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Technology Hacks for Hacking Out with Your Horse: Part 2

August 2018 by David Stang
Dr Stang (1946-2018), was a computer security expert and software developer with a PhD in Experimental Social Psychology. He published a dozen books and about 150 journal articles. David loved nature, horses and mules, computers, horses and mules, writing, and horses and mules - in that order. You can find more of his work at: www.HorseUserManual.com

Our horse world intersects another one, full of Amazon, Ebay, television and new-fangled things. In general, the new-fangled has hardly encountered our horse but, in this article, I have chosen some products that have qualities of ‘high technology’, and should bring some new benefit to horses and their riders.
I have intermixed some tested ideas with some that I haven’t tested in this new two-part series. But, I haven’t included anything that seemed to me unlikely to work. In general, this article is about ‘bolt-on doodads’, stuff that could be adapted to serve our purposes.

Improve your smart phone

If you plan to be off with your horse for more than a day, you’ll likely find yourself with a dead mobile phone and many of the tricks you want to do with it (as we discussed last month), will be unavailable. I’ve done two things to improve my odds.

I added a case for my iPhone that contains an extra battery. You might want to get this from your phone dealer and ask some questions, because some don’t support car chargers or high voltage/quick-charge adapters.

My case for my iPhone 7 adds some thickness and weight to my iPhone and makes it a bit harder to get into/out of my pocket, but I can use the phone all day long and not drain the primary battery one bit.
I got a portable external battery pack for it. These batteries measure their value in both, how fast they can charge your phone (look for 4.5 amp output) and how much charge they can store, measured in mAh (milliamp hours).

You charge a battery pack as you’d charge your phone, then pop it in a bumbag along with your phone. If your phone is low on juice, you can connect with a USB cable. When you are back at the truck or back home, recharge them both. Such battery packs, such as the Anker PowerCore 20100, sell for around $80 for one able to store 20,000+ mAh and output 4.8 amps.

You might also consider a mobile phone protection plan. Once I fell off and my brand new phone, which was in a saddle bag, went flying. Find My iPhone discovered it 100 feet from where I landed. Another time I fell off with my phone in my pocket, and I bent it into a semi-circle. If you get insurance, make sure that it covers both loss and damage.

How to hold your smart phone

If you mount your smart phone on your saddle, you can be sure to lose it when you climb aboard or make a sudden exit. But there are mounting ideas, such as the “Vastar Universal Smartphone Tripod Adapter Cell Phone Holder Mount Adapter”, available on Amazon and eBay for under $10.00. You could duct tape the main support to a saddle horn or top of your front saddle bag and give it a try.

Because the MotionX-GPS I use on trail rides talks to me, I usually slide my phone into the front pocket of my riding pants – I don’t need to see the screen to know how far or fast we’re going, or if MotionX is still recording.

I sometimes stuff my phone into a pocket of a ‘bum bag’ which I wear in front of me. That bag is able to zip closed and protect my camera and selfie stick...

Lighting your way

I enjoy long trail rides in unknown places, but never know when I’ll have some mishap, miscalculate and find myself going down some country road in the middle of the night. To the rescue: a magnetic induction flashing tail light for your horse’s butt.

Find one designed for your bicycle, attach it to the back of your saddle, back of your saddlebags, or back of your jacket. Your horse’s motion will generate the power to light the LEDs in this, and the red colour won’t interfere with his night vision. Search on Amazon or eBay for a bycicle motion tail light. I bought mine for about US$13.

If you can’t find something powered by shaking, then search for ‘dog collar glow in the dark’. You’ll find some that are serviceable and can be recharged by USB.

Hanging a tail light on your horse’s rear bumper will help you be seen. To help you see, try an LED headlamp that offers red LEDs. If you use only the red lights, you won’t see as much as if you used the white or both, the red and white, but your horse won’t see the red light at all, so will have the same great night vision as without this.

I have the ‘Ultra Bright Cree LED Headlamp’ 160 lumens, adjustable strap, IPX6 water resistant. It includes useable red lighting and bright white lighting that can be independently turned on, so if you are walking home through the woods from a night ride gone bad, you can use the white. They show up on Amazon Australia for approx. $45.00.

Safety

If you ride, you have a good chance of falling. And if you fall, you have a good chance of breaking something.
My most important piece of safety gear is likely my Point Two Pro Air Jacket. It uses a CO2 cartridge that is fired when its trigger cord is stretched, as when you are leaving the saddle. When it fires, the cartridge is about as loud as a shotgun blast. When you hit the ground, you’ll land like the Michelin Man and only damage your head, neck, shoulders, legs, arms, and self-esteem.

I once fell at a gallop on a hard driveway surface with this vest and only sprained an ankle. The vest is not perfect though. On one adventure, Freckles and I found a chest-high tree down across the path which I knew she could jump. Just as we reached it, I noticed a small branch in a good position to poke my eyes out. So I ducked. As I was coming back up from my duck, she was coming down from her jump. The result was that we stretched the trigger cord and the vest fired. For the next mile, Freckles showed me just how fast she could go.

On my most recent wreck, we tried going under a fallen tree. I leaned back, to lie on her back to get under it. Doing this fired the vest, expanding my dimensions and temporarily wedging us under the tree. I rolled off, got stepped on a few times and Freckles headed for the next county at a fast rate.

If you are young, your bones may not be as brittle as mine, and your head may be more worth protecting. So make sure you have a very, very good helmet. I would buy the best helmet that I could find, making sure that I was paying for safety, rather than style or name brand. I’d make sure that the helmet offered maximum venting. I’d make sure it was my size: comfortable, with no movement once strapped on. And I’d remember that if you do it just right, you can crack any helmet wide open in a fall, as I did one time when I also broke a rib.

Recording your journey

If you have a smart phone, then you are ready to capture still photos, video, and audio recordings. But I think it is much more fun to also capture 360 degree photos, which you can do easily with a camera designed for this.

I started with a camera that mounted on my helmet, but it proved too cumbersome, particulary when passing under branches on the trail. So, now I use a “Mi Sphere Camera” that takes a 360 degree photo or video.

This camera is a sturdy, quality instrument, which will cost you about $300. Images are very high resolution, and will need a bit of special handling to look good.

You can see photos, video, and 360 degree photos I have taken on my trail rides at http://montgomeryrides.com/352/. I hold the camera up using a Benro selfie stick but any selfie stick would do. I intend to take the camera on a pack trip in Yellowstone this fall.

Saddle fit

We all know that a poorly fitting saddle will produce discomfort and, sooner or later, injure a horse. We all know that horses change shape through the seasons and that a saddle that once fit well might no longer have the same credentials. And some of us know that not all saddle fitters are are suitably qualified or available.

I believe every barn needs a Port Lewis Impression Pad. Take this gel-filled pad, roll it smooth with a rolling pin. Place it under your saddle in lieu of your saddle pad and ride your horse for 30 minutes.
Hop off, unsaddle, and look at the pad.

Any areas of high pressure under the saddle will show displaced gel. The pad sells for $250 from PortLewisWorkshop.com, about the cost of a single visit from a saddle fitter, and can be used for years. I would use it whenever my buddy seemed to be changing shape or showing any sign of discomfort or soreness.

A saddle that always fits 

A traditional saddle is only minimally adjustable by using a different saddle pad or inserting correction panels (Port Lewis offers these, too.) Some allow for change in gullet width, such as those from Bates.
But nothing seems to compare to the self-adjusting capabilities of a Stonewall Endurance Saddle (http://stonewallsaddles.com/; around $3,000).

The cantle can be moved forward or back, changing the saddle size from a 14 up to 17. A rigid carbon fiber chassis distributes the rider’s weight along the rock rail edge, and “living bars” that can teeter totter along that lower edge and fit against the horse’s back.

The ‘living bars’ can bend and twist to match the horse’s exact shape. Foam cartilege in the bar houses carbon fiber tubes that allow each to move independently of their neighbors. A strap allows easy adjustment of girth tension while mounted. Their video makes it clear that this saddle, finally, is designed so that one size fits all. And fits all well. They have a backlog in producing these fabulous saddles; Freckles and I are waiting for ours to be made.

Knowing girth tension.

How much should you tighten that girth? Most of us tighten to try to compensate for what we know is to come: tight now becomes loose later. So very tight now may become just about right later. But my mule has great extremes in belly size, it seems, (so do I!) and any particular tightening is not right for long.
Enter the spring scale: a device that inserts in your girth, or connects one end of it to the saddle. The tighter the girth, the greater the reading on the display.

With such a device, you could simply tighten until you had reached the desired tension. On your ride, you could check the tension by reading the display, and if things loosened, then retension.
The straps on the Stonewall saddle described above allow you to tighten from the saddle. You can get a digital hanging scale that can measure forces up to 660 pounds for about $40 from Amazon.com.au. (Consider “Digital Professional Hanging Scale 660 Lb 300 Kg with Accurate Reloading Spring Sensor for Hunting, Fishing, Farm by Modern Step”).

Here are a few ideas that don’t seem quite ready for us to try, but might be in the near future.

Heads up displays

There are many products that will connect to your car’s automatic diagnosis system and project a heads up display on the windshield, such as the HUD E:350 ($46 from Amazon, but my mule doesn’t have an automatic diagnosis system), or that use your phone to provide the projected information, such as Hudway.

What we might like is something that would project whatever is on your smart phone screen to a lightweight visor you’d add to your helmet. About the closest I’ve found is Nuviz, a $700 heads up display that you might attach to your helmet. There are a lot of features: make phone calls, pair intercom, get directions, view a map, listen to music and see the song you are listening to, take a picture or video, etc. But I have not figured out how to project some selected smart phone app, such as Motion-X GPS. Another drawback is the weight, which is not much but likely enough to change the feel of your helmet and how it rides on your head.

Smart textiles

Over the past few years, Horses and People has done stories on how wearable technology could revolutionise the horse industry. The promise seems there, but not the progress. Many of the imagined sensing functions of smart textiles are likely to be costly for a time with little market demand or perceived value. But it is easy to imagine a fabric that would sense temperature on one side and act to warm or cool that side. A blanketed horse that became too warm might trigger the textile to open its weave and release heat; when it became too cool, the textile might close up and block heat from escaping.

Researchers have used the squid as a model, studying how it controls its colors – how it reflects visible wave lengths of light. Once they have figured out how to control the way heat radiates (as electromagnetic waves), they will be closer to developing a fabric that helps maintain a constant temperature in a variety of ambient temperatures.

We are half way there. Researchers have created a material that can be reversed, so that when it is worn with one side out, it warms, and with the other side out, it cools. The temperature difference between warm and cool is currently 10 degrees, but will grow as research continues.

Technology Hacks for Hacking Out with Your Horse: Part 1

July 2018 by David Stang, PhD, Author, www.horseusermanual.com

Our horse world intersects another one, full of Amazon, Ebay, television and new-fangled things. In general, the new-fangled has hardly encountered our horse but, in this article, I have chosen some products that have qualities of ‘high technology’, and should bring some new benefit to horses and their riders.