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Maximizing Equine Health, Welfare Using GPSBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · May 12, 2017

Other than discretely observing your herd for hours on end in the rain, sleet, snow, or blistering heat at various hours of the day or night, how can you know if your horses are truly getting all the care they need? According to a group of Japanese researchers*, affixing global positioning system (GPS) units to halters of horses and tracking their movement generates important information for managing herds of all shapes, sizes, and compositions.

For example, the researchers used GPS units on mare-and-foal pairs to determine mare-foal, mare-mare, and foal-foal distances to better understand behaviors of broodmares. They found during the first month of age, dam–dam and foal–foal distances were significantly greater than dam–foal distances. This finding makes sense considering how frequently foals nurse during their first month of life. During the second month of age, the dam–foal distance increased, and by the sixth month of age, dam–foal distances were significantly greater than foal–foal distances.  

Another use for GPS units includes research on standing and lying behaviors. Such information could provide valuable insight into sleeping behaviors (e.g., if some horses in a herd aren’t permitted sufficient time to lay down because they are low in the pecking order, helping diagnose sleeping disorders). Joint pain could also potentially be assessed using GPS units. Horses with joint or other musculoskeletal ailments may either lie down for prolonged periods of time or not lie down enough due to the discomfort associated with changing positions.

“Knowing which horses are potentially suffering from musculoskeletal discomfort or pain will allow us to more rapidly diagnose the problem and institute appropriate therapy. Such horses might, for example, benefit from a joint supplement such as KER•Flex or Synovate HA,” recommended Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Horse owners in Australia can look for Glucos-A-Flex for joint support.

Finally, data generated from such GPS devices can also help determine if some horses are being excluded from food and water sources because they are low on the pecking order.

“If owners cannot rely on individual body condition scoring for individuals in a herd to determine adequate access to food and water, either due to time or geography, GPS units may help manage herds better,” suggested Crandell.

In sum, GPS-derived data facilitates more detailed behavioral analyses of horses to maximize equine welfare through better management.

“We hope that the further studies are carried out using this GPS method under various pasture conditions and under various management conditions,” concluded the researchers.

*Sato, F., T. Tanabe, H. Murase, et al. 2017. Application of a wearable GPS unit for examining interindividual distances in a herd of Thoroughbred dams and their foals. Journal of Equine Science. 28(1):13-17.