The new tech helping sport run in the wake of the pandemic *H&H Plus*

  • A sports restart after the coronavirus lockdown, innovative minds across the industry are looking at high-tech ways of meeting government guidelines and keeping everyone safe

    NEW technology from enterprising minds within the equestrian world is set to help horse sport return and keep people safe in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Equestrian sport relies on large numbers of volunteers to be able to run. This can often be physically alongside each other, for example dressage judges and writers, and in many cases there are times when multiple people will touch the same items.

    Government guidance and social distancing measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 meant a re-think was required if equestrian sport was going to be able to safely return.

    Governing bodies and organisers have come up with logistical solutions in their extensive plans to safely restart the sport, such as dressage judges’ bringing writers from their own household or “bubble”. Alongside these, innovators within the horse community have come up with simple-to-use technology that is hoped not only to help shows get back up and running, but provide longer-term solutions and improvements to how the sport is run beyond the “new normal”.

    Little Downham is trialling a new fence judging app ahead of its British Eventing (BE) fixture, which feeds into the computerised cross-country control system the event has been using for several years, both designed by Benjamin Unwin.

    “When we started to think about sport resuming, we said ‘how is fence judging going to work with two-metre distancing?’,” Sarah Skillin, who is on the Little Downham organising team, told H&H.

    “It was going to be an issue having collectors picking up score sheets while maintaining a 2m distance and there were also concerns about these bits of paper passing through so many hands.”

    The app has been developed to take into account unpredictable situations that can happen in eventing, such as part of a combination fence being taken out mid-way through a class, plus there will be a comments section and even the option for fence judges to add photos should they feel that would be helpful. It also has a security feature, to protect data and from any outside tampering.

    It will be trialled at the Cambridgeshire venue’s three-phase training day ahead of the BE event (28-29 July).

    Ms Skillin added there will be a paper back-up, just in case, and portable chargers will be available.

    Pyecombe Equestrian Centre in West Sussex has been sharing virtual coursewalks ahead of shows on its social media, along with course maps, while Zoom briefings, online payments and“print-at-home” numbers have become the norm for many events.

    Fran Corkhill, of event organisers Horse Events, created a dressage test sheet app, which was to be trialled across virtual shows recently ahead of its first “live” competition at Elmwood Equestrian this weekend (4-5 July).

    Judges tap in the score for each movement and can choose to add frequently used pre-written comments — dressage judges helped develop the wording to ensure correct terms are used — or write or even voice-record their own comments.

    This feeds into a live scoring system and the sheets are emailed directly to riders.

    “We’ve had very good feedback about how clear it is from competitors,” Mrs Corkhill told H&H, adding they have also had positive feedback from judges about how easy it is to use. “Normally a dressage sheet would pass through about six pairs of hands and now we don’t even need the [physical] sheet. We want to keep using the app [beyond the social distancing restrictions] and don’t want to go back to using paper.”

    The fixture is also trialling a “drive-through” secretary’s office. Competitors will be asked to show their numbers before parking, helping to ensure the only people on site are those who should be.

    Five-star feedback

    INTERNATIONAL riders can now upload weekly videos to the FEI eDressage Online platform to be judged anonymously by a pool of five-star dressage and para dressage judges.

    “This new platform is yet another example of the ways in which technology can be introduced into equestrian sport to transform training techniques,” said FEI commercial director Ralph Straus.

    “While the current pandemic highlights the value of a platform like this to athlete training when travel and competition restrictions exist, it can also be particularly useful to athletes residing in remote regions, who would otherwise be unable to avail of the international expertise provided through this platform.”

    The platform was created by software developers Black Horse One and SAP.

    “The beauty is that it has the potential to grow and develop and become something larger than we initially imagined,” said FEI director of information and sports technology Gaspard Dufour.

    “For developments like these to really impact a sport, it is necessary that our technological partners understand equestrian and the needs of our stakeholders. Long-term collaborations like ours show that having the time to grow and develop together can impact the industry in a meaningful way.”

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