The debate surrounding the ethics of horse racing will likely continue for many years to come. But assuming horse racing will indeed persist, it’s crucial to acknowledge the efforts and investments dedicated to the welfare of these majestic animals by some of those involved in the sport. Enter the Kurtsystem, a multi-million-dollar device engineered by Mehmet Kurt of Turkey. The system is not, as its unusual design might suggest, a horse-pulled rollercoaster, but an inventive solution aimed at providing a safer and kinder way of preparing young horses for the arduous race training regimen.
Race training typically places substantial stress on two-year-old horses, whose musculoskeletal systems, especially their leg joints, are still underdeveloped. This high-stress environment often leads to injuries in ligaments and tendons, with recurring issues that persist in about one in five of the affected horses. Therefore, the Kurtsystem was developed to mitigate these risks by gradually enhancing the joint, muscle, and bone strength of young racehorses before they commence their formal training.
The Kurtsystem, contrary to what one might assume, does not involve harnessing horses and making them pull against escalating loads. The innovative contraption, initially conceptualized as a car in 2009, moves independently. The device neither pushes nor pulls on the horses but instead encourages them to move at a controlled pace naturally. Horses are hooked up to equine fitness monitoring (EFM) equipment to keep tabs on crucial data such as heart rate, gait, and breathing while simultaneously providing camera views of each horse to a technician in a separate cabin. In case of any irregularities, the horse in question can be quickly removed from the system, while the rest continue training.
The company advocates for horses to start their pre-training at about 10-12 months of age, allowing them to become accustomed to the machine within a low-stress environment. After three months, a structured walk/train/cool down exercise program commences. Each horse is fitted with a custom-designed saddle that’s progressively weighted while closely monitoring each horse’s behavior and incoming data to ensure an optimal balance of exertion.
The gradual increase in saddle weight allows the horses’ bodies to acclimate to the weight a jockey would eventually add. Moreover, the system minimizes the psychological impact often experienced by young horses when first introduced to unfamiliar elements such as gag bits and reins. The Kurtsystem is built with safety at its core, featuring an emergency stop button. If pressed, or if the electrics fail, the machine coasts to a gradual halt, avoiding a sudden stop.
The Kurtsystem is undoubtedly a significant investment, having cost around US$25 million to develop. Despite its steep price tag, the company argues that its benefits are tangible. It notes that no horse that has trained using the Kurtsystem has lost its footing or fallen, and that horses emerge from the program stronger, more balanced, and athletic. They also reportedly develop more robust bones and tendons and display a better mindset when entering formal training.
The company, however, hasn’t publicly released any stats comparing injury rates of horses trained with and without the Kurtsystem. This aspect, along with the inherent contentiousness of the horse racing industry, might bring some skepticism.
The Kurtsystem seems to strike a balance between the well-being of the horses and the owners’ anticipated financial returns. While it doesn’t solve all the moral concerns related to horse racing, it certainly represents a step towards a more humane approach to the sport. Whether or not the system becomes widespread remains to be seen.