NYRA, StrideSAFE Sensor Technology Study Enters New Stage

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Since last summer, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) has been testing on thousands of runners a discrete sensor technology capable of detecting minute changes in a horse’s gait at high speed.

Called StrideSAFE, the biometric sensor mechanism slips into the saddle pad and functions as a traffic light, providing green for all-clear, amber for possible warning (light amber better than dark amber), and red for possible danger.

The ultimate goal of StrideSAFE – a topic of discussion at the recent Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit – is to detect health issues undetectable to the naked eye before they potentially become catastrophic. Nearly 6,500 races later, the results are in.

Of the 20 horses that suffered fatal musculoskeletal injuries during the trial period, 17 had been red-rated in a race before suffering a catastrophic breakdown. One of the 20 had already received a dark amber rating.

Basically, these red and dark orange notes were emitted either in the race immediately before the failure or in two or three races back.

From the results of this study alone, the StrideSAFE technology therefore detected 90% of horses who had suffered a catastrophic injury, sometimes weeks or even months in advance.

“This is obviously a very important group for trainers,” said Dr. David Lambert, founder of StrideSAFE.

Which leads to the next step in the path – a comprehensive program to first identify, then properly manage and diagnose the horses most at risk.

Indeed, the 17 fatally injured horses that had been red-flagged in previous races were among hundreds of horses red-flagged throughout the event.

While some of these reported horses are at higher risk of suffering a catastrophic breakdown, others are also more likely to suffer a career-ending non-fatal injury, while some are simply slow or unwilling to try, said Lambert. The trick will be to quickly and precisely identify each one.

“At this point last year, we were just observing trying to figure out what it all means. Now we know enough to say that a [cautionary] alert means you have to get the horse checked out,” said New York State Gaming Commission equine medical director Dr. Scott Palmer of a new email alert system for trainers. which will be unveiled in Saratoga.

“It means we’re not just going to watch what happens anymore,” Palmer added.

Sarah Andre

What is StrideSAFE?

This iPhone-shaped wireless device fits snugly on the saddle towel, and eight hundred times per second it takes an assortment of measurements to capture the finest detail of the horse’s high-speed movement.

These measurements include the horse’s acceleration and deceleration, the horse’s up-and-down concussive motion, and its medial-lateral motion – which is, in other words, the horse’s motion from side to side. other.

Ultimately, the sensors capture the kinds of high-speed lameness invisible to the naked eye but severe enough to cause major musculoskeletal failures at some point – unless, of course, someone intervenes. first in the name of the horse.

To understand exactly how StrideSAFE identifies the almost imperceptible signs of lameness, it helps to break down a single stride into three distinct stages.

In the first phase of the gallop, the hind limbs charge and propel the horse forward. In the second, the horse shifts its weight forward, with its forelimbs acting as shock absorbers. Then comes the keystone of the equation: a period of suspension, a mere fraction of a second, when the horse is entirely in the air.

If this horse suffers from a physical illness or injury, it cannot adjust its body to compensate when its feet are on the ground. He can only do this in the air, rotating his spine and pelvis in preparation for a more comfortable landing.

Imagine a racing car going at high speed, one of its bolts coming loose.

“The horse does all kinds of things in the air, twisting and shaking and moving,” Lambert previously explained to the NDT.

Which brings us to the next important question: how are the red, orange, and green ratings calculated?

While some 151 subtle variables are measured in each stride, only 15 are key to highlighting important differences between horses, Lambert said.

Together they create a base standard ranging from 0 (which is the safest green grade) to over eight (which is at the red end of the spectrum) against which all horses can be compared.

At the higher end of this spectrum – one standard deviation above eight – the results were remarkable. Horses with this rating in a previous race were more than 50% likely to sustain a fatal injury in a subsequent race or breeze.

More generally, of the 6,458 individual courses in the NYRA study, 74.5% were rated green, 6.6% were rated light amber, 5.5% were rated dark amber, and 13 .4% were classified as red.

This means that 865 horses were red flagged – a relatively small percentage of the total riders.

But given that these horses are not visibly lame – and as such difficult to diagnose if they have an underlying physical problem – there are still plenty of horses to sift through in order to identify the few. -ones most likely to break down.

Sarah Andre

Lambert developed this technology with Mikael Holmstroem, a Swedish Ph.D. with expertise in equine conformation and locomotion, and Kevin Donohue, Ph.D., professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Kentucky.

And so, Lambert and this team tweaked the algorithm to identify the horses most at risk and shave horses in less immediate danger. In doing so, they targeted 7.4% of the population.

“You find the pattern, then you direct the modeling,” Lambert explained. “And when we did that, we found that 40% improvement and we got down to about 7% without missing any of the [fatally injured horses].”

That’s not to say that other red flag horses should be ignored, as the study proves that the physical deterioration leading to catastrophic musculoskeletal injury is usually a long degenerative process over weeks or even months.

This is consistent with the scientific literature on fatal breakdowns which shows how often pre-existing lesions appear at the actual site of injury.

“It’s not a case where they’re healthy one moment and broken the next. That process is a continuum,” Lambert said. he added, “it’s designed as a crash screen.”

Of all the horses that received a green rating during the NYRA study, 77% were running again within 60 days and 85% were running again within 120 days.

This same study has not yet been done for red flag horses, says Lambert. But an analysis at the start of the program found that only around 40% of horses that had a red classification were able to run at all in the following four months after the race analyzed.

This means that once a horse has received a warning flag, there needs to be a process in place to direct them to the correct tool to diagnose the brewing issue.

“The analogy is the check engine light in your car,” Palmer said, agreeing with Lambert. “When that check engine light comes on, what does it mean? It means you need to have someone check your car.

Sarah Andre

According to Palmer, he and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA) recently launched a new system in Saratoga whereby the trainer of a horse that receives a warning flag during a race then receives an email alert. mail, or what is called a “warning letter”. .”

“A [cautionary] the alert is not a ‘scarlet letter’ – it does not mean [the horse is] going to die or he’s going to fracture,” Palmer said, of the significance of such an email. “The bottom line is you need to get the horse checked out by a vet. That’s the bottom line.

Since StrideSAFE can detect lameness not visible to the naked eye, some of the brewing issues will only be detected using some of the more sensitive diagnostic technologies that are making their way onto the market, but not always .

“Some of them [veterinarians and trainers] are going to be able to find something using flex tests and the usual diagnostic exams, hoof testers,” Palmer said. “These aren’t the kinds of things you usually do to a horse every day.”

Still, Palmer points out that in the majority of cases, the additional vet exam will result in a positive diagnosis, calling it a “not unique” scenario.

“If it’s a minor issue, the horse can take a while, come back and be fine,” he said. “In some cases, I expect we won’t find anything and the horse can go back and run again.”

Given the work ahead of us, NYTHA President Joe Appelbaum turned to a baseball analogy, describing the program in the first or second innings.

“It’s awesome,” Appelbaum said. “But we need as large a dataset as possible. We need to share this data and do extensive research. We are at the start of this game, not the end.

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