BHS Berkshire and Hampshire volunteer teams joined forces to put on a very interesting event all about drones. Held at Wellington Riding the event took place on Friday 13 March.
The evening began with a talk from drone expert Philip Binks, from global aviation technology firm Altitude Angel. Phil explained how drones work, including why they make the droning noise for which they are named, and what they are legitimately used for. It turns out, drones are used in everything from farming – searching out sheep in remote locations for example – to emergency response, where fire and rescue services can assess situations and make plans rather than having to go straight in to dangerous unknown hazards. Of course Phil also explained some of the less-than-legal activities drones are used for, such as burglars using them to see whether properties are occupied and check out security measures.
Phil explained The Drone Code that drone pilots must adhere to for legal and responsible flying, and what anyone experiencing problems with drones over their land can (report all illegal or unsafe drone activity to the Police by dialling 101) and can’t (shoot at them!) do about it.
The second part of the evening took place in Wellington’s Duke’s Hall indoor arena. The BHS Director of Safety, Alan Hiscox, spent 20 years in the Metropolitan Police mounted unit, training their horses to handle everything from rioting crowds to jumping through fire for the unit’s famous musical ride. He put BHS South Regional Manager Hannah Marsh and her horse, Bailey, through a training session to desensitise Bailey to a small drone being flown in the arena.
Alan explained the methods successfully used to train police horses, essentially taking everything very slowly and using positive reinforcement to reward good responses. He said that taking your time in these situations with horses is vital because “if you start off rushing with only an hour to spare, it’ll take you all day. But if you have all day, you’ll usually accomplish the job in an hour. When you’re working on desensitising the horse, pressure is being applied by the ‘scary’ object or situation, so you need to make sure you aren’t putting on added pressure in the form of time.”
Initially, Hannah walked Bailey around at the far end of the 70m arena as the drone was started up. Phil started the motor but left the drone sitting on an upturned bucket. Bailey flickered his ears towards the sound (surprisingly loud for such a small drone!) but remained settled. Alan had the pair work their way gradually down the arena, until they were on a large 30m circle around the drone. He explained to the audience the importance of both the rider feeling the horse’s reactions and the trainer watching them, and working together to ensure the horse was not pushed too far to the point it panicked.
The team then worked through a series of moves – the drone flying up and down in the centre of the circle, Bailey coming on to a smaller circle around the drone, Bailey standing whilst the drone flew around him, having the drone follow Bailey at a distance around the arena, and ending with him walking underneath the drone as it hovered higher in the air. At each stage, he was rewarded with a plentiful supply of polos from Alan, who walked ahead of him the first time a new challenge was introduced and then gradually moved away to leave Hannah and Bailey to repeat it on their own.
Hannah said “I’m so pleased with Bailey. He’s generally pretty laid back and we know each other inside out after more than ten years together, but this was an ask. After the first ten minutes though, he was so keen on polos that he was just focussed on Alan and didn’t even seem to notice when the drone did something new! The one time he did spook a bit was because the drone did something I wasn’t expecting, which made me jump and he reacted to me. This evening has been a great demo of how to desensitise a horse – huge thanks to Philip and to Alan for supporting BHS Berkshire and Hampshire.”