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Welfare top of mind for Waller
A trial to develop a more efficient way to log horse temperatures in Australia’s most successful stable has led to the creation of a unique horse welfare platform called StableWizard that is set to have significant impact on day to day stable life across Australia.
When renowned breeder and Segenhoe principal Kevin Maloney approached master trainer Chris Waller about trialling a system to log horse temperatures, Waller was all ears. With four stables and hundreds of horses across his business, logging daily health checks was a process stuck in the dark ages.
“Originally the platform was designed to help solve that problem – we take temperatures daily across four stables and to this point they were recorded on paper and then faxed or photocopied and sent back to the office, it was an archaic system,” said Waller’s Racing Manager and Assistant Trainer Charlie Duckworth.
“What the program allowed us to do was correlate all of the temperatures taken across a day and then generate average temperatures for each horse – there can be a whole degree of difference in that average temperature so understanding that data is very important.”
Temperature checks are a vital part of horse health assessment within a racing stable, as high temperatures can indicate the early onset of a virus or bug. A horse can present outwardly normal, with a raised temperature the only indication that the individual is off-colour. The ramifications for poor race day performance or associated effects of physical exertion while unwell are potentially significant.
“Having the ability to assess that average, to say ‘this individual is 38.2C but his normal average temperature is 37.6C, he’s actually OK but let’s monitor him’, it helps in that diagnostic process. You establish what normal is for each individual and then you can assess its condition from that point,” said Duckworth.
Soon though, the horizons were expanded for StableWizard as the Waller stable began to explore the possibilities of the technology and how it could contribute to the wider horse welfare program within the stable.
It’s pretty powerful. If a horse has a temperature half a degree outside of its established average, StableWizard sends an alert to the trainer and foreman. - Charlie Duckworth
Historical data was collected and collated on a daily basis, and now, after two years of trials, over half a million data points have been recorded.
“It’s pretty powerful. If a horse has a temperature half a degree outside of its established average, StableWizard sends an alert to the trainer and foreman to say, ‘hey, we might have a problem here’, and we can address that problem immediately,” said Duckworth.
Additional horse health indicators have been added, including amounts of waste feed left by each horse each day, which allows for data-driven correlations to be made, linking temperature to feed consumption to general demeanour to output on the training or race track. A full health picture can then be built daily for each horse in work.
The time demands on Australia’s leading trainer are immense. Chris Waller cannot be everywhere at once, and so Waller wanted StableWizard to improve communication and interaction across his staff from the bottom to the top. The responsibility on those that work closest with the horse has led to a more fluent workplace, which is critical to the success of a massive four-stable operation like Chris Waller Racing.
“From a staff perspective, StableWizard provides great accountability. We have included a checklist of items that each staff member needs to complete with each horse every day and log into the system, and the foreman signs off on each horse each day. It eliminates any margin for error or a task missed, which helps overall efficiency.”
In a game where millimeters can be the difference between Group 1 success and failure, the advantage of such technology is obvious, but the desire to contribute to a wider horse welfare outcome means that StableWizard will be made available to the wider racing community.
“Our view is that if you have got something that can contribute to a horse welfare solution, then there is a responsibility there to make it available,” said Duckworth.
“Once StableWizard is rolled out, the amount of extra data that can be added to the system could have even wider benefit for the industry and for horse welfare, and that would be a fantastic outcome.”