TOM Hotchkin, engineer and director at Ballarat-based Areion Equestrian, wants to make horse transport as safe as possible for the most important cargo, the horse. Since horse floats and trucks were first designed there has been little done to improve safety for the horse.
There have been some advances in suspension, flooring and the way they load, unload and stand during travel but most advances have been to suit humans not the horse like kitchens, beds and storage. Mr Hotchkin's prototype is set to change that with the first crash-safe horse float. "We want to make the trip more comfortable and less stressful for the horse," he said. "We are designing this float around the horse and not the trailer."
The motivation to develop the float came from his background in road safety and his sister's love of horses. Mr Hotchkin's dad started a road safety company 30 years ago and Tom worked there for five years while studying at university. His sister runs an equestrian centre and has competed in showjumping her entire life. "She said to me it's a shame horse trailers and trucks haven't had any time put into them in terms of safety," Mr Hotchkin said. "They're just box trailers and if you have a crash the horse is injured and might have to be put down."
This discussion spurred Mr Hotchkin to bring his experience into the equestrian world and figure out how to protect horses in the case of an accident. Firstly, the float body is made from plastic. "Plastic is a lot softer and friendly if they hit it," Mr Hotchkin said. "There are no sharp edges and it's obviously softer than steel." A seat belt has been added which will hold the horse in place if an accident occurs. "We have patented a seatbelt that goes around the horse so if the trailer or truck rolls it will hold them where they're supposed to be," Mr Hotchkin said. "They should be able to go on any horse." Horses shouldn't need to be trained to accept the seatbelt as it simply goes over their back once they are loaded.
There are harnesses on the market, but they have not been crash tested, can be time consuming to put on, and different sizes are needed for different horses. The seatbelt developed by Areion Equestrian overcomes these issues. The new float design also differs from traditional floats in that horses load front to back and travel facing backwards. "That in itself is a lot safer as if there is an accident the horse slams into the front with their rump and not their head," Mr Hotchkin said.
A study completed by Barbara Padalino at the University of Sydney in 2017 looked at transportation of horses and the implications for health and welfare. The study found that horses facing backwards in a trailer had fewer side impacts and loss of balance compared to forward-facing horses. Horses traveling facing backwards in a truck had a significantly lower heart rate, moved less frequently, and would rest their rumps on a partition.
We have patented a seatbelt that goes around the horse so if the trailer or truck rolls it will hold them where they're supposed to be.Tom Hotchkin
The suspension used in the Areion Equestrian crash-safe float offers a 30 per cent smoother ride compared to the best suspension on the market today. The float also lowers to the ground for the horse to load, removing ramps and the possibility of the horse slipping off them while loading.
Areion Equestrian has developed the world's first horse crash-test dummy to test the prototype. All of these features will be rigorously tested using the dummy and have already been run through crash-test software used to develop crash barriers and work safe protection.
"We've already done a few simulations with good results," Mr Hotchkin said. The Areion Equestrian crash-safe horse float has been built a lot stronger than traditional floats, meaning it will be heavier. The crash-safe system will not be able to be retrofitted to existing floats due to strength issues, but will be offered to float and truck companies.
"It would be nice to see the technology used in all sorts of horse trailers and trucks," Mr Hotchkin said. While a price has not yet been set it is expected to be in the high-end range for floats. "It's a balancing act between cost, strength and weight," Mr Hotchkin said. The Areion Equestrian crash-safe horse float was set to be launched at Equitana this year, however the cancellation of the event will see the float launched some time next year.
For more information about the float, email firstname.lastname@example.org. A website with more information will be available closer to the launch date.
This article is from Agri Culture magazine 2020 - click HERE to read the full edition online.