Why Horses and Drones don't mix, yet...

The Field article on drones

Text of article published in The Irish Field 14th January 2017

Having flown small drones I was interested to see what the potential was for using drones with horses. Would the different views, especially the view from above, be of interest and could you get close enough to the horse? 

horse with shadow from droneTo answer these questions, Ian Kiely from Drone Consultants Ireland visited Maryville Stables in Carrigaline to spend the day with me and three horses to see how they would react to a drone, and whether we could familiarise the horses to the drone enough to get some interesting footage.

As horse people know, but drone pilots do not, The horse evolved to stay alive and out of reach of predators by reacting very quickly to anything strange and running fast out of the way. Horses don't do "fight or flight" given a choice, they do "gone already", so a noisy object that darts about, around and above them where they can't always see, is about as scary as it gets for a horse.

Ian and I had some success and we now have a recommended approach for habituating horses to drones, but as the rider sat on some nervous horses, the lessons were clear:

Pixie and drone

There is a real risk with the current technology, even the models that cost €1000+ could crash into a horse or appear, from the horses perspective, to be attacking them and cause them to panic. This could happen if an engine fails, causing flight to become unstable or there is a glitch in the drones software.

The other lessons were how long it takes and how expensive it currently is. Of the three horses, one was happy to have a drone flying slowly above after an hour, one was still wary of the drone after an hour and we could not get directly above her and the third got a fright when the drone moved suddenly and we could not fly the drone anywhere near her. With experienced and insured drone pilots costing €600+ per day not including the video editing costs and the need to spend time getting the horses used to the drone, the cost can only be justified for commercial use at present.

The technology is developing fast and I hope to have a small, quiet drone that can track me as I ride, sending live video to a head up display so I can see myself as I ride from any angle I choose within 3-5 years.

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 17.0px Helvetica; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000} span.s1 {font-kerning: none}

In the meantime, if you have idea for how to use drones in equestrian sport or training and would like to discuss it, you can contact Phoebe Bright on 087 404 4321 or Ian Kiely on 087 9824031