Tracking Your Pony When He Goes Walkabout…

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I think we need a bigger flag (Photo from Guide Horse Foundation)

Any horse lover (even the general public!) would have heard about the recent escapades of a little grey Connemara pony called Onyx. The 14-hand rising 4 gelding fell, while freshly coming home from a ride amidst the Gnangara pine forest at around 7pm on the 24th of January. The fall unseated his rider, Clairice, and off he went. Unable to follow after a while, his heartbroken owner lost sight of him in the darkness. This was the beginning of a 110 hour search, with hundreds of searchers on foot, horseback, quads, bikes, 4wds and even a helicopter!

The search had the general public, horsey community, 4wd clubs, aviation enthusiasts, dirtbikers, Facebookers, Police, firies, Channel 9 News, Community News – all these people, as well as volunteers to search from far and wide, even hours away – all these people worked together to spread the word, and to painstakingly search the thousands of acres of dense forest, boggy sand, and hot land to find the lost pony. A GoFundMe account was set up to help Clairice afford the $2000 helicopter search, and the target was reached in less than 2 days, with people making cash donations straight to her on top of that. While the odds were against him, with the extreme heat, lack of water, and being completely tacked up with a bit in his mouth, on the morning of the 29th there was an amazing discovery.

A man from Bullsbrook had noticed a pony, tacked up, walking through one of his paddocks. A photo was sent to Clairice. It was him!

onyx-found
Clairice’s partner, Danny, posted this to the group “Help Find Onyx” (renamed “Onyx the ‘Wander’ Pony” post-reunion) on the morning of the 29th, to the amazement and cheers of the 1200 members

Miraculously, the pony had survived without hardly a scratch. A couple of cuts, a hematoma from the girth, a missing stirrup & leather, and a broken rein. If anything, according to the owner the pony had even got bigger from his escapades! He got a clear pass from the vets, and was back at home eating grass with a chuffed attitude, very proud of himself.

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Photo taken by Danny during the happy reunion – such a powerful photo that no doubt sent many to tears.

The owner & other members of the horsey community in Perth have been scared by the incident, and have started searching for GPS trackers. Which of course, includes me. So I began researching, and found lots of options, however not many well-suited to the environment of trail riding that you would lose your horse to. To the many searching in the pines, it was clear that reception for most carriers was a bit touch and go, and there was lots of area only accessibly by foot or horseback, which would have taken weeks to search.  So what are we looking for when we look for a GPS tracker, which could help us find a happy reunion like Clairice & Onyx?

A Good GPS Tracker

  • Waterproof – not water resistant! You need to have peace of mind that even if your beloved pony gets in a bog, stands in the rain (you know they do!) or rolls in mud, that your GPS tracker will continue to work.
  • Cellular/Satellite GPS – This means that the signal from the tracker will be strong, and not restrained by how close you are, which is the issue with Bluetooth trackers. Bluetooth trackers rely on being close to the object you lost, usually 30 – 60m close. However, if you can’t afford cellular/satellite, at least you’d have something with Bluetooth.
  • Battery life – The idea with the trackers is that you find them without a 110 hour search, however if something goes wrong, you would hope that you would have a battery life that will last that little bit longer to get you more time before the signal runs out.
  • Strong – It’s a horse. They break things. They’re also usually 400 – 600kgs, so that’s a lot of squashing power onto a small unit…
  • Tried & tested – Make sure you find reviews, and make sure you find some bad ones as well. No product is only going to have good reviews. Find the ‘baddest’ ones, read them, and understand whether its a one off, that single user’s fault, or something else. Also notice how the company responds to the faults, if they even do.
  • Attatchability – Yeah sorry, it was the best word I could think of, but how does it attach? Horses have an uncanny ability to sometimes get their tack and such off, and are great at ripping things (think of all those rugs people!). If you’re going to spend $100+ on a tracker, you don’t want it tracking a bit of dirt after your horse goes for a nice rub against a pine tree…

A quick Google search had me positive until I found that the products that got me excited were actually only useful in the UK! Or a few handy ideas were Bluetooth only, which made me not so happy, as if I was that close I would hope I would see the horse (although in the dense bush it would be possible not to see them!). The UK ones often had Bluetooth and a bit of cellular, but then would only work on UK phone networks.

Until I found this little bugger – the Pod Tracker. This little nifty device is about to release its third version mid-2017, which makes me think that it’s tried & tested enough to be revised & improved, and have a lot of backers.

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The Pod 3, available to back via Kickstarter.

To be honest I was confused for a while as to what this thingamabob was, but let me break it down for you. The Pod 3 has a bottom main cylinder. This is what holds the basic tracker function. The extra little tops are popped onto the main part, and allow you to customize your tracker with extra features depending on what is the most useful for your tracker’s function. The extra options (which can only be used one at a time and are purchased separately) include a high-powered light, an ultrasonic noise heard only by animals, a 90db noise emitter, an XL battery, or a power-dock (as long as this is connected to a USB or battery power source, your tracker will not run out of battery).

The device costs roughly $100 with no extra modules, or there are packages starting from $114 for a Pod and modules. These prices are cheaper than the RRP price due to it being a Kickstarter project. Once it is released and freely available, the cost will go up. This is to give an incentive to support the company during the expensive production stage.

As well as this though, is a monthly service fee, due to the device using the Vodafone network in Australia. It will be $8.95 US per month service fee.

This factor does pose a couple of issues that need to be considered. Firstly, Vodafone is not known for the best rural coverage. In the pines during the search, I was with Vodafone and I had on/off reception. To combat this though, it is a live tracking device and your horse would (hopefully) be moving and would then (hopefully) be going in and out of reception so you’d at least have a rough idea of where he is.

The second issue is that the device only uses 2G and 3G at the moment, and eventually these will be switched off leaving 4G the only working network. This isn’t going to be for a few more years, possibly 4 – 5 apparently. However once this happens, your device will be unable to provide the location. However, Pod has addressed this honestly, and has said that the future model will be 4G compatible, and that existing owners of a previous Pod will be able to upgrade to the new model at a reduced price. The reason this model is was that it would be more expensive to users due to the increase price of production, it would be a much bigger and bulkier unit, and that they weren’t confident with the 4G tech yet and more testing would have been required.

Therefore the Pod is a very interesting option, and it could possibly be the best so far.

Alternatively, there are other options.

telemetry

Telemetry Solutions creates GPS collars for the tracking of feral animals. These are unfortunately a little unsightly, kind of like some archaic wind-sucking collars, but they do boast ridiculous battery life (talking months or years) and all the latest tech and options. However, they are thousands of dollars. Perhaps if you had the biggest spelling paddock in the universe and was conducting a science experiment funded by some billionaires, then yeah. But for a trail ride with the general pleasure or competition rider, I’m thinking of giving this one a miss.

But this next one could be a top contender!

ridersmate

Ridersmate is a UK designed & based safety tracker. It’s more-so designed to send emergency alerts if you fall off, but it handily also can be used to track your horse if you fall off during a ride.

The tracker can work in Australia because it doesn’t come with a Sim card, you have to purchase it yourself. Ridersmate recommends to grab a prepaid card from a good provider (just make sure you send a message once a month with it, as otherwise your provider might cancel it apparently due to it being unused).

Basically the Ridersmate attaches to you, and to the saddle. When you fall off, the connection breaks. A notification message is sent to your emergency contacts, with your GPS location, around 60 seconds after it happens. If it was an accident, you can just reattach it and it will cancel the message, or if it has already sent then it sends another notifying that you are okay.

One of the disappointments of this is the little battery life of around 18 hours. If you have difficulty locating your horse, you will only have a little time to try and sort it out.

The Ridersmate is £179, which is roughly $300Aud, so it is definitely a pricey option, but it is nice to have the peace of mind for your own safety and location as well.

petrek

Petrek is another option that will be available around March 2017, after its testing phase. There is no information on pricing currently, but it should last a few days battery wise. It is made for dogs and cats so it is made to attach easily to a collar, so should easily attach to tack. It works completely on 3G networks, and comes with a pre-installed Sim card. Please note that some people may be selling their previous versions of this – these are 2G compatible only and will not work!

pettracka

TrakaPet is by the RSPCA, and works of GPS. It has a few days battery life, and is also made to attach to collars. There is a $100 per year subscription service to their online tracking site, and the unit itself is $149. It’s waterproof, has a light emitter and live tracking.

Alternatively, if you have an old iPhone sitting around doing nada, you can get crafty. You could get an old iPhone with a prepaid sim and turn on Find my Friend or Find my iPhone. You’d have to somehow stuff your iPhone probably in a saddle pocket though, or fashion up a handy holder that won’t be ripped off or in a spot the iPhone could break due to force. But it could be an option if you have it sitting around and not enough funds for an alternative product.

So there we have it, a few options for tracking your horse if he “does an Onyx”!

I’m also hoping that we all in the future look like giant traffic cones when we’re out and about on the trail, especially with grey or dark horses!

darkhorsecompare
It definitely makes a difference!
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