You guys have heard me talk about Henry’s fitness on here a lot. Probably to the point of annoyance sometimes, because I do believe it’s really important for ANY horse, but especially for an event horse like mine who has a heat intolerance and some lung issues. Keeping him fit, and knowing exactly how fit he is, is absolutely vital to his health and well-being. And there’s no better way to measure that than via a heart rate monitor. Enter: Hylofit.
First of all – why is it so important to know and have some standard of measure for a horse’s cardiovascular fitness? For me personally:
- Safety. A tired horse is a horse that makes mistakes, and mistakes are dangerous. The last thing you want at the end of a cross country round is a horse that’s out of gas and struggling. Same goes for the rider – a tired rider becomes a passenger, and that can be just as dangerous. I love that the Hylofit also measures rider fitness in direct correlation.
- Performance. Aside from making dangerous mistakes, you can also make costly ones when a horse and rider are tired, particularly if you’re showjumping after cross country.
- Injury Prevention. Fatigue injuries are a very real thing. On the flip side, you also don’t want to be getting a horse so over-fit that you beat up their legs unnecessarily in the day-to-day work and end up with an overuse lameness.
- Recovery. You want a horse that recovers quickly, not one that is absolutely knackered for hours or even days after an event. If they are, you haven’t prepared them adequately. You could even argue that as a horsemanship/welfare issue, in my eyes. Being able to easily measure how fast a horse’s heart rate is recovering can help you evaluate whether or not they’re prepared for what you’re asking.
So if your goal is a fit, safe, sound, happy, well-performing athlete, it makes sense to have some kind of method by which to measure and track your progress. Equine heart rate monitors have come a really long way, especially in the past couple years, and Hylofit is one of the leading brands, I think for good reason. It measures the horse’s heart rate, the rider’s heart rate, is simple and easy to use, gives speed data, zone data, mapping, and even weather information like temperature and humidity. You can even overlay video to see exactly what you were doing when the heart rate went up and down (Doug Payne has some really cool integrated videos that are pretty neat to watch).
This was especially helpful to me over this winter as I’ve been bringing Henry back to regular fitness. If you don’t know where you’re starting from, and it’s not measurable and quantifiable, how do you really know where to go? For instance, these metrics below, from one of his first rides back, are from some shorter trot sets. It was super helpful to give me an indicator of where he was at with his base fitness just coming back from his bad foot bruise, and give me some direction so that I could plan out his program to start ramping back up to peak over the following months.
I was admittedly a little bit wary of relying on a heart rate monitor at first. My experiences with them in the past had been a little bit hit or miss as far as accuracy, reliability, and ease of use, but the Hylofit has been a much more positive experience. The only time I’ve had inaccurate readings was that one time I forgot to tighten my girth… because the electrodes sit underneath the girth, it needs to be held snug against the horse to get accurate readings. Since my horse was a little bit hairy this winter, I’ve also been opting to use an electrode gel just to make sure it’s getting optimal contact. I already had some from my Microsense unit, but you can also pick some up for $3 on amazon if you wanted to use it. You don’t need the gel, you can also just wet the electrodes instead, but I figured I’d use it just to make sure I’m getting the best possible readings through the longer winter coat. If you use the gel just make sure you clean it off after every ride to avoid any buildup interfering with readings.
The Hylofit comes with some additional velcro straps to help stabilize it to your girth, if need be, but mine sits perfectly and has never shifted, so I haven’t had to use anything other than the main strap. The shape is very simple and flat, so Henry doesn’t even seem to notice it under the girth and since it sits in front of my leg I’ve never felt it either. The human heart rate monitor fastens around your rib cage, under your bra line, and stays in place without being annoying or uncomfortable. Being able to see my own cardio data has been really interesting, especially when it’s in comparison with Henry’s. If my own fitness is lacking, I need to know that too.
My favorite thing about the Hylofit though, especially compared to other systems I’ve used, is that it’s easy and simple. Hylofit has detailed set-up instructions on their website, as well as a video tutorial. It wasn’t much of a learning curve to figure out how to use it, and the app is very user-friendly and easy to navigate, with all the data displayed for quick and easy interpretation. It’s all saved by date and the type of ride it was, so it’s fantastic to be able to quickly and easily look back over past rides and see how you’re trending – again, it helps you plan your program. The zone training feature also, IMO, makes the whole thing much more simple and easy to understand for people that may be new to using and measuring heart rate data.
I also really like that you can see the data in real time. The transmitters talk to your phone via Bluetooth (and can also display on your Apple watch, if you have one) so I can always pull my phone out on a walk break and see the results of the last set or if he’s recovering in a timely manner. If I had an Apple watch I could look down at any given time and see the data… legit the only time I’ve ever found myself wanting one of those. Still, even with just my phone it gives me the ability to tweak the ride as it’s happening, rather than just seeing all the data afterwards.
I haven’t been able to play with the video merge feature yet, as I almost always ride alone, but I’ve been using the monitor itself for over 3 months and have found it super helpful even just from a pure data perspective. I also really like that you can share your data with others, like your trainer, so if you’re a little bit unsure of what it all means, you can quickly and easily get some input. I would have LOVED to have had this thing back when I was prepping Henry for our Classic 3 Day. It kind of makes me want to do another one…
At $250 for the full system (rider monitor and chest strap, horse monitor and girth strap, and the app) which is on the lower end for a complete system like this. The real value for me is in the design (so unobtrusive), the app (way better than others I’ve seen/used), and the “support” (it’s an American company run by fellow equestrians, so there are no language barriers, lingo issues, or time zone problems if you have questions). There’s a lot of good information on their website and useful tutorials, videos, photos, and Q&A’s on their Instagram as well. You can buy the complete kit or also just the horse or human systems separately in the Hylofit store – use code 900PONY20 for 20% off! It’s also carried at some other retailers too (like Riding Warehouse), for those of you who might have a gift card burning a hole in your pocket or if you have a favorite shop that you like to frequent.
If you want more information on measuring heart rate and using heart rate data, there are some good articles here:
I also very highly recommend listening to the new Equiratings podcast series “The Hold Box” – there is some FANTASTIC data and information in there about using heart rate and how it relates to overall fitness, and why all of this is important for the sporthorse.