With the British Eventing (BE) rule change now allowing riders at all levels to wear stopwatches across country, Sue Polley take a look at the potential benefits and pitfalls to be aware of…

In December 2015 BE announced that it would be running a four-month trial from the beginning of the 2016 season (5 March) to the end of June allowing riders at all levels, including BE80, BE90 and BE100 to wear stop watches across country. They were previously only allowed at BE novice level and above.

This change has been on the cards for a while but BE said the trial has been introduced in response to feedback from stewards and officials that showed that riders of all ages at the lower levels were struggling to find the correct pace and adjust their rhythm and speed to different heights and lengths of course.

This is clearly an opportunity to increase safety and rider education — but is wearing a stop watch the best way to do this? Or will it increase the temptation for riders to race against the clock?

‘No advantages to wearing a stopwatch’

“In my view there are no advantages to wearing a stopwatch at the lower levels,” says BE Accredited coach and chairman of the BE risk management committee, Jonathan Chapman.

“The courses are short and unless the rider has gone to the trouble of identifying minute markers then a stop watch is pointless. Riding is about feel and it is better to get a few time penalties and gradually increase your speed — this will often happen naturally as the partnership becomes more confident rather than forcing it from the outset.”

‘Balance within the pace is more important’

Jeanette Brakewell is another coach and rider who stresses the importance of feel and balance within whatever pace a horse is travelling at, rather than pace for pace’s sake: “The correct pace is important but crucially the balance within the pace is more important,” she says.

“A stopwatch can be a good guide as to whether the rider is at the correct pace for the level they are at and to then identify safe ways to make up time at their next competition. Conversely it could encourage riders to slow down if they have been too fast. Wearing one at BE100 level would give riders a good gauge of where they are at if they are looking to step up to novice level.”

Jeanette never wears a stop watch at all until a three-day event as she prefers to ride to how the horse feels.

The ‘yes’ camp

Eventer and BE accredited coach Mark Corbett feels it is appropriate to wear a stop watch at any level with the proviso that the rider’s base level of jumping competence is good enough.

“I think stop watches help riders understand the rhythm they need to be in, regardless of the level they are at,” says Mark.

“However, possible problems are that those using them may focus too much on time and not enough on their jumping. This can be addressed by practice and education though. Grassroots riders should definitely think about using them in training and on the gallops if they are contemplating using one at competitions. Even then, they should only do so when they know their jumping competence and training are good enough.”

Young Rider trainer Emma Fisher also acknowledges that stopwatches can actually be a good training aid: “They can use useful to use on the gallops and to practice riding at a certain pace between two fixed points,” she says.

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They can prove very handy to record the time if you get stopped on course and as a way of monitoring pace. However, the key to ultimately achieving the cross-country time, regardless of the level you are riding at, is to ride tight lines, move away from your fences quickly, get your horse in a strong rhythm and interfere as little as possible — not by racing against a ticking watch.

Oh and if you do decide to wear one, think very carefully about leaving the beeper on. A beeping stop watch is distracting to both horse and rider and, as with most things in life, they have the habit of happening at the most inopportune moments…