Ban on helmet cameras… Should it be overturned?
At the start of the season Eventing Ireland (EI) followed the United States Equestrian Federation’s (USEF) lead and reversed its ban on the use of helmet cameras. EWW asks why are British Eventing not following suit and giving riders the opportunity to use helmet cameras should they choose?
It was widely reported that the initial ban was triggered by a comment from a French journalist, who said that he believed that the injuries sustained by Formula One driver Michael Schumacher in a skiing accident had been worsened by his head camera. The journalist, Jean-Louis Moncet, subsequently said that this was only his ‘opinion’ which led to IE and USEF’s decision to lift their bans. At international competitions run under FEI rules, head cams are allowed, but only when ‘specifically agreed by the FEI’. This means the technical delegate is required to check how the cameras are set up on the helmet.
Uvex PR consultant Maria Wynne questioned the ban, she eloquently stated her views in a letter to Horse and Hound in March 2015. She wrote:
‘The ban on helmet cameras was instigated without due thought and consideration by British Eventing, leading to other associations following suit. I believe that insufficient research was carried out into the different models and types available on the market, and that indeed the attention was focused on one particular high profile brand. This led to ALL models being banned, some of which are designed to be used safely, and their existence and functionality being dismissed. These cameras do exist and have been previously used with great success across the disciplines to provide a true insight into the rigours and excitement of the sport.
I would ask the associations to reconsider and acknowledge their accidental faux pas, and identify the helmet cameras by brand name that are not allowable, rather than hiding behind the ‘need for research’. They can surely admit to a simple mistake in their hurried decision making.
The much hyped camera that allegedly sparked the entire debate is absolutely not suitable for equestrian sports, yet remains popular amongst skiers, which is a sport not totally unlike riding. And the most untrained eye can see the dangers that it presents. Manufacturers and distributors of other types of helmet cameras had previously pointed this out as being a safety risk, hence developing alternative options at great expense to themselves. It is time that the associations backed down, admitted their pride has been dented and that their research was inadequate, and revisit the ruling.’
In a secondary statement to the ban British Eventing stated:
‘The British Eventing Safety and Sport Committees have been discussing the use of helmet cameras for some time as there have been some concerns raised that they may compromise the helmet and increase the risk of injury following a fall. As such, BE engaged the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) to conduct a literary review of research relating to the influence of helmet mounted cameras on the safety performance of helmets. Due to the fact that there is very little research material available TRL recommended that further research be undertaken. BE has also sought legal advice on this matter and in light of the safety concerns and the advice received it has been agreed that it would be prudent to suspend the use of helmet cameras with immediate effect until the results of further research are available’
British Eventing is currently awaiting research from hat manufacturers, and as yet no concrete feedback has been given. They await research data so an informed decision can be made.
So the research costs have been passed to the hat manufacturers, and BE remain firm in their view that they can’t sanction the use of cameras until they are sure of how the various models perform in a fall situation.
Why are Helmet Cameras so important?
‘Head Cam usage is misunderstood, mostly because initial footage was used for viewers to get the “experience” via TV broadcasting. But there are several key factors that have been very useful with the technology they can offer:
Unlike the 2 disciplines of dressage and show jumping, where we can easily use video analysis, it has been difficult to analyse cross country. As part of my role with AUS, my job was to collect data from cross country that allowed us to analyse with riders elements such as horse welfare and rider performance (planning, decision making). Having measured the course, and using markers I have developed a cross country analysis system that allows me to profile a rider and how they perform under the extreme pressures. The camera allows us to do that without GPS which is cumbersome and inaccurate without huge expense.
Similar to high intensity (neurological and physical) sports with high risk like F1, the human brain cannot process the amount of sensory data that it is being presented with cross country. Typically riders cannot remember everything, and/or have perception gaps in their memory caused by the brain trying to focus on the important things, normally linked to risk. The camera allows us to fully review the performance.
From a technical perspective, the camera shows us the key things: point of set up to a fence, horse balance, horse “lock on”, line, stride and quality of “shot” to a fence. This has massive importance for training at the lower levels, where the safety stats tell us that the falls/ rides ratio drops and injuries increase. What’s most important is that cross country is where the danger is, and yet we spend less time training these basics at those levels. And because at “lesser” obstacles a horse is athletic enough to cover up for rider technical deficiency or poor decision making, we sweep it under the carpet. The camera allows us to review this.
Amateur equestrian riders use helmet cameras for training feedback. Black and White Eventing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JECnieHg2xM
Moving on from my previous point, an essential part of skill acquisition is the ability to accurately review performance to progress. Taking into account the neuroscience factors, the camera is a vital tool in making sure riders at all levels review and progress well.
Helmet cameras have been useful in appealing rulings: For example Clayton Fredericks used it to have 5 seconds removed from his time after a photographer ran across his path in Pau. Riders have also used helmet cameras to question 20 faults issues at skinny fences. They provide useful, truthful and easy to analyse back up data when required. World class riders who have used them include Clayton Fredericks, Lucinda Fredericks, Paul Tapner, Chris Burton, Liz Halliday and Flora Harris.
Talking specifically about camera types, I’ve never used front mounted, large cameras for the specific reason that they are solid and heavy. In an impact they are more likely to have an effect, either as part of the impact or altering the fall dynamic of the rider. From my perspective, any equipment being carried by a rider must be small and lightweight, and critically they mustn’t affect the rider’s performance at all, otherwise it alters the results and is a pointless exercise. When we’ve used head cams at FEI events I have always registered their use with the Ground Jury/TD. The ones we’ve used (kindly supplied by HEDCAMz) are mounted on the side of the hat with Velcro and elastic only. During the one fall we experienced while a rider was wearing a head cam the camera came away from the helmet and caused no damage to the helmet or rider.’
An Owner’s Perspective
The EWW Editor Jess Crocker highly advocates helmet camera footage as a way to review her horse’s progress.
‘As an owner it is impossible to view a whole round of cross country. I was a real fan of helmet cam footage as it enabled me to see how my horses performed and how the rider was progressing with them up the levels. I would review the footage with my rider and we would discuss areas of improvement, possible training, any issues and development. For me, it was an exciting way to engage as an owner and gave me a detailed insight into my horse’s performance. A small thing but another way to encourage owners into the sport as it is so engaging and therefore support riders’ said Jess.
So what’s a way forward?
If the possible issue is based around the use of large, bulky, front mounted cameras is there an alternative model that might be more suitable for equine sports and offer a safe alternative for users cross country?
One option lies in the ever-popular HEDCAM Ten80 and the previous 7Twenty. They are unobtrusive, extremely lightweight, thumb sized wearable camcorders that are fully self-contained with a built in battery that gives approx. 1.5 hours of filming time in FULL 1080P HD mode (720P HD for HEDCAM) .
They take MicroSD cards up to 32GB, the card is simply removed and the footage played back on a laptop. It could not be simpler to use. Attaching simply to the side of a helmet this camera offers an easy to use and unobtrusive option to those wanting a camera to record their training.
Available from http://www.HEDCAMz.com
It is clear that a decision will not be made any time soon and helmet cameras will be off limits unless you are competing in FEI events. They are clearly useful pieces of kit and can help to improve safety in terms of post cross country analysis. EWW would love to see a way forward where British Eventing works closely with helmet and helmet camera manufacturers so that the very highest standards of safety and can be achieved. Ultimately this costs, but thorough research allows the sport to move forwards and develop. Much the same could be said about the use of air jackets, which still require full research to ascertain their use during riding falls and how they can improve in design to protect riders even more.
So what can you do with your helmet cam outside of BE competitions?
If you have a helmet camera sitting in the back of your kit cupboard here are a few ideas of how you can put it to use:
As a training aid helmet cams are used by both amateurs and leading international event riders, helping them to improve their performances and dissect rounds, demonstrating and identifying where improvements can be made. Similarly the life of expensive lessons can be extended by recording and storing the footage to be revisited at a later date. This extends the practical value of your lessons beyond the one hour of tuition, and enables you to create your own HD reference library. You never have to forget vital tips and techniques again.
Similarly if you are encountering difficulties in your training, you can quickly and simply send footage over to your trainer for a quick and inexpensive appraisal and valuable help.
‘Head cam footage is permissible in a civil and criminal court although in a criminal court the way in which it is presented would vary. Further there is no need to wear a tabard alerting the public to the fact that you are filming. The court would ultimately be in a position to decide whether or not it is in the interests of justice for the footage to be relied on. It is however arguably a good idea to alert the public from a prevention perspective. In pursuing a civil case the video footage would be disclosed by your solicitor far in advance of a trial. This means that if you had supportive CCTV footage, liability is unlikely to remain in dispute and your lawyer should be able to settle the matter without the need for a trial. Ultimately this means that head cam footage could result in you winning a case and avoiding a lengthy trial.’
For more detailed information please view Hanna’s articles on The Legalities of Wearing Head Cameras Whilst Horse Riding www.horsesolicitor.co.uk/law-columns/the-legalities-of-wearing-head-cameras-whilst-horse-riding-
Can Head Camera Footage Be Relied Upon in Court? www.horsesolicitor.co.uk/law-columns/can-head-camera-footage-be-relied-upon-in-court
To capture memories while in the saddle…
While we miss the demise of cross country competition footage helmet cameras still offer a safer alternative to recording your riding escapades in exchange for the common place filming with a phone scenario. Whether it’s a beach gallop, hunting or a gate jump while out on a hack, video memories, captured from the rider’s perspective offer a unique glimpse of equine sport.