Not long ago, I pondered the dangers of being alone while riding or working around horses after an accomplished amateur event rider in Kentucky died while riding at home, alone. That incident made me ask if the wonders of modern technology could help avoid these tragedies.
The short answer is yes—GPS tracking and cell-phone technology make it possible to stay “in touch” while riding—but they're not without limitations.
We’ve checked out four emergency rider-identification plans, which vary considerably in what they can and can't do. It’s ultimately up to you to decide what level of protection makes you feel the safest when you're riding alone or competing alone at show or event.
RIDE ALERT. We consider the products and services offered by Ride Alert to be the most cost-effective and useful of the services we surveyed. Perhaps that’s because their products and services are especially designed for riders, not bicyclists or runners. Parent company AlertID has been operating for cyclists and other athletes in Europe and Asia for about a decade, expanding to the United States in 2012.
Ride Alert can cover every member of the family, plus horses (and even pets) anywhere in the world, as long as their details have been logged into the database.
Ride Alert also has a partnership with USRider, the company that provides emergency services for cars and trucks pulling horse trailers, allowing USRider members to become Ride Alert members and receive individual decals to put on their vehicles. (Editor’s Note: USRider is part of The Equine Network, which also owns Horse Journal. However, USRider was not consulted for this article.) The Ride Alert decals also have unique ID numbers to reference personal details.
An app for iPhones and Androids is about to be released, allowing you to sign up and to tap it for emergency help. It uses the phone’s built-in GPS to locate the rider in an emergency and can be set to motion-sense the rider’s movement, sending out an emergency message to pre-set contacts (or to Ride Alert Support if selected) if the rider doesn’t respond to a warning alarm.
Said David Hasbury-Snogles, company president, “The effectiveness of Ride Alert lies in our 24/7 support and the secure database that enables contact to be made with family, friends and others, as well as to provide emergency medical information as necessary.” He saidthe database allows users to store documents like proof of ownership, insurance and Coggins tests.
Neither the adjustable wristband nor the bridle tag contains information about the rider or the horse. A first responder or Good Samaritan has to call the phone number displayed and submit the 10-digit ID number to get information. The support staff will then call people you’ve identified to contact.
The drawback is that back-country trail riders are very likely to ride in areas where a cell phone is useless because there isn’t any coverage.
“In that respect our hands are tied as much as any other provider of an application or service that relies on signal availability, and perhaps the only thing we could recommend on that front is that people use the carrier with the better service (or more widespread service) in their area,” said Hasbury-Snogles. "There are two mitigating factors here that, although not perfect, do help improve the functionality of our service.”
First, in areas with poor coverage, first responders will almost always have radio communications with their base, which has landlines to contact Ride Alert and relay information to the emergency scene.
Second, everyone with a registered account can print out a photo ID card, which they can then carry as back-up to their Ride Alert device. Hasbury-Snogles said that they will soon have additional fields on the card that will give bold, clear notification of significant medical issues.
“We know that we are not the perfect solution for everyone, but we are pretty darned close for the minimal outlay required,” said Hasbury-Snogles. “We are constantly looking for ways to improve our products and service, while still maintaining a level of cost that makes it affordable to everyone.”
ICE DOT. The acronym ICE stands for In Case of Emergency, and, while this company offers bracelets and a call-in center like Ride Alert does, it also offers a crash sensor, mounted on your helmet, which notifies your emergency contacts when it senses you’ve fallen.
“Nobody else can alert your location after a head impact without you doing anything,” said Natalie Cagle, director of marketing.
The sensor, about the size and shape of a small walnut, has an accelerometer and a gyroscope inside to gauge velocity and impact. When it senses a head-injury-causing level of these forces, it counts down from 15 seconds to two minutes before alerting the contacts you’ve designated via text message. (The sensor does not call 911.)
“You can only put the sensor on your helmet. You can’t put it on your horse or anywhere else on body. It’s a super-sophisticated piece of technology designed to sense head injuries,” said Cagle. You can buy multiple mounts from ICEdot so you can move the sensor from helmet to helmet.
As with the Ride Alert system, the drawback to this program is that it relies on cell-phone coverage in the area where you're riding or a landline at the show.
YIKES ID. This is the simplest and least expensive plan. YikesID.com gives you a choice of wristbands or a band that fits around your helmet’s harness. With YikesID you pay for just the ID bracelet—they have no emergency call-in center.
We liked their Wrist ID Elite, made of Italian silicone and available in black or white. It closes around your wrist just like a watchband, an innovation they developed to allow you to adjust the tightness as your wrist swells or shrinks with exercise. You can easily put it on or take it off without straining the wristband’s material.
The helmet band is called the Cyclist ID, and it fits unobtrusively on your helmet’s harness. The Cyclist ID would be a good option for a rider who doesn’t want to wear a wristband.
XTREMESPORTS ID. This program offers more flexibility than Yikes ID. You can easily update your information online, especially if you want to include your riding or travel plans. You can update, “Oct. 1, riding for about two hours on Shiloh Mountain. Home by 6 p.m.,” or “Driving to Lake Tahoe for trail ride. Gone Friday through Sunday.” This information can be inputted under the “Where am I?” field in the user’s profile.
But the only information contained on the wristbands is a toll-free call-in number, website address and an eight-digit ID. That means that, once first responders and emergency personnel arrive, if you’re unconscious, the EMTs must call that number (or use a mobile device to go to the website) and input the ID to find out details about you.
This product was originally designed for bicyclists, but even the roads they travel aren’t fully covered by cell-phone towers. The phone number is an automated system; there is no one on the other end to call for help. In fact, the first thing the recorded voice tells you to do is to call 911 if you’re calling about a medical emergency. The XtremeID would be more useful if they had a staffed call center.
DOES ID REALLY HELP? The emergency identification companies insist their products could save your life, but our experience and research make us skeptical. The factors that are more likely to make a difference are the type of injury you’ve suffered, the length of time before aid reaches you, and how far you are from a trauma center.
The emergency personnel and legal experts we spoke to agreed that bracelets, armbands and cards containing medical information can be useful to EMTs—if the information is current and accurate. But no EMT is going to rely solely on what’s on that bracelet, armband or card to treat an injured rider.
Some EMTs remove medical IDs because their experience has taught them not to trust them. Their job is to immediately treat the emergency in front of them. We found no law (other than the federal HIPAA law with its privacy provisions) that addresses specifically how first responders can use medical information contained on identification carried by injured persons—for instance, allergies to medicines or having diabetes.
Probably the most useful information contained by these emergency identification methods is whom to call if you’re injured. So wearing something that says, “Please call this person at this phone number if I’m injured” could prevent you from lying alone in a hospital while your family searches for you.
BOTTOM LINE. Emergency identification programs like these can provide you with peace of mind. But in order for EMTs to trust and use them, we all have to keep the information up-to-date.
As much as we applaud ICEdot's ability to inform someone that you've fallen, it won't work if there's no reliable cell-phone service in the area. Ride Alert and XtremesportsID also rely on phones, whether cell or landline, but the call goes to a staff or automated call center.
The YikesID bracelet has the a phone number for your emergency contact person on it, so with one phone call the first responder is in touch with your contact. We like the simplicity of that, but realize our designated emergency person could be unavailable, making that contact useless. Choosing one system is not easy, but it's a choice only you can make.
Editor’s Note: As we go to press, we learned of the Spot Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger. This $149.95 device links to satellites and sends a preprogrammed message at the touch of a button. The subscription is $149.99 per year. www.findmespot.com, 866-651-7768.
Article by John Strassburger, Performance Editor