I'm nearly a year into my PhD ... | An Eventful Life

I'm nearly a year into my PhD ...

 

 

Well, I’m nearly a year into my PhD co-sponsored by An Eventful Life and Nottingham Trent University, and what a year it’s been.

I’ve watched countless cross-country rounds, I’ve walked countless courses, I’ve got my car stuck a few times and I’ve caught a few runaway horses. I’ve cheered on some of my heroes and I’ve met any number of new people, both in the eventing world and the research world, all of whom have inspired me or taught me something along the way.

There have also been some low moments; watching horses and riders hitting the ground is never nice, particularly when you hear of those very sad fatalities we’ve had within the sport.

I’ve questioned whether I really wanted to watch horses and riders falling off for the next three years, I’ve felt that I had bitten off more than I could chew, or that I hadn’t got a hope of getting this damned thing finished. The more I do though, the more I realise that this is normal, that lots of people feel this way, and that the trick is to manage your time and communicate with people, in order to meet deadlines and get the job done.

 

 

The project itself has morphed and changed, as we’ve encountered logistical problems, or areas which needed more investigation than perhaps we had appreciated before. I feel sure that the pressure is going to ramp up in the next year, as I head towards the transfer between MPhil and PhD, and the data collection and statistical analyses start in earnest.

I’ve had the opportunity to get involved in some other pieces of research this year and to present this research to other parties. Talking about horses to a group of very non-horsey people was a real eye-opener but it was nice to be able to explain how this research could apply to other sports and techniques around the world.

For example, gaze tracking research has helped to identify differences in judging style in boxing (Ripoll et al., 1995), show differences between junior and experienced surgeons (Tien et al., 2015), and identify changes in visual attention between novice and experienced drivers (Underwood et al., 2014). So, whilst we are investigating where we look when watching eventing video, the techniques can be applied across an enormous range of topics.

 

 

I have high hopes for the next stage of this project; keep an eye out for an online “what happens next” questionnaire, which should be a bit of fun at the same time as collecting some valuable data.

If we can predict whether someone clears a fence or not, we can assume that there is some observable, tangible indication as to whether a jumping effort will be successful. This may be rider behaviour, horse behaviour, or some other factor such as speed, rhythm, ground conditions etc. This is common sense, perhaps, to experienced riders who are familiar with the influence of striding, rhythm and behaviour on a jumping effort, but the fact remains that there is very little scientific research investigating this concept.

If we can highlight the predictors for a faulty jump, we can teach riders and coaches to identify those predictors and then work to eliminate them through training.

There is the potential for this data to be useful to officials, as well as riders, as an indicator of a horse or rider who is at risk in a competition environment. In a similar concept to that of the EquiRatings Quality Index, we could use behavioural indicators alongside statistical likelihoods, to identify which horse and rider combinations might benefit from stepping back down a level.

Our priority must be safety, and whilst ambition and progression are some of the fundamentals of sport, eventing won’t be around for much longer if we cannot make it safer.