We talked to Pierce Dargan, CEO & founder of Equine Medirecord, about the welfare of horseriding and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Pierce Dargan: I think Covid has made times difficult for everyone. Personally, it has been hard as my family lives in different countries so I have not been able to see them for family events like birthdays. I have only been able to see my parents once in 9 months which is very tough as my family is very close are we are used to seeing each other a lot before Covid began, I know this has been a similar experience for millions of people and is probably one of the hardest aspects of the world we currently live in is not being able to see those people who you really care about.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Equine Medirecord.
Pierce Dargan: When I first left high school I was very much focused on sports. I won a rugby scholarship to Trinity College Dublin, where I completed a Bachelor’s in Political Science and History while a member of the Trinity Rugby Team, which won an all-Ireland 7s title in 2012 and I made the Irish Universities team that played against England in 2016. I subsequently went and played with the professional Irish and European Champions, Leinster’s, Development team, and then the US professional rugby league, which is now called Major League Rugby, for the Ohio Aviators.
After playing professional rugby for a couple of years I returned to complete my studies. It was while studying for my Masters in Business and Management at Trinity that I had the idea that led to the development of Equine MediRecord. My family has been involved in the equine industry for at least five generations so the topic of ensuring animal welfare and anti-doping compliance was something that I knew a lot about. I had spent time on my family’s farm ensuring compliance to the rules and helping complete the paperwork that took a lot of time and you were always worried that it may be lost or damaged as it used to be all done on paper. When I was going back and forth to college it was hard to keep on top of it as I was not always there to help and I thought there must be an easier way and that is how I started my business.
How does Equine Medirecord innovate?
Pierce Dargan: So previously all the records to ensure the well being of horses were kept in paper documents which caused a lot of issues from ensuring the integrity of the records or making sure that the records could be easily inspected to ensure your horses can compete in the various different types of sport from racing to showjumping. We had to come up with a system that would adhere to the laws of the countries we operate in and then have the system officially approved as a regulator document, which would mean that our customers could keep our system and not have to fill in the paper regulatory documents. This had never been done before in the equine industry for equine welfare regulations and so it took us two years of lobbying the different regulatory industry bodies to allow us to build the first digital system to keep this information. Once we had that it was then looking at what else we can add to the system to help our users ensure they are providing the very best protocols and procedures for the welfare of the horses under their care. We now have customers in Europe and North America that include, Breeders Cup World Championships, Thoroughbred Owners of California, Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, Arabian Racing Organisation, and Irish Veterinary and Welfare Commission.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Pierce Dargan: So our plans drastically changed as we had worked with multiple partners to devise an entry strategy for the US, where we had hoped to deploy our system across the US in multiple state jurisdictions. This was going to plan at the beginning of the year and we had been invited as a speaker at the Association of Racing Commissioners International Conference on Equine Welfare and Integrity that was scheduled for April. Of course, this, unfortunately, was unable to take place as it was canceled due to Covid and we had to completely change our plans and adapt them for the new world we found ourselves in.
However, we didn’t give up. We decided we had to try and get the meetings to get our system approved via platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. The work did pay off in the end with our virtual launches into Kentucky and California after we secured contracts with the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and Thoroughbred Owners of California once we had our systems approved by their state government agencies. Our biggest achievement was securing a partnership and contract with the Breeders Cup World Championships. This is the competition where the top thoroughbred racehorses from around the world compete each year, this continued this year behind closed doors with horses from countries like Canada, the US, Ireland, Germany, and Japan to name but a few. To have the top racehorses in the world be cleared using our system was honestly something we dreamed of when we started the business and it was amazing to be able to go in person with some of our team to help on the ground at the world championships in Kentucky.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Pierce Dargan: Yes, it was very tough at the beginning in March. I think a lot of businesses were extremely worried as we did not know how long the restrictions would last as the equine industry, like many industries, was shut down. We had to make the decision on whether we still wanted to enter the US at such a turbulent time as would we get any traction while there was so much uncertainty or was it better to wait until things got back to normal. We made the decision that we still had to go for it even though it would be a lot harder to do and that there was no guarantee that all the work we put in would amount to any visible rewards. I think anyone who had a business was going through really difficult times as there was so much uncertainty and there still. I think the lesson we learned was you have to just put your head down and work on the things you can control and try your very best not to worry about the things you can’t. It is extremely difficult not to be worrying as new restrictions can wipe out months of effort and work but you have to do your best while you’re working not to think of that and just hope that the work does pay off in the end.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Pierce Dargan: I try my best to do other activities to take my mind off the stresses of the business. Whether it is exercising or working on other projects, I have a number of non-profit social enterprises I work with, I just like relaxing by doing something else. I am not a person who can relax by sitting at home watching TV or reading a book all day as my mind will drift back to work problems that need to be done. I find for me the best stress relievers are by actually going out and doing something else as it takes my mind off the things that are causing me stress and anxiety but that’s just what works for me.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Pierce Dargan: Currently we have no direct competitors. For us, it is trying to convince more people in a predominately conservative and non-digital industry to embrace technology to help all those involved in the equine industry but of course, this is a challenge. Trying to change processes that have been in place for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years is of course a challenge. I think the main way you stay in the game is always being open to change and looking at new technologies that can really complement your current offering to your customers.
Your final thoughts?
Pierce Dargan: The very best of luck to all the entrepreneurs who have just started or started businesses during one of the most challenging times imaginable. Though difficult there are still opportunities out there and do not be disheartened if you are not achieving what you had hoped from this year. These are hard times, all we can do is work hard and hope that things will be better for businesses in 2021.
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