A simple notion in a complex industry drove Pierce Dargan to become a game-changing pioneer in the industry, looking to bring together technology and equine care.
He is the CEO of Equine MediRec and the Growth Officer for Business Infusions, and he comes from a family with generations of horse racing experience.
From what is regarded as the largest conference in the equine industry, the Global Racing Symposium in Tucson, Arizona, Dargan spoke with us about his company, background, and plans.
"It has been a hectic couple of days, but very productive." "There are some exciting things coming out, especially around equine technology," he said.
"It’s a great gathering of experts from across the industry, every type of spectrum from veterinary all the way to fan engagement, gambling, everything." It's a great event, and it's great to speak and see what is working in certain jurisdictions, what the problems and issues are in certain jurisdictions, and have a discussion around possible solutions.
"There are a lot of IoT solutions being spoken about, so it’s great for us to be able to speak with others about the traction they have been able to get and see how we can work together."
"It’s in its infancy at the moment, but it’s getting there, and it’s something that in one to three years we will start to see more of that kind of device and technology coming into play."
A proud owner and breeder himself, he is passionate about the possibilities that are open to him thanks to this valuable family history.
"I’m at least the fifth generation of horse owners and breeders, and that's what we can trace back, and it could even go further back then that we just don’t have the records," Dargan said.
"My grandfather bought the current family farm we have with my father back in the 1980s, Eyrefield House Stud on The Curragh.
"Growing up, I was moving around with my family as my father moved with his job, but we would always go back for all the family events and Christmases there."
"It’s a place I deeply associate with my grandfather and family."
"I was very interested at a young age, but when I went to high school, rugby took over."
Dargan had a short-lived rugby career that saw him play at the university level and pro rugby in Ireland and North America, taking his focus away from the family industry but not for long.
"Going back to college, I re-engaged as there was a very active horse racing society at Trinity College in Dublin, where I was doing my degree. "It was getting involved with friends and seeing the interest in heading to the track, and that’s when I returned home to the farm."
His return to the farm saw the introduction of further regulations around animal welfare, anti-doping, and related issues that impacted the industry in which he and his family had so much love and experience.
"I wanted to help out, and it just was more complicated than I expected, but the industry was completely paper-based, and you are trying to recall all the requirements under the new rules or standards, for example, when a horse is given medication or has a vaccination scheduled."
Dargan is enthusiastic about what is possible when bringing technology together to improve the equine industry and the health of the horse.
"There is technology out there already. For example, a company called StrideSafe has an IoT device that captures 2000 data points from every stride a horse takes.
"They can look at any variation of those stride lengths or any deviation from the structure of the horse and say, 'Okay, there has been a certain amount of standard deviation from previous runs, so we
now need to flag this horse.
"They can flag a horse that may look perfectly fine but may have the potential to get an injury or worse."
Dargan's company has won numerous awards, including being named Ireland's Best Tech Start-up for the Year at the National Start-ups Ireland Awards, as well as being named one of Ireland's 30 under 30, and the Best Young Entrepreneur in the Irish Midlands.
"It's great to get recognition for hard work." I don't want to lie and be like, "It's not nice to get that." It’s nice to have it.
"Of course, it's more important that our customers are happy and that we deliver on what we say. "But I do think, especially early on when you're a new business and you don't have that much track record to go behind you, that having certain awards to show you have been vetted, that our customers are happy, and all of those positive things, that it definitely adds that credibility."
Having started in 2016 but launched in 2018, Dargan is proud of how far they have come as a company.
"Those two years were beneficial in hindsight as they helped us ensure the best user experience.
"When we started, it was paper-based everywhere except Hong Kong. They are unique because it’s all run by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, so they have their own internal system.
"So apart from them, there was no private company that had been approved by a horse racing regulator to digitise its regulatory documents, so it took us two and a half years to change that."
"Because it was a new concept, and we did win some awards earlier on for it alone, putting forward a simpler way of doing things rather than every single trainer or veterinarian having to learn all the rules and then record that, why not have a system that they can log on to?"
"Depending on where that horse is going to go and compete, it automatically pops up what they need to fill in, and they fill that in." "If they miss something, it obviously goes red and tells you that you’ve missed something, and they then click out, and off they go."
Since its inception, the CEO claims that the company has provided their clients with a perfect strike rate while working towards their mission of making the industry more user-friendly and considering the welfare of the horse.
"Since the middle of 2018, we've had over 1000 inspections across the various jurisdictions with 100% compliance, so it is easier and works."
"A lot of the time, we will go into training operations, and it is the first piece of software that they're using, bar Excel." We needed to make sure it was extremely simple and easy to use for everybody. "I think we have achieved that based on the growth we have shown as a company."
The ease of use and satisfaction of the user experience are and always have been key drivers for Dargan in creating the software.
"I think it was a personal experience. I had used the paper-based system, and I saw the problems with it, so, as I said, I got more involved once I came back and was doing my degree.
"I started to help with the secretary and trainer on the family farm before returning to college."
His college in Dublin was an hour and a half away, and even this distance from the farm inspired his idea and subsequent creation further.
"I would get phone calls asking if I could add something to the book, and I couldn’t because I wasn’t on the farm, so it showed the problems with that paper-based system."
Multiple champion-winning trainer Willie Mullins, who has trained 88 winners at the Cheltenham Festival with many feature wins worldwide, is a prime example and a brand ambassador for their company.
"He (Mullins) trains hundreds of horses across the country, so he can't be on the farm all the time, so he needs something like this where he can look and see that he has something in his hands that shows his horses are ready and safe to race."
The company’s reputation and satisfaction with the software continue to grow as their client list includes powerhouses of the equine industry, including the Breeders' Cup World Championship, the Pegasus World Cup, and the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia.
"It’s a process, and you are continually learning." The fact that we did the Breeders Cups and were able to do the Pegasus World Cup helped us show we had the expertise to deliver on the Saudi Cup.
"You are constantly building on what you have done, and we have plans to go even further to deliver systems that will make it easier for veterinarians and trainers to comply with regulations and regulators to inspect."
Dargan is optimistic for 2023, and joining Business Fusions is a massive boost to his company's achieving those plans.
Business Infusions was founded 16 years ago in Calgary, Canada, after witnessing the largest equine hospital in Canada losing a lot of money, being unable to track medications properly, and being unable to pay staff or meet the requirements expected of them.
"They (Business Infusions) went and built a system doing everything that an equine veterinary hospital would require, from medical records to invoicing to tracking the medications, for example—a very big system.
"Once again, it was a very similar kind of road to what we did; they built that for one hospital, and the news spread because then it got introduced from Canada and into the United States, and people saw it and said, "Geez, can we have this as well because we have the exact same problem?"
"Now it is the market leader in North America but also has a lot of practises in the Middle East and Australia—they really have grown." They are trying to add to the group companies that are the best brands in their field of expertise, which is how we joined up with them.
"We were asked if we would be interested in joining the group because a lot of the information that a trainer needs from a compliance perspective to enter a race is given by a vet. Before that, they had to put it into an invoicing system and then put it into an EMR for compliance.
"It makes sense to link up because now we can push that information over and you are cutting back fifty percent of the work rather than doing everything twice like before.
"That’s kind of a natural synergy between what Equine MediRec and Business Infusions do, and now we can look at what we can do next and have that vision shared between us."
In taking Equine MediRec into the next chapter and continuing to deliver a global, user-friendly experience, the company has recently joined up with the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia with a long-term contract.
A contract that delivers a strong partnership motivated by innovation and quality in the racing industry and equine health.
"Saudi was very interesting because the Saudi Cup, their marquee event, only really started a number of years ago, so you’re talking in 2020." So, it has only been a couple of years, and I believe it’s the fastest race to reach Group One status ever.
"They’ve really come in and shown that they want to be a market leader, and part of that is pioneering technologies and innovation, and that is where we came in."
"They had already put in place a manual process to ensure the welfare of horses before shipping because with the Saudi Cup, they pay for the horses to come to Saudi and race, so there are obviously a lot of checks that must be done even before the horse leaves their country."
"Because of that, they knew that they needed a system to ensure that information was collected and codified before the horse ever left the stable or the barn, and that's when they heard of the work that we had done with the various jurisdictions that we operate in that they wanted to work with us."
"We were able to use the learnings from the other competitions, including the Breeders Cup and Pegasus World Cup, to deliver a system that ensured the soundness and welfare of the horses before they even left on the plane or boat to head to Saudi Arabia."
"I think that shows that they are always looking for ways to improve, and we are very excited to be a part of that and help them in that approach."
With the end of the year closing in, Dargan was careful about divulging too many plans for the future, even when asked by this curious journalist.
"How much am I allowed to say?" "This is a very good question," the Irishman said, laughing heartily.
"I think that we have a lot of plans, but the one I can talk about just because you know it has already happened and I don’t mind because we are going to be announcing it anyway is that we were very focused on the racing side of the industry, and we were very fortunate to get our first equestrian event with the Maryland Five Star.
"So that is the premiere kind of equestrian event in Maryland."
With less than ten Five-Star equestrian events in the world, securing this event is the first step in Dargan’s plans to spread the use of the company’s resources across other sectors of the equine industry.
"The fact that we got our first equestrian event to be the Maryland Five-Star was huge." So, we are now looking at not only racing events, but we are also looking at equestrian events, horse shows, or Western sporting events, because the same thing applies.
"They need a compliance solution for the welfare of the horses before they compete; whether that's a racehorse, an eventing horse, or a show jumping horse, it doesn't matter."
"For next year, that is the big thing for us to be branching out, and I have to thank the Maryland Fivestar for that opportunity and what it will mean for us moving into those premiere events."
"We will always be looking to grow, get more clients, and provide a service that continues to be the market leader."