In a bid to make the sport more spectator-friendly, endurance competitors at the 2010 World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Kentucky (25 September-10 October) will be tracked by GPS for the first time.

The GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking will enable spectators and support crews to monitor each rider’s position, speed and progress over the 160km course.

“We’ll have a big screen on which icons will be projected for people to follow the riders, and it will be available online,” said WEG endurance manager Emmett Ross.

Endurance GB (EGB) will watch the results closely, as GPS tracking was dropped in the UK after a brief trial in 2003 when the technology was relatively new. With a short battery life, weight and unreliability, it was deemed impractical.

But recent improvements have made it increasingly popular worldwide — and it is now used at some top rides.

“If it is successful at WEG there’s no reason not to re-evaluate GPS in the UK,” said EGB technical development officer John Hudson.

British senior team rider Kirsty Wiscombe — who last month found a rider in a critical condition during a ride at Euston Park (news, 5 August) — says she “hates riding without it”.

“I rely on the GPS for training and competing and, although you can work out your speed using a watch, GPS provides reassurance,” she said.

While useful for race monitoring, GPS is less effective as a safety precaution. It can pinpoint a rider’s location, but cannot differentiate between someone who has fallen off, or simply stopped for a drink. There are also issues with it working in forestry.

This news story was published in Horse & Hound (19 August, 2010)