how technology and analytics give riders the edge

  • Advances in technology and data analytics are helping riders fill a missing piece of the performance jigsaw puzzle.

    Leading data analytics company EquiRatings, which launched in eventing in 2015, expanded into showjumping during the pandemic – and is unlocking potential goldmines of usable information.

    Co-founder Diarm Byrne told H&H the Tokyo Olympics were a “turning point”.

    Their ratings and analysis showed the Swedish showjumping side as “through the roof – way out in front”, and the gold medal served as a milestone for EquiRatings.

    “It was such a risk in 2020,” he said. “When all the live competition stopped, our revenues dried up and then we had to make a call that we had the team – it’s really hard to build a team like this – now we don’t have any live computations to work at, we don’t have any Olympic teams to prep for, what do we do with all this resource? That was the moment we said, ‘OK, now’s the time – don’t let anybody go, we will do jumping.”

    The firm has several strands, working with events to create engagement and stories, including through online games, and also with teams and federations to give another tool to measure performance and set targets.

    Diarm added that taking stats beyond numbers and using analytics to make them “mean something” is at the centre of what they do.

    A recent example of this is on the latest EquiRatings podcast, during which Diarm and co-founder Irish medal-winning event rider Sam Watson assess what their data analysis says about measuring a horse’s performance as a nine-year-old against his chances of future success.

    “We’re starting to work with events where we’re helping them understand who’s coming to the competition, how to make stories from that, what stories are buried in the data,” Diarm said.

    “We have signed some Olympic teams in jumping, so we are helping them track young horses, helping them raise the bar, to set those targets.

    “How do you manage a programme for the supreme talents? A lot of times it’s said, ‘You just have to kind of let them manage themselves’. I think the top riders need new targets set.”

    He gave the example of Roger Bannister and once he had achieved the four-minute mile, others did too.

    “It’s the idea that it’s possible, once people have a target,” he said. “Giving people the numbers, measuring things helps raise the bar; it actually sets the bar so that people can jump higher and higher and get better and better.”

    He added that data analysis is not a substitute for the other crucial parts of performance, such as team dynamics, soundness, conformation, veterinary care and psychology.

    “We don’t try to say any of those things aren’t critical; it’s just so are the numbers,” he said.

    ‘It opens the door’

    A new platform for international dressage and para dressage riders to review their past sporting performances was unveiled this month.

    The FEI Dressage Performance Dashboard, launched in partnership with SAP and Black Horse One, means riders can access all their paperless scoresheets, including judges’ comments, over the last five years. The basic level is free, with further features available on paid subscription.

    “The FEI Dressage Performance Dashboard is yet another example of the ways in which technology can be introduced into equestrian sport to inform training practices and enhance sporting performances,” FEI commercial director Ralph Straus.

    FEI director of information and sports technology Gaspard Dufour added: “Through this platform, athletes can not only read comments from judges and take this feedback into their training sessions, but they can also compare performances across their different horses as well as against other combinations.

    “That all this information will now exist at everyone’s fingertips is a key step forward for equestrian sport, and opens the door to more technological advancement in the long-term.”

    US-based start-up Prixview, founded by Olympic silver medal-winning showjumper Lucy Davis, is working to push into the lucrative fantasy gaming industry through data analytics.

    The firm collects data – to the detail of the type of surface, canter lead, which part of a fence was knocked and whether it was a front or hind leg – which feeds into its insights.

    Its fantasy games work on predictions, with cash prizes, and encourage players to follow and learn more about the horses and riders involved, growing the audience and highlighting trends.

    “We believe that if we use data to create predictive analytics that power not only fantasy games, but also really compelling storylines for media and broadcasting, that we can really grow and engage the audience of showjumping,” Clementine Goutal, director of strategy and partnerships at Prixview told H&H, adding that it creates opportunities for both fan engagement and marketing insights for businesses.

    “We have horse welfare and athlete welfare at the forefront of our concerns. We are taking every step to make sure that this is going to be something that’s really positive for the sport, and isn’t just creating all these lucrative opportunities, but it’s creating them in a in a way that is really good for everyone involved.”

    She added: “The female athlete and the female fan are undervalued. Women are highly underrepresented in tech as well. So as women in tech, it’s very exciting to be working in a space where we’re trying to bring more value to female athletes as well as male athletes, and working in a space where men and women are competing against each other.”

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