIGHTWATCH™, the world’s first smart halter.
NIGHTWATCH™, for all intents and purposes, looks essentially like any other high-quality leather halter, except NIGHTWATCH™ is packed with some of today’s latest technological advances (for more on the technology aspect, check out Forbes’ recent coverage). All of this technology is contained inside a flexible water- and dust-proof enclosure, and then noninvasively embedded within the padded leather crown of either a specially-designed breakaway halter or collar to ensure safety and comfort at all times. Yep, you read that right: the crown of the halter contains essentially a tiny computer, complete with rechargeable LiPo batteries (like the ones in your cell phone), capable of analyzing real-time data on your horse’s vital signs (such as heart and respiratory rates) and behaviors (such as activity, motion, posture) so the system can alert you via text, phone call or email at the first signs of distress such as colic.
The “smart” technology really is smart: it actually learns your horse’s “norm” levels and adapts to them. Over time, it learns what good and normal looks like in your horse so it can look for unusual or novel events that may be early signs of distress. The more your horse wears NIGHTWATCH™, the more fine-tuned the technology and algorithms become to your individual horse.
Each NIGHTWATCH™ device is also equipped with a GPS module so you can track the horse’s location anywhere within the US and Canada; this feature is also especially helpful if your halter or collar falls off in the pasture and you need to find it. Each halter or collar also has cellular and Wi-Fi technology that allows you to stay connected to your horse whether they are at home, on the road, or away at a show or competition. All insight and historical information is available 24/7 on-demand from a smartphone app for iOS/Apple and Android devices, as well as a web portal for tablets and more traditional desktop computers.
“This is a lot more than a supercharged ‘Fitbit for horses,’” Jeffrey cautions. “NIGHTWATCH™ provides empirical evidence and real-time insight like never before so you and your veterinarian can make better decisions for your horse. Although there are numerous applications for our technology, we are focusing on one problem right now…the problem of acute equine distress. The reality is we all try to do the right things right, but we can’t always be there with these animals we love.” Now, NIGHTWATCH™ can be there when we can’t be, and more importantly alert you when attention is needed so you can have peace of mind and sleep easy at night.
But why bother with a halter or collar? After all, every good horseman knows the warning signs for, say, colic: off his feed, looking at his belly, perhaps rolling, that unquantifiable and hard-to-define inkling that something simply “isn’t right.” Unfortunately, by the time a horse is at the point where he’s showing even the most subtle visual indicators, it may sometimes already be too late. “Horses don’t like to show signs of fear or distress. They have evolved from being a prey animal so they are programmed to hide signs of weakness and vulnerability, which is why some horses appear very stoic even when they in severe pain,” Jeffrey describes. The good news is a horse’s heart rate is the first and most reliable indicator of distress, but realistically you’re not taking your horse’s pulse every time you walk by it.
This is a reality that Jeffrey and his partner, Wade Giles, know all too well, having lost a horse (“Snoop”) in August of 2013. Snoop was only eight years old and had no major risk factors for colic, but nonetheless a rare form of colic, EFE, claimed his life in the middle of the night. Although Jeffrey is unsure if a distress-monitoring device could have saved Snoop’s life, he is absolutely sure a device such as NIGHTWATCH™ would have given Snoop the best chance at survival, while also allowing for caretakers to make his final hours more comfortable.
Inevitably, some horsemen would rather not halter their horses around the clock; perhaps they don’t like to halter for turnout. Jeffrey recognizes this concern, but also states “it’s a personal choice and also a matter of relative risk; every horse owner knows what’s best for them and their animal.” He further adds that NIGHTWATCH™ halters and safety collars have been specifically designed with 6th-generation harness maker, Freedman’s, to have multiple breakaway points to acknowledge and mitigate such concerns. However, Jeffrey refers to his four decades of working with horses as well as conversations with equine industry professionals — it’s well known that the apprehension of leaving a halter on a horse overnight stems from stories involving nylon halters rather than leather. Leather has a much lower breakpoint than nylon.
At this stage, NIGHTWATCH™ should reach the US and Canadian market by mid-year 2016. Plans are already underway to gather data during this coming foaling season to develop a specific foaling algorithm for breeders in 2017.