“We talked to a trainer and he was saying there are only a couple of things he can lose his licence over, and his livelihood: one of them is if he doesn’t have these records up to date.” Pierce Dargan is explaining the reason for creating Equine MediRecord.
Chief executive Dargan, together with Simon Hillary, chief technical officer, developed a compliance platform that enables racehorse trainers to keep track of the medical records of each horse in their care. This is a requirement in the Irish thoroughbred horse-racing industry.
The current method of logging these entries consists of pen, paper and of course the ability to spell words such as phenylbutazone, chloramphenicol and metronidazole. Add in the environment of a busy racing yard and it’s easy to see how mistakes could happen or how paperwork could be put on the back burner.
The new tool is available as a mobile app on IOS and as a web app for both mobile and desktop. The trainer, once logged in, can click into the records of whichever horse they are dealing with at the time and add the medication administered. There is also the option to store notes on training, feeding and weight.
“General rule of thumb, which we kept in mind, is if you can’t accomplish what you’re trying to do in three taps or less we’ve done something wrong. You shouldn’t need to go down into 15 different menus to figure out how to do this – it should all be readily there.
“These guys are doing this while shouting instructions to other guys in the yard and while the vet is taking in his ear. Instead of having to write out phenylbutazone you can just type ‘but’ and the list of 500 medications will shrink down to only the ones that have ‘but’ in the name,” says Hillary who has loaded the list of all the legal medications from the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board.
Equine MediRecord was not on Dargan’s radar originally – his original idea was to build an ecommerce website for farm consumables which would compare prices of the likes of feed or fencing materials. Having access to the racing industry, through family connections, he went about asking trainers if they would use such a site.
“They said no, they’d been buying from the same person for 25 years and they weren’t not going to change because price isn’t what they do it on, they do it on quality and reliability. But they came back and they said all this regulation has come in, in the past couple of years, around medication and it’s all done on paper and it takes them loads of time every week. If they get it wrong they can get fined or they can lose their licence so if I could do something to help them with that they’d pay for that.
Entries must then be approved by the trainer before they are stored to each horse's file, cancelling out any chance for double entries
“I asked a couple of more trainers and they said the same thing. I needed someone who had a computer science background. I was on the Luas in Dublin and I bumped into Simon.”
Although both had attended secondary school and third level, at Trinity College, together, Hillary had moved on to a six-month graduate position with the Oireachtas.
“I digitised a lot of paper processes – bringing a lot of old antiquated systems and making them more usable for people in the 21st century,” he says.
The chance meeting soon turned into the perfect match when Dargan explained his new business idea and expressed interest in finding someone to build the platform. It happened that Hillary had only a month left on his contract.
Dargan was studying his masters in business so they spent the summer in Trinity’s business incubator programme LaunchBox and have since won numerous awards, including two at the recent Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Expo 2018.
Another important feature of the system is the trainer will be notified of any vaccinations due to be updated. Every horse in training has to have their equine flu vaccinations up to date, as Hillary explains.
“The vaccinations have to be given in a very particular schedule – obviously if you have 100 horses in the yard that’s a nightmare to remember and if you’ve missed those windows you have to roll back over and begin the cycle again. If you find out that your horse’s vac is two days out of date, and you brought him all the way down to a race, you won’t be allowed race.
“What we built with the system was an automatic reminder system whereby this would say it’s now time to give your horse its second booster shot for equine influenza. ‘You are about to miss this window, you must give this vaccination within the next 14 days – or seven days – otherwise you’ll have to restart the cycle again.’”
The current system is usually a Post-It stuck to the front of the horse’s passport, not quite as effective. Restarting a cycle is not only a costly exercise but timely too, as each horse must be at least two vaccinations into the cycle before it is allowed to attend races and the shortest time between the first and second shot is 21 days.
Not only for use by the trainer, assistants and even the vet have the option to be logged into the system, their entries must then be approved by the trainer before they are stored to each horse’s file, cancelling out any chance for double entries.
Alongside the support from other racing bodies the product has gained support from Michael Grassick, chief executive of the Irish Horseracing Trainers' Association, top flat trainer John Oxx and vet Hugh Dillon from Troytown Veterinary Hospital, but it's the confidence of the more old-fashioned trainers that Equine MediRecord will have to gain. The industry is well known for its traditional stances and despite some incredible advances in technology in this space the industry has been slow enough to accept them.
Hillary, who has caught up to speed quickly considering he admits not knowing one end of a horse from the other when the pair first began the project in 2016, says paper to digital has to be embraced: “Everyone knows this is the way the world is going, paper going digital, and even with everyone going the same direction it took a year and a half to get there. It’s a traditional industry that moves quite slowly in regards to innovation – there is kind of a ‘This is the way it has always been done, we like it this way’ and people are more resistant to change in this industry than it seems that a lot of industries would be.”