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Rillito Park adds new horse safety tech

Evaluates movements to catch subtle injuries
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Posted at 8:00 PM, Jan 24, 2023

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — People in horse racing speak of the horses as athletes and like any athlete, they can be hurt and hurt badly, but now Rillito Park is trying a new technology to reduce the chances of a horse being hurt.

Rillito Park had a tough start for its season last year, with five horses injured so seriously they had to be euthanized.

Assistant General Manager Hailey Shiffer says, “Last year was very hard on all of us. We hate seeing these horses get hurt. We love horse racing because we love the horses. First and foremost this sport is for the love of the horses and we love seeing them out there doing their job. It is very hard for us to see them get hurt and have to unfortunately be euthanized. We want to prevent that. Rillito in 2019 had a zero fatality rate. We want to get back to that and we want to be one of the safest racetracks.”

Horses can have leg injuries that may be hard to detect until their legs fail under the stress of racing.

Rillito Park says it uses veterinary exams and techniques like studying how a horse walks or runs to try to catch a minor problem before it becomes dangerous.

Now it’s adding a new technology called StrideSAFE.

In a way the device is like the horse version of an exercise tracker. It can sense the horse’s movements and report them to a computer program.

Subtle differences in the horse’s gait can expose trouble about to happen.

New York’s Belmont Park tried the system on thoroughbreds there with promising results. Now Rillito, the birthplace of quarter horse racing, will use it with quarter horses.

StrideSAFE uses a red-yellow-green traffic light scale to warn if a horse may be headed for trouble. Rillito says if StrideSAFE shows yellow a vet gives the horse a closer look. If it shows red, the horse is scratched from racing.

Former Arizona Racing Commission Rory Goree has pushed for better safety for horses and riders.

He’d like to add other technologies to examine those fragile legs but says the StrideSAFE analysis is a good start to keep horses safer at Rillito Park.

“I know the vets that they'll have working there at Rillito are really good at evaluating horses so I think that having this technology will help them clue in. Okay, I need to do just a little bit more checking on his horse or maybe watch it stride a little longer before I clear this horse.”

Rillito says a donation helped cover the $50,000 to run the test program. The horses start running Feb. 4—with those sensors under their saddles.

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Craig Smith is a reporter for KGUN 9. With more than 40 years of reporting in cities like Tampa, Houston and Austin, Craig has covered more than 40 Space Shuttle launches and covered historic hurricanes like Katrina, Ivan, Andrew and Hugo. Share your story ideas and important issues with Craig by emailing craig.smith@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.