Doing a PhD in a global pandemic | An Eventful Life

Doing a PhD in a global pandemic

   A perplexing year but life (and research) goes on ....


Find out more about how An Eventful Life's video footage helps identify and reduce the risk of injury to horse and rider in eventing through a co-funded PhD


Doing a PhD in a global pandemic has been interesting, though realistically I have been very lucky.

Some researchers have lost their funding, masses of data, or even friends, family, and colleagues due to the COVID-19 virus. The following blog is a bit of an insight into how the research and the UK filming operations for An Eventful Life have coped with the new circumstances that 2020 brought.

Our first events of the year were in March when we had Oasby (1) and Swalcliffe Park – the one where that cheeky pony rolled in the red mud before his dressage test! These events were relatively normal, and that’s when everything started to go a bit wrong. There had already been rumours in the office about what was going on and it started to get a bit scary when there was no loo roll or pasta left in any of the shops.

Fortunately, I had managed to collect some of my gaze tracking data in January and February this year so, although I have less than I had hoped, at least I have some. The data gathering involved people watching eventing video footage on a monitor which records where you are looking. Nowadays the computer, keyboard, mouse, table and chair would all need to be sanitised between each person and social distancing would need to be maintained, so I’m glad I managed to collect some data when I did.

My “What Happens Next?” survey – where people had to guess the outcome of an eventing jumping effort also ran at the start of the year, though this was completed on their own devices, so there was no social distancing or disinfecting complications there.

Then lockdown was announced, and data collection halted for pretty much everyone in the research industry. As we know, businesses were catastrophically affected around the world and An Eventful Life was hit hard by the cancellation of all of the events for the foreseeable future. In the UK we cleared out the office and moved to “working from home” where my research has remained ever since.

Working from home meant that I could still analyse the data from my first two studies, and I’ve had to jiggle around the order of the rest of my research to fit in with coronavirus restrictions.

I’m very lucky that I designed my study in the way I did, using retrospective data from previous years. If I had needed to be collecting data on site at events this year, I would have been well and truly buggered. I really feel for those whose research, work, and livelihoods have been torn apart by this pandemic.


   A new addition to the family who found a day on cross country quite exhausting


Eventing was one of the first sports to be allowed back, due to its oh-so-outdoorsy nature, but there were strict rules to follow. Aske was our first event to film after the lockdown – a venue I’ve attended before and with a team we know well.

There has been no secretary tent since eventing came back, only an “information point”. From what I heard, most riders seem to quite like being able to print their own numbers and not have to rush over to the office on arrival to check-in, most places are ticking you off as you drive through the entrance. We had to squint at some of the handwritten numbers though … smiley

Social distancing around food vans and trade stands has mostly been very well adhered to, and there was a notable presence of hand sanitiser outside the portaloos, as well as the usual provision inside. Radios and fence judge kits were handed out by gloved hands and masked faces. If this has taught us anything, it is how to smile with our eyes, so we don’t look like we’re glaring at everyone from behind our masks.

The most difficult rule for competitors has been the limit on the number of people you are allowed to bring with you and the amount of time you are allowed to spend on site. Spectators are no longer allowed to show up for a nice day out, and the phrase “arrive, compete, and leave” is as ingrained on my soul as “hands, face, space”.

The lack of prize-givings has been a real shame, especially for those achieving their first placing or win, and not many venues have been able to provide rosettes, though I think some may have posted them out after the competition.


   A new experience for 2020 - my first time fence judging


Overall though, people were so pleased to be back out doing what they loved and, bizarrely, I have enjoyed this funny little season enormously because everybody has been so positive. I speak to a lot of photographers on my travels and they were also thrilled to be back out, even when it was pelting it down at Keysoe!

I was very pleased to be able to film at two international events – Burnham Market and Osberton-at-Thoresby and attend some new venues I had not worked at before. Badminton and Burghley were sorely missed by everyone in the sport, but we will all be intrigued to see what they manage to pull off in 2021.

Frustratingly, as the season finished and people started making plans to improve their dressage and show-jumping over the winter, myself included, everything has gone wrong again! The start of the new year is going to be a challenge for everyone, and I doubt I am the only one who is hanging on to the hope that maybe, just maybe, things will be a little bit better by the start of the season.

For now, we’ll have to get fat and drunk together via Zoom, while planning which events to enter in 2021 and watching our videos back from this “memorable” year!



    Hopefully we'll see lots of sunrises on course this year! See you out there ..............