Equestrian Data Science: Ranking Eventers in 2016

Coming up with a list of the top eventers based on their performance in 2016 is hard.  The sport of three-day eventing is complex and multi-faceted, and the decisions we make about which factors to consider make a significant difference to the final result of any evaluation process. It is a result of this complexity, and the fact that there is bound to be strong disagreement about who ends up being included in a list of this kind, that it is rare to see anything like this published. And yet, I still believe that this exercise has value, particularly for fans like myself who find rankings a useful way of understanding the sport.

Note that the ranking that I have produced is the result of a lot of thinking and expert consultation. It is also a work in progress. I have tried to document some of the theory and methods underlying the list(s), but if you want to bypass this discussion, feel free to skip over these sections and see the lists themselves.

Guiding Principles

All ranking schemes involve subjective judgement. They involve establishing criteria on the basis of values. Since values differ from individual to individual, disagreement is bound to happen and conflicting lists are bound to appear. But there are two guiding principles that I believe should apply to all rankings:

(1) Look to the dataHuman beings are great at making decisions and at coming up with justifications after the fact. We all have biases, and we are all terrible at overcoming them. By limiting ourselves to measurable qualities and available data, we can lessen the impact of irrelevant and inconsistently applied preferences.

(2) Be transparentBeing data-driven in our decision-making processes doesn’t mean being objective. Decisions have to be made about the kinds of data to include, the ways in which that data is transformed, and the analytical tools that are applied. This is not a bad thing. Not only are these decisions necessary, they are also important because it is here that data becomes meaningful. Here, I argue that making the ‘right’ decisions is less important than making your decisions explicit.


Inclusion Criteria

Who should be considered for inclusion in a list of top eventers world-wide? Here is a list of criteria that I believe any eventer needs to satisfy in order to be considered among the top in the sport. This is where values and judgement come in, and there is bound to be some disagreement. So it goes.

CCI only
There are several significant differences between CCI and CIC events. The demands that each of these event types place on horse and rider are so different that, for all intents and purposes, they should be considered different sports entirely. Compared to CIC events, CCIs are characterized by longer cross country courses, have stricter vetting requirements, and include show jumping as the final of the three phases.  CIC competitions are developmental.  The most elite riders in the world must be able to compete, complete, and excel in CCI events.  For this reason, I have chosen only to include CCI riders in the list.

3* and 4* only
This list is meant to include the best of the best. What this means is only including riders who have successfully competed at either 3 star or 4 star levels. Why not just include riders who have competed at the 4 star level and exclude 3 star results? The fact that there are only six 4 star events means that we don’t have a whole lot of data from year to year. The decision to include 3 star data also makes sense in light of recent decisions to downgrade Olympic and World Equestrian Games events to the 3 star level.

At least two competitions
There is a difference between CCI 3*/4* pairs and pairs that have merely competed at that level. In order to be considered in the list, a horse and rider combination must have completed a minimum of two CCI events at either the 3 star or four star level.

100% event completion rate
As recent Olympic history has underscored, the most important quality of an elite rider is the ability to consistently complete events at the highest level. Consistency is key. So I have only included riders in the list that successfully completed every CCI event they entered in 2016.

Statistical Methods

Once we have established a pool of eligible pairs, what is the best way to rank them? Do we simply take an average of their final scores? How do we account for the fact that some pairs excel in dressage while others shine on cross country or in show jumping? How to we account for the fact that judging differs from event to event, and for differences in terrain, weather, and course design? From a statistical perspective, we know that some events are ‘easier’ than others. How do we fairly compare the relative performance of horses and riders competing under different sets of conditions, even at the same level?

One way of overcoming differences is through a statistical process called standardization. A z-score is the difference between the number of points that a pair earned and the average number of points earned by all competitors at the same event in standard deviation units. A score of 0 means that a pair is average.  A negative z-score means the pair is above average, and a positive score means that it is below.  By converting points into z-scores, we are able to account for various differences from event to event. By comparing average final z-scores, we can more easily and reliably compare horse and rider combinations on an even playing field.

Once we have standardized final scores, we can sort pairs according to their average z-score and take the top 10.  VOILA!  We have a list of top riders.  Here are the results, along with a little bit of more useful information about their performance at 3* and 4* levels.

The Results (worldwide)

  1. Michael Jung & Fischerrocana FST (GER)
  2. Maxime Livio & Qalao des Mers (FRA)
  3. Hazel Shannon & Clifford (Aus)
  4. Oliver Townend & ODT Ghareeb (GBR)
  5. Jonelle Price & Classic Moet (NZL)
  6. Andrew Nicholson & Teseo (NZL)
  7. Hannah Sue Burnett & Under Suspection (USA)
  8. Nicola Wilson & Annie Clover (GBR)
  9. Andreas Dibowski & FRH Butts Avedon (GER)
  10. Oliver Townend & Lanfranco (GBR)

The Results (USA)

If we apply the same criteria above, but only consider American CCI 3*/4* riders in 2016, we get the following list:

  1. Hannah Sue Burnett & Under Suspection
  2. Hannah Sue Burnett & Harbour Pilot
  3. Boyd Martin & Welcome Shadow
  4. Buck Davidson & Copper Beach
  5. Elisa Wallace & Simply Priceless
  6. Lauren Kieffer & Landmark’s Monte Carlo
  7. Lillian Heard & LCC Barnaby
  8. Kurt Martin & Delux Z
  9. Phillip Dutton & Fernhill Fugitive
  10. Sharon White & Cooley on Show

Some may find it odd that Phillip Dutton & Mighty Nice didn’t make either top 10 list, in spite of being a bronze medalist at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil.  The reason for this is that the FEI dataset that I have used intentionally excludes Olympic results because they are kind of strange…a horse of a different color, so to speak.  Not including the Olympics, this pair only competed at one CCI event in 2016: the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, where they finished in 4th with a final score of  57.8, which converts to a z-score of -1.11.  Based on this score, the pair would rank first in terms of national rankings, and fifth in the world.  But this is only one CCI event, and so I could not include them in the lists based on the criteria I established above.

Originally posted to horseHubby.com

Death is a Fact of Life

“Phamous is dead”

Those were the first words I heard my wife say as she entered the house after morning chores. She had obviously been crying.

It had been a tragic accident, most details of which are still a mystery. Strong and magnificent though they may be, horses are also surprisingly delicate. Like gigantic toddlers, horses also have an uncanny ability to get themselves into trouble and in the most unusual ways.

This was not the first time I have been exposed to equine death. A year or so ago, I witnessed an accident during an event on cross country.  I was called to assist in restraining the horse as veterinarians were faced with no other humane alternative than to give it the ‘pink juice.’ It was hard. I cried. Continue reading

Four-Star Horse Husband Shares His Philosophy on Life, Love and HorseHubby.com

Story by Susan Friedland-Smith for Sidelines Magazine

Dr. Timothy Harfield, eventer Elisa Wallace’s horse husband of three years, documents a behind-the-scenes look at the life of United States Olympic Eventing Team reserve rider and Mustang advocate from Jasper, Georgia, via weekly Wallace Eventing vlogs. In addition, Timothy has fully-embraced his horse hubby role by cleaning stalls, feeding horses and holding “stuff” when asked. He co-hosts a monthly Horse Husbands Horse Radio Network podcast and founded the hilarious blog HorseHubby.com. Sidelines caught up with Timothy and learned more about his thoughts on love, horses and amoeba eventing.

Read complete interview here: https://sidelinesnews.com/general/timothy-harfield-the-four-star-horse-husband-shares-his-philosophy-on-life-love-and-horsehubby-com.html

Why You Should NOT Vlog like Casey Neistat

I discovered Casey Neistat in November 2015, following an interview with Tim Ferris, and immediately suggested to Elisa Wallace that she start a vlog.

Elisa Wallace is an elite equestrian athlete, competing internationally at the 4 star level (there is no 5 star level). She is an American mustang trainer, and vocal advocate of mustang adoption through the Heritage Mustang Foundation. She is also my wife.

For years, Elisa and I have worked to create high quality video for YouTube. We have produced a large amount of competition footage, but have also worked to document the journey of each of her mustangs. Our first series was a little rough, but it captured the imagination of a lot of people (for us, anyway), who followed Elisa’s story with ‘Fledge’ through to an incredible freestyle performance what won them first place in the Extreme Mustang Makeover and the distinction of fan favorite.

We were no strangers to story-telling when Tim Ferris ‘introduced me’ to Casey Neistat (neither Tim nor Casey know me from a hole in the ground). Casey’s vlog was instantly inspiring. I showed some videos to my wife, and she was inspired as well. On November 8, we uploaded our first vlog, which was viewed 3,000 times in a single day. Not bad. There was absolutely no way for us to commit to daily film making like Casey, but we figured that a weekly schedule was doable, and so committed ourselves to uploading every Monday. We were very inspired by Casey’s approach to film making, and incorporated many similar elements in our episodes. But there was no way for us to vlog like Casey.

First, we simply don’t have the equipment. Equipment is expensive, and so my philosophy has always been to use the least expensive solution, and only to upgrade when my skill and/or need made upgrading necessary. I used iMovie for years before switching to Final Cut. The bulk of our footage is still shot using the front-facing camera on Elisa’s scratched-up iPhone 5. Second, Elisa would rather not talk about herself. She is becoming more comfortable in front of the camera, but she would far rather tell the stories of her horses than dwell on her personal life. As she has earned more fans and followers, she has let them more and more into what happens ‘behind the scenes,’ but the focus of her screen time is still predominantly oriented toward education and the lives of her horses. Third, we don’t live in New York. A boosted board would be impractical at the barn, and the urban scenery and people-rich tapestry that provide the backdrop for Casey’s videos are at least 70 miles away in Atlanta. We have animals, bugs, lakes, and trees.

It’s okay to vlog like Casey Neistat, as long as you don’t vlog LIKE Casey Neistat.

One shouldn’t imitate an other’s aesthetic as if it was a formula for success. Success is earned, not copied. What our differences from Casey forced us to do is to be inspired by, and emulate, the spirit of his film-making instead of his style. What Casey emphasizes over and over again is that it’s not about the technology. It’s all about story. Through our inability to imitate Casey Neistat, we have imitated him indeed.

Since starting Elisa’s vlog, we have learned a lot about her voice and her audience. We have experimented a lot. What began with imitation, has morphed into something very special. What initially took many hours to produce each week now takes far less time and results in something of much higher quality. Knowing who you are and why you do what you do makes the creative process far easier. A mixture of stories, training techniques, and personal vignettes, Elisa’s vlogs are very much her own, and in a way that also provides significant value to her fans. It has been wonderful to see her audience grow as a result of the regularity of our uploads, because it means bringing that much more attention to the potential of American mustangs, and generating support for Elisa and her dream of representing the USA in international competition.

If you are interested in our vlog series, and in following Elisa’s journey, you can watch every episode, beginning with the most recent one, here:

No horse husband is an island

By Liz Crumbly for The Collective Equestrian

An early evening call to Timothy Harfield will likely find him commuting home from his job as Project Director in the Office of Enrollment Management and Student Success at Georgia State University. It may even reveal that he is en route to pick up a certain oblong, cushy feminine product that just happens to work wonders in the process of bandaging an injured horse’s leg.

As he very sincerely extolls the benefits of using maxi pads as the first layer of wound covering , it’s hard not to wonder what brought Harfield, a self-confessed, non-horsey philosopher, to a point where this sort of errand is part of daily life.

The answer is that he is married to Elisa Wallace, a professional three-day eventer whose name is quickly becoming a fixture in equestrian households. Life with Wallace has required that Harfield learn to take show horses and their peculiarities in stride, and he’s using his experience as an opportunity to create a dialogue within the horse world and to reach a historically underserved demographic: the horse husband.

Read the full story herehttp://collectiveequestrian.com/no-horse-husband-is-an-island/