Thursday, January 16, 2020

riding better with technology?

It will surprise exactly nobody to learn that... I'm a bit of a data geek. I'm kiiiiinda into numbers. Problem solving, data exploration.... Technology, research, analysis.... It's my jam, ya know? And, not entirely coincidentally, also my day job haha.

New technologies in cell phone apps, smart watches, and other digital devices have ushered in this new era of tech-enabled living. We are bombarded with interesting (or otherwise) notifications and nuggets of information every day, every minute almost, of our lives. And naturally, some of this has trickled into my horse habit too. Obvi.

charlie fully supports my mission of trying anything - literally anything - to improve myself lol
If I've learned anything as a purveyor of data products, however, it is this: Information alone is not enough to change behavior.

Thus begging the question: What data or information *is* actionable for riding? Can technology actually influence our riding behavior or choices, in real-time or otherwise?

Over the years I've tried out a number of different apps to use while riding. With.... Various degrees of success haha. Some were discarded immediately for being too buggy or glitchy. Others were interesting enough to stick around for a while, but eventually faded. And a few have had more staying power.

dedicated equine app folder.... most of which aren't actually designed for use with horses, go figure
Personally, I'm interested in figuring out which is which, and why. So here are a few examples of what I've tried, and how I feel about them. Notably, only one is actually specific to riding....

1. Altitude Profile

What is it? A basic hiking app I downloaded to help with conditioning.

This app tracks your activity via gps location and compiles a package of meta data:

- Satellite map of your activity's path
- Total distance covered (kilometers or miles)
- Activity duration and average speed
- Total change in elevation
- Elevation chart

gosh but i love meta data
How do I use it? Honestly? Kinda sparingly, in specific circumstances.

Zillions of apps can track metrics like speed, distance, and duration, but what makes this app special is the elevation chart, IMO. I've used this app to map out all the hills at Charlie's farm, and like to use it during my cross country course walks at events (especially at new venues).

How is it actionable?

This data isn't necessarily useful in real-time (unless you're lost hiking and trying to find your way home lol), and I don't use it often. For instance, you only really need to map out your home base hills and trails etc once, ya know?

That said, I now know the relative size of the various hills available to me. AND, by using this app to map out local cross country courses, I also know how my hills at home compare to what we might see in competition.

For instance, Fair Hill has a monster hill that their courses typically run down, and then back up again. Thanks to this app, I know we've got a hill almost the exact same size right in Charlie's back yard that's prime real estate for conditioning work.

Verdict? Overall, it's useful for making plans. The data showed me how to optimize our favorite trail circuits for maximum hill climbs. And it helps me assess how the topography of a new or unfamiliar venue compares. I don't use it often, but I do use it.

2. CVS Simulator (Chromatic Vision Simulator)

What is it? An camera filter app that simulates different types of color blindness.

How do I use it? This app has four filters to see and/or take pictures using the most common vision types.

C = Common
P = Protanope
D = Deuteranope (how horses see)
T = Tritanope

left side is common vision, right side is how horses see. basically red/green color blindness
Theoretically you use this app to understand how horses perceive their surroundings, especially how they distinguish colors (and thus, contrast) differently from us.

For instance, I've used this app to view cross country jumps to see what might look spooky. Turns out those giant imposing red fences prevalent on literally every single course everywhere just look greenish brown to the horses, not the big-bold-aggressive red they seem to us (or is that just me??).

How is it actionable? Eh... Unless you're worried about letting your horse pick out his own clothes, there aren't any real "next steps" to this one....

apples maybe aren't so spooky after all!
Verdict? Ultimately this app fell into the "interesting but useless" category. It was kinda cool at first, but didn't really tell me anything new.

3. EquiLab

What is it? This is the free version of the app that works with the Equisense (a "digital riding companion" sensor device that costs about $250). It tracks ride meta data in real time, and produces after-the-fact reporting on each individual ride, plus weekly and monthly totals.

(Notably, you can only look back so far into your history without upgrading to the premium version...)

can view data from individual rides plus weekly and monthly reporting
Data points include:
- Ride category (dressage, jumping, cardio, hacking, etc)
- Duration spent and distance covered in each gait
- Average speed and beats per minute (bpm) per gait
- Satellite map of ride
- A suite of charts on speed, tempo, stride, and elevation on the ride
- Distribution of time spent in each direction (hopelessly glitchy and useless, IMO)
- Notes section and option to add weather detail

the turn distribution data never really makes any sense. methinks it's entirely bogus. like, that dressage ride was in a ring only slightly bigger than a large dressage court and is mapped below, but we spent less than 4min turning?
How do I use it? This app functions like a riding journal. I've used it to compile how long I spend riding in each gait. Some meta data isn't available until after the ride is complete, but time distribution by gait is done in real-time.

maps can be fun tho. at least, when you have good enough cell reception!
The satellite maps are nicer than those from Altitude Profile, bc they're color-coded by speed. The suite of charts is absolute junk tho haha -- noisy nonsense that's hard to read. Even if I could read it tho, it's not clear what to do with the info. Sorta like a seismograph. It'll measure the force and duration of our earthquakes, but not how to prevent the next one.

Theoretically you could maybe try to scrape the underlying raw data to assess trends over time.... But even then, it's not clear how to act on that data.

but what does it mean??
The reports are nice to scroll through, seeing what our typical riding routine looks like in actual hard and fast numbers... Overall, tho, it's more journal than planner.

How is it actionable?  The real-time duration-by-gait function of this app is its best feature. I've used it often during schooling rides to ensure I'm logging the requisite time and intensity for our conditioning plans. I have also used this more frequently than any others for producing visual blog content.

The "journal" aspect tho, the weekly and monthly totals, were never accurate bc I always try to hand my phone off for video during lessons.

the maps are useful for helping me remember details from a specific ride tho
Verdict? I eventually stopped using the app, and haven't missed it. I prefer a stop watch for proper trot sets (or, ya know, old fashioned landmarks haha), and prefer riding off feel rather than a clock for our dressage schools. Ymmv.

4. Soundbrenner

What is it? A metronome.

It's designed for musicians and has tons of settings for time signature, subdivisions, sound effect, and, most importantly, beats per minute (bpm).

How do I use it? I set it to a "trot" tempo (tick tock tick tock tick tock) at the beginning of a ride and leave it running in my pocket until the ride is over.

I keep it at trot bc:
- That's where Charlie and I have the most work to do
- Changing tempos on the app right before or after a transition sounds disruptive
- It's great for quickly modulating our tempo after a canter-trot or walk-trot transition

there are probably a zillion apps out there with this functionality. i just set it and forget it!
It took a couple rides to figure out Charlie's natural/optimal bpm, mostly bc we're a hot goddamn mess and couldn't hold a rhythm for shit. (maybe why our Equilab charts were so noisy?? lol...)

The google says a good working trot is around 75bpm and we experimented with 70 through 80bpm. Charlie's sweet spot is around 77.

How is it actionable?  It influences how I ride my horse in real time, like a coach would.

Except, instead of a human hollering, "Shorten your reins for the love of sweet baby jesus!," the tick tock tick tock tick tock mercilessly, ruthlessly, relentlessly reminds me RHYTHM is the fundamental block in the training pyramid. Connection and Impulsion can only come after.

It helps me calibrate my ride in real-time, and the effects are noticeable. After a month of sustained use, Charlie automatically holds this 77bpm tempo. Always. First trot of the day, last trot of the day. 77bpm. And he feels much stronger and more balanced in doing so.
basically trying to use the metronome to help get charlie exactly this muscle bound haha. is it working?? mebbe!!
Interestingly -- those might all be very very different trots from the perspective of energy and impulsion and stride length. But they are all equal in tempo. This alone feels like we're figuring out our balance, strength and elasticity within trot.

Verdict? This is the newest app in the arsenal, so it's still shiny and exciting. But... Yea, I use this for every schooling ride and feel like it's made a tangible, measurable difference in the quality of our work.


So. Ahem. Cough cough. This ended up not sounding so cutting edge or modern after all lol, considering topography, time keeping, and riding to music ended up being my biggest "technological" winners lol. Goooo figure.

That said, tho, I'm curious about your experiences too. Have you used any of these (or similar) apps? Or something else entirely?

What sort of features do you look for in terms of helping you figure out what's working, what isn't, and what to change in your riding?


  1. I have a hiking GPS app I use for trail rides and...hiking. Other than that everything else has fallen by the wayside. It seems like my main interest is only where and how long I rode for on any given day. I guess any basic fitness/GPS app would satisfy that question - I'm so boring! :)

    1. yea honestly i'm kinda with ya there. aside from the metronome, i'm basically just using my watch and my feel at this point. it's kinda fun to play around with all the latest apps and gadgets and technology, but it's still not clear that many of them actually have a meaningful impact on our actual riding behavior!

  2. I'll definitely keep that metronome in my future arsenal! When I can eventually get myself into eventing (lol) I know these other apps would come in handy. Especially since I'm not very good at telling distance or time for anything conditioning, and it'd be helpful to have these to get a feel for distance and hills and whatnot. I'm glad they've been working for you! I know I'll use the Equilab a lot too once I start training more. I have a tendency to do lots of boring circles thanks to reining, and there are so many other cool things I can do!

    1. i <3 the metronome lol. it might not be a "forever" tool, but it's definitely working for us right now! and re: the Equilab, hopefully you have better results with it than i did! i stopped using it a few months ago and haven't missed it.

  3. Been fudging around with the metronome app it's been interesting!

    1. awesome!! i'll be curious to hear if your experiences are similar to mine!

  4. Equilab is the only one I use for horsey-stuff. IT's interesting to me that you seem to have more metrics than I do - what kind of phone do you have?

    1. i have an iphone. i actually hadn't opened the app in a few months and it looks like some stuff has changed since i was using it regularly.... but even so, like i said above, there's a lot of "metrics" in the sense that there are charts and graphs and things, but it's really not clear how accurate any of it is, or what it even means in relation to how or what should change / stay the same. the only part i really found actively helpful was the "time spent in gait" function during an actual ride...

  5. I used Equilab for a little bit and then I stopped. I don't really have motivation to use it again, but I guess it was interesting for a little bit? Lol

    1. lol yep, that's basically exactly how i feel about it too haha

  6. The metronome is cool. I might try that. I like the coursewalk app for walking courses and it does elevation profile as well. The XC watch app my husband made is probably my favorite, but it requires getting my husband to update it and software developer's wives are apparently synonymous with shoemaker's children. I also like using a simple whiteboard app for "practicing" dressage tests. You can upload a picture of the dressage court and then trace your test with your finger. It really helps me remember tests.

    1. i've heard great things about the coursewalk app but am extremely resistant to paying for stuff like that when i get can the same info for free through other channels lol....

      also omg i kinda wanna try your husband's app lol. every now and then i have this idea that i would love to design some sort of app too. but let's be real, it's probably end up like the Equilab stuff --- all bells and whistles that don't actually do anything or make a difference lol...

  7. I use a workout timer for conditioning work too! I like I can set length and number of intervals and then it will tell me when to change. Otherwise I wouldn't say anything I have is particularly useful.

    1. yea honestly it's so hard to find stuff that actually makes a difference, other than like.... having an actual coach on hand telling us what to do LOL. i should get an exercise interval type app one of these days, mostly i just use a preset stopwatch and repeat as we go...

  8. I have zero technology when I ride. When I was in endurance I used a GPS watch when I rode to track mileage and pace, but now I use nothing at all. I'm not very tech savvy Heck, I have yet to get a good video from the cambox after multiple tries.

    1. ugh that's so frustrating tho.... nothing bugs me more than when i screw up my helmet cam's framing. it doesn't happen often (that's one benefit of it's cylinder design - it's pretty easy to see if it's pointing too far up or down) but it's really the worst. hopefully you get the hang of yours soon!!

  9. I use the Equilab app (sans the sensor) and it helped me realize how long or little I was riding. It also helped me time rest days and showed me how glaringly little I spent cantering P (his worst gait).

    I'm definitely downloading the metronome app, as rhythm on P is non-existent.Thanks for sharing!

    1. ha yea, that was definitely an eye opener from the app for me too.... tbh tho, i kinda haven't really changed all that much. actually, if anything, looking at those numbers helped me understand the difference between distinguishing between my dressage schools and conditioning rides for charlie. like, not ever single ride has to check off every single base. i view our dressage rides now a bit like testing that everything is working and that charlie's good in his body, and we save the cardio for dedicated conditioning rides.

      also tho yes you should definitely try the metronome app. i'm obvi obsessed haha but am very curious if other people have similar experiences or impressions with it!

  10. The muscling-up is permitted- just no "Charlie SMASH allowed!" ;)

    1. lololol but who doesn't love a good ol' fashioned Charles SMASH!?!

  11. Wondered what metronome app you had, now I will wonder no longer!

    I've used Endomondo for 6 years. You can select from a huge suite of activities and it was one of the first apps I found that had "riding" (horses) as an option. (Curiously, "Polo" is also an option lol) It tracks distance, duration, avg pace, max page, avg speed, max speed, calories burned, hydration recommended (for human), min altitude, max altitude, total ascent, total descent, and provides a suite of graphs of these things. Additionally, if you have a HR monitor and a Garmin device (or maybe another company, but I know Garmin because I have a water and HR monitor), it will also import the HR data (and anything else) from the Garmin into the app. It's been very good to me all of these years and that's why I keep using it.

    1. oh nice! i've heard so much about endomondo over the years but have never actually tried it. speed is still something in particular that i'm interested in learning more about while riding. but i'm not exactly sure how helpful an app can be for that unless i'm turning it on and off all the time to just measure specific bursts. instead i've been thinking about measuring distances and then using those landmarks and a watch to get across the difference at different rates of speed... but hey, everything is worth a shot lol

    2. Another long-time Endomondo user here. You can pause the app while using without having to turn it off/on. It also gives you readouts of your speed in splits per mile. So if you covered multiple miles, it will tell you which miles were faster/slower and your speed for each mile. Note: this is all included in the free version of the app.

  12. I need the weather to improve so I can try the metronome.

    1. oh man, i hope it happens!! winter arrived here for like a week, then retreated, but appears to be making another appearance starting this weekend. sigh, guess we can't get lucky forever!

  13. omg that hulk picture gtfo emma.the CVS simulator is FANTASTIC tho and so cool!!! actually it'll be super helpful for a blog post I wanted to when sara scared the shit out of spicy because she only ever wears camo, bless her.

    really cool post, thank you for sharing!

    1. lol i <3 Hulk Charlie. true story: that may or may not have been the "inspo picture" i showed the vet this fall when she came for his normal maintenance. like, "yes please this is what i would like you to do to my horse, kthxbai"

      also yea the CVS simulator is neat. not necessarily useful for my current needs, but maybe if i ever have to help paint jumps again or something?

  14. Oooooh, thank you for this. I've been thinking on and off about a metronome app for my rides for the exact same reason - getting Tristan's trot up to tempo and keeping it there.

    I use an app called Interval Timer for doing conditioning sets. It takes a little bit of setup but I actually really like it for just turning off my brain and listening to the alarms to tell me when to walk, trot, and canter. I even set up a longeing time set because I suck at figuring how long he's been going one way or the other and making it proportional.

  15. I like gadgets.
    I have the Equisense (without the heart rate sensor). I like how it tracks how much time I spend at each gait and I use it to try to increase my canter time. I don't put much into the symmetry rating - any lateral work at a trot seems to significantly affect the rating. I've had rides where my older horse felt really stiff and she's had a better score than rides where she felt pretty good - is it because when she's stiff the work is much more simple and more on straight lines? Dunno.
    I do like it, and would like the heart rate sensor version. But I won't be in any rush to get it.
    I have a Garmin smartwatch that was great to use for interval training. I now use a Samsung smartwatch as my everyday watch. We'll see how well it works for intervals when I start Phantom up this year (once this freezing cold ends).
    The Pixio - still unsure on this one. I have to do some troubleshooting with France, again, once it warms up. But the first video when it worked was great!

  16. Interesting-I'm haven't been in the saddle enough in the past couple of years to bother with apps. The metronome would be the first on my list though if I were to start riding again.

  17. I'm a dinosaur, I hate downloading apps (use the website version whenever possible) and haven't tried any of these! I normally don't have my phone with me because most of my clothes don't have secure pockets and I tend to lose my phone otherwise!


Thanks for leaving a comment! If you have trouble with this form, please email: fraidycat.eventing at gmail.