EMPA uses multilayer material to develop cooling blankets
Tailor-made Cooling Blanket
In a project together with Vetsuisse, the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the University of Zurich and the Echler textile company from Canton Appenzell and with support from Swiss Olympic, Empa has developed a novel blanket for the horses of the Swiss team at the Olympic Games in Hong Kong, where the equestrian events will be held.
The blanket is designed to protect the animals from abrupt increases in temperature, as well as the feared chill effect on returning to the stable after competing. Recently the hi-tech blankets were tested on Shetland ponies in the climate chamber at Empa St. Gall with very positive results.
When the horses and competitors go through their paces at the Summer Olympics in Hong Kong in 2008 it will be very hot and very humid – just as it is every summer there. Three special blankets will offer the Swiss teams' tournament horses some respite from the elements. When the animals move from their air-conditioned stables to the tournament venue, they will be protected from the brilliant sunshine by cooling covers.
This will allow them to better withstand the effects of the heat and ensure that they are able to give their utmost during the competition. And after the their event is over, “sweat blankets” will help them to dry off as quickly as possible – one to cover them as they return to the stables and another to wear in their air conditioned quarters. These special garments offer support to these sensitive and valuable champion horses in their own efforts to regulate their temperature and prevent the dangerous «post exercise chill effect», the unpleasant and unhealthy uncontrolled cooling which leads to the animals becoming chilled after exercise.
In developing the novel material, which is specially optimized for this equestrian application, Empa scientists based their research on an idea by Anton Fuerst, the Veterinary Surgeon of the Swiss dressage riders association. They began work on the project, named “Horse Blankets Hong Kong”, a year ago, in collaboration with the Eschler company, (which is based in the town of Buehler in Canton Appenzell)and the Vetsuisse Faculty of Zurich University.
Seeking the best multilayer material for the horse blankets:
The search for the optimal combination of various layers of material led the Empa team, headed by Markus Weder, to make the first perspiration tests on a heated cylinder which simulated a human torso both in shape and size and in its ability to transpire. The principle behind the development is that covers made of many layers are particularly good thermal insulators which also protect the horses from the sun's rays and keep the animals cool before competing.
Two Shetland ponies were recruited to make the first “live” measurements with the prototype blankets. Show jumping horses would simply have been to large for the climate chamber at the Empa St. Gall site, which can simulate temperatures of over 30°C and a relative humidity of 80 per cent. The docile and easily trained ponies were taught what was expected of them during a week-long training session on the treadmill at the Zurich Animal Hospital, following which (with the consent of the Veterinarians Office of St. Gall Canton) the two tiny horses began their activities as guinea pigs.