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Heart rates studied at Mohawk

July 06, 2007

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The action is always exciting at Mohawk, but this summer another reason to get your heartrate climbing is that theWoodbine Entertainment Group and the University of Guelph\'s Ontario Veterinary College are teaming up for a landmark study on the heart rhythms of horses under actual racing conditions. The study began on June 28th and will continue through the summer.
Horses in the first and ninth races on Monday and Thursday nights will be wearing heart monitors, weighing less than one pound each, underneath their harnesses. The lightweight devices will record the electrical impulses sent from their hearts during their warm-up, cool-down, and most importantly, when they race.
The monitors are constructed from an especially flexible and conductive rubber, are completely non-invasive to the horse, and silently record the data on Compact Flash cards like those used in digital cameras.
After racing, the heart monitors are removed and the data collected, to be analyzed later in the labs of Drs. Peter Physick-Sheard and Kim McGurrin, equine cardiac specialists at the University of Guelph.
\"No-one has looked at the heart rhythms and electrical complexes (generated by equine hearts) under true racing conditions before,\" says McGurrin, who is world-renowned for having developed a new method for reversing atrial fibrillation in horses, at the University of Guelph.
\"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.
\"The idea is to establish a range of \'normal\', and then begin to shed some light on how abnormal signals from the heart might factor into poor performance.\"
Among the information the study should reveal will be the variability of heart signals during racing conditions, and the maximum heartrate achieved by horses when racing.
\"We hope to evaluate the range of variation in Standardbreds as they race,\" McGurrin explains. \"We\'re lucky in that there\'s a wonderful range (of horses) at Mohawk, from relatively cheap claimers to real superstars. So there\'s all sorts of potential to analyze the data by gait, age, gender, track conditions, and other factors.\"
Both she and Physick-Sheard were delighted by the degree of cooperation and enthusiasm they\'ve experienced while launching this study.
\"We are just amazed by the reception we\'ve had from WEG and from the horsemen,\" says McGurrin. \"Everyone has been so supportive and everyone wants to participate. I\'ve even been approached by horsemen asking if their horses can wear the monitors, too!\"
\"It\'s a very complex project which has been at least 18 months in the making. We\'re very conscious of the importance of the data to the horsemen and the industry,\" says Physick-Sheard. \"And we also view this as an opportunity to interact with horsemen and show we can do this unobtrusively and smoothly, with the horsemen as partners. The database this will generate will be pretty unique.\"

McGurrin and Physick-Sheard, along with a team of six graduate and undergraduate students from the University of Guelph (Sarah Kingma, Christine Culbert, Kristy DeRoche, Amy Bennett, Amanda Rosborough, and Jordan Cook) are likely to become familiar sights in the Mohawk paddock this summer, as they aim to gather readings from at least 300 separate racing performances. In order to maintain a level playing field, it\'s essential that every horse entered in the races designated for the study is equipped with a monitor, so study participation will be listed as a condition of the race on overnight sheets. All of the equipment is sterile and is used on one horse only per night, and individual horses will not be identified in the study.  (WEG)

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