For riders who don’t have easy access to consistent training, a video camera can serve as a good bridge between lessons. Simply reviewing the film yourself can provide insight into things you felt during your ride and help highlight problems with your position. If the problem isn’t one you can figure out yourself, then perhaps you can send the videos to your instructor to get some tips on what may be going on with your riding. (Expect to pay for this service.)
Recording lessons or clinics in which you ride can also provide additional educational opportunities. However, be aware the many clinicians do not allow video recording and definitely don’t want you to post video of their clinics on YouTube or another Internet site.
And, if you’re allowed to record a clinic, always remember to be courteous to the clinician and other riders—don’t expect your helpers to be allowed to stand in the middle of the arena or hang over the fence. Find a quiet place for them to stand, discreet and out of the way.
More Than Fun. You can video any ride you want with a helmet camera, but the educational benefit is probably limited to those disciplines for which reliving the line or track is important.
The camera we tried the Sony Action Cam (see sidebar), has a high-definition/slow-motion mode, which can provide footage to analyze movement, footfalls and gaits of horses you own or are considering buying.
Veterinarians and farriers often apply this technology to their work, so having the ability to do it on-site can be valuable (again, their evaluations are billable).
Over Jumps. Helmet cams have gained popularity among competitors in recent years, especially in eventing. Several top event riders gallop around cross-country courses with cameras strapped to their helmets, mainly as a public-relations tool that allows their owners, friends and fans to “come along for the ride.”
But as cameras have dropped in price, more riders have taken up the technology, and now YouTube is brimming with helmet-cam footage of rounds at all levels from all over the country.
Helmet cams largely follow your sight line and, if set right, keep the horse’s ears and head in the frame. They document how well you ride your lines and how your horse reads the questions.
On a humorous note, they can also unwittingly expose position flaws, such as when my friend and fellow event rider Karen O’Connor wore one, and the camera glaringly revealed her habit of “ducking” over the fences. She doesn’t duck as much as she used to.
Similarly, I wore a helmet camera provided by the U.S. Eventing Association on the steeplechase phase of the 2011 Galway Downs CCI1*, the last time that event was contested in the classic format. The footage gave viewers a good sense of the speed of steeplechase, but I was also pleased at how still my head remained as we galloped around the course.
(The FEI requires anyone wanting to wear a helmet cam in any of their disciplines during competition to get permission from the ground jury, and be prepared to let them examine your equipment. There may also be constraints on how and where the footage may be used.)
Try A Cell Phone. If you want to film a training session or ride from the ground, cell phones cost half (or less) as much as a helmet cam. The helmet cam, of course, can be held in your hand, too, and many cameras are multifunctional, with still and video options.
Choosing your method of video capture will depend largely on your needs. For gross imagery—such as the horse’s movement, capturing a clean jumping round, or showing a horse crossing a trail obstacle-—any basic device will do.
For finer imagery—such as seeing nuances of rider position or a narrow window of horse performance (such as the knees of a hunter, the head placement of a reiner, or the footfalls of a dressage horse)—you need to go to the higher-end equipment. Similarly, the ability, or need, to zoom can affect your choices.
But the more complex the machine, the more money and the more you need an experienced operator, unless you enjoy things like overly fast zooms in and out that make you feel like you’re riding a roller coaster.
If you’re trying to film something on your own—that is, set up a camera, ride in front of it, and view the footage later—then a good tripod with an actual video camera, even an inexpensive one, is a must.
When setting up the camera, be aware of the light (is there enough, and which direction is it coming from?) and place the camera accordingly. Nothing is worse than discovering your ride is so backlit that you can only see a vague outline of yourself through the lens flares.
The more consistent the light (either full sun or full shade), the better your footage—an indoor arena with big windows on a sunny day can be one of the hardest places to get quality video as you move from bright sun to shadow while riding down the arena’s long side.
And be sure to place your tripod in a relatively protected spot, so that a spooking horse or an incautious passerby can’t knock it over. And, yes, if you set up a tripod in the corner of an arena, be prepared for your horse to treat it like a horse-eating spider for awhile.
A corner of the ring is usually the best location to provide the widest viewing field, but be aware of what sections of the ring the camera sees best, to watch some test footage to be sure that the camera will properly capture the movements you want to see the most.
Depending on your camera, that may require you to ride in only half of the ring or do the movements in a certain area. Taking the time to shoot test footage of yourself and then reviewing it right away will save a lot of frustration later on.
If you have someone manning the camera, be sure to discuss with them prior to the filming what your goals for the session are. For instance, tell them, “I want to see what my upper body is doing in the canter transitions,” or “I want to see if my lead changes are clean” so the operator knows what to capture. However, be prepared to give an oral hint when you’re about to do something (“I’m going to canter in the next corner”) to be sure. And even with a person behind the lens, warnings about light still apply.
Bottom Line. You can have a lot of fun wearing a helmet cam, especially if you want to share your riding experiences with friends or family. But they provide limited educational use, because all you can see is the horse’s ears.
Watching yourself ride on video can be educational, though. It can help confirm the things you’re doing right and highlight the things you need to do better.
Sony Action Cam Offers Clear Images
For this article, I used the Sony Action Cam, which costs $140-$299, depending on the accessories you choose. It’s widely available.
I utilized the headband-with-housing accessory to affix the camera to our helmet. While not complex, it did take a bit of trial and error to get the placement and tightness of the band correct. The housing for the camera affixed to the band had a good bit of lateral play (you could shift the camera’s focal point from right to left, or from directly in front to slightly off to the side), but not horizontally.
After viewing the video from the first rides, I decided that being able to tilt the camera downward, thus keeping the horse’s ears and head in the frame more consistently, would improve the camera’s usefulness. The video quality is exceptional. You feel like you’re moving with the horse and rider as you watch the video.
You can get a waterproof housing available for the camera, but, unfortunately, it’s not compatible with the headband mount. The waterproof housing is meant to be bolted directly to the helmet—an option for snow sports and motorcycle-type helmets, but one that would render your riding helmet useless. Thus, the Sony Action Cam is a fair-weather-only item for riders.
The Sony Action Cam uses a simple USB attachment to download to your computer. Battery life seems good—I charged it once and used it for several hours without using a third of the battery. You can recharge the battery by plugging the camera into a USB port.
While it wasn’t overwhelming, the Sony camera felt heavier than I expected when I first put it on. I’d worn a different helmet cam and camera previously for the USEA, but that was with my Charles Owen Jockey’s Skull Cap, which is heavier than the lightweight Tipperary helmet I wore with the Sony. Nevertheless, once I started riding, I didn’t notice the helmet’s weight in either instance.
Article by Performance Editor John Strassburger.