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Nayel Nassar: “Using data, we can make our sport more accessible and transparent”

Thursday, 14 July 2022
Interview

Photo © MacKenzie Clark When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out and Nayel Nassar’s show schedule slowed down, the Egyptian showjumper decided to get going with an idea he had been playing with for a long time – the JUMPR app. Photo © MacKenzie Clark.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out and Nayel Nassar’s show schedule slowed down, the Egyptian showjumper decided to get going with an idea he had been playing with for a long time – the JUMPR app. “I called up a good friend of mine from my university days, Minhee Lee, who at the time was working at Amazon, and asked her to help me build this as my lead engineer and co-founder. We started building right at the beginning of 2020 and launched less than a year ago,” the 31-year-old tells. 

“I felt like showjumping was lagging behind in terms of the way we use analytics, data and statistics to tell us more about our horses and riders,” Nassar continues. “As a sport, we are really behind in terms of using these sorts of tools to improve our understanding. We set out on a mission to provide transparency and facilitate looking up horses and their results, as well as searching for potential horses – for yourself or for a client.”

I felt like showjumping was lagging behind in terms of the way we use analytics, data and statistics to tell us more about our horses and riders

“I play a lot of fantasy sports, so I am pretty familiar with how other platforms allow you to manipulate data to give you the information you want,” Nassar says. “For me, the main points were finding results, looking up horses’ performances and getting a clear understanding of what they are good at.”

“I believe that there is a tech revolution happening in our sport,” Nassar says. “And through use of data, we can make showjumping more accessible and understandable, for fans who aren’t as familiar with it.”

Create your own ranking

“Until now, the process of trying to find what you are looking for has been so tedious: Even when you reach a horse’s result page, it is so hard to analyse when you have to go line by line,” Nassar continues. “To give our users a clear snapshot of what a horse or rider’s performance looks like, we wanted to break everything down. We found innovative ways to display information efficiently and effectively. We made the landing page simple with a 30-day list – which is constantly updating and showing who is hot and who is not. When you click into those rankings, you can go further back in time, you can select your time period and when you start to use our search tool, you can build lists which filter out certain criteria that you might be more interested in. However, this is just a starting point for us.”

To give our users a clear snapshot of what a horse or rider’s performance looks like, we wanted to break everything down

“JUMPR is geared towards people who live and breathe showjumping,” Nassar says. “For me, it has provided an easy way to gain a good understanding of where a horse excels and which level it is the most competitive at, as well as giving me something to start my search with. For example, you can go into the app and say you want a list of 8, 9 or 10-year-olds, by Emerald, bred in Belgium, that jump 1.40m-1.45m with a 40% clear round rate, and finish in the top ten 20 % of the time. You obviously don’t have to be that specific but you can be if you want to, and that is something I felt like we needed to do: Give people the opportunity to find horses which fit their criteria, and build their own rankings using whatever filters they want.”

“A few Chef d’Equipes have also told me how revolutionary JUMPR has been in helping them with their selection process, as we provide a lot of information on rider performance, all broken down by height, star level, and of course which horses they’re riding,” Nassar says. “Eventually, we would love to partner up with some federations and start including national results as well.”

Exploring conversations

“We pull the data from various sources,” Nassar explains about the origin of all the information collected in the app. “Most of the time we go straight to the horse shows’ websites, where all the information is publicly available. We wanted to make sure the app was as live as possible, so that at the end of each day, our users could go on and see what happened that day. We do go to multiple resources just to make sure we are pulling the right information and that there aren’t any mistakes. It is tedious, but Minhee is great; she has found a few ways to expedite the process.”

JUMPR is geared towards people who live and breathe showjumping

“We are very open to conversations about our data usage, who has access and from what sources we are pulling from. Right now, all of the data is publicly available, and we have found a good way to manipulate it to give our users the statistics and analytics they are looking for,” Nassar points out. “We are hoping to work closely with the FEI and other national governing bodies on how we can best utilize this data for the benefit of our sport in the future.”

“Eventually, I would really love if we could start to do some predictive analysis – cool ways to show people horses that are similar to theirs in terms of performance, predictions of a young horse’s future performance based on bloodline history and current Grand Prix horses’ past metrics, and so on,” Nassar tells about his vision for the future of JUMPR. “There is a lot of interesting stuff we can do. But first, our goal is to provide an easy, fun and accessible tool for people in our sport to engage with.”

Highlighting breeders

“I fully believe that without the breeders we don’t have a sport,” Nassar says, referring to how the JUMPR app also includes pedigree data. “We definitely wanted to make sure to highlight the breeders, because they don’t get enough recognition as it is. It took us a couple iterations to really get the information we wanted, but we thought it was important to highlight the breeders and also to give people a way of knowing where these horses are coming from. JUMPR does let you search for horses by breeder and country of birth.”

We definitely wanted to make sure to highlight the breeders, because they don’t get enough recognition as it is

“In the app, you can search siblings of a horse, or horses with a certain pedigree, and then rank them by prize money or clear round percentage. Again, the more data we have, the more information we can give,” Nassar says. “We have made it a point to get the key characteristics of horses and riders and make sure it is available for our users to get down to the nitty-gritty, to get the information that is most relevant to them. I love the initiative our industry has taken in the last few years in recognizing the breeders as well as the grooms. Those are really key parts of our industry that have often gone unnoticed, yet are two parts that make it go.”

An alternative to the world ranking?

“It is a bit asymmetric and tends to favour riders with multiple horses,” Nassar says about the current world ranking formula. “I do think that a rider who has one top horse really tends to struggle with the way the list currently works.”

“I’d be really interested to sit down and give the world ranking some thought: There is so much variability even within five-star shows that doesn’t get taken into account. Jumping a five-star Grand Prix in Aachen for example should not be the same amount of points as jumping a five-star Grand Prix elsewhere,” Nassar says. “There are many factors that have not been taken into account and that is something we have been thinking about at JUMPR. Assigning difficulty ratings for certain classes could be an option, because nowadays there is a pretty big discrepancy, even within star-levels, depending on where they’re held, who is building, who else is in the class, etc. There is some variability that we have not fully hashed out yet.”

I’d be really interested to sit down and give the world ranking some thought: There is so much variability even within five-star shows that doesn’t get taken into account

“With JUMPR, we built our own rankings which are pretty simple: They go by prize money won or clear round percentages,” Nassar says. “We have a cool interactive search tool that spits out lists for you: You can look up anything from the riders who won the most money at 1.45m level to horses that have jumped the most clear rounds at another level. We have a lot of ways you can manipulate our database to create your own rankings for horses and riders – whether it is by height, age, breed, star level or nationality. This is still a primitive way to come up with a fully encompassing world ranking list. However, it is certainly something we would like to put our minds to and see if we maybe find another ranking system that is more fair to all the riders who compete at FEI level. I don’t know what the solution will be yet, but I do think we can use data analysis to find a better way to create a more even playing field. 

“I am in a unique position, because I have seen both sides,” Nassar continues. “Early on in my career, I only had one top Grand Prix horse. It was difficult to break into the top 100 and when I finally did, it felt like I hit a ceiling because I only had one horse so I couldn’t jump more classes. Now, I have several Grand Prix horses and can go to a five-star show every week and obviously I realize how much easier it is to climb the ranking when you have these opportunities. I know the FEI used to do a combination ranking but it was never really updated frequently enough, and even that was skewed in the direction of people who have access to five-star shows.”

Combining feeling with data

“As a supporting tool the app is useful, but we are still a sport that is very traditional and very set in seeing and feeling things with your eyes and your own body,” Nassar concludes. “I don’t think an app will ever replace that, but it was built to provide an extra layer of education and research – to inform the decisions you are making based on your feeling and your own experience in the sport. I have been riding for a long time, so I follow my intuition first, and then make sure the data is supporting what I feel. And if there is ever any discrepancy, I know I need to dig into it a little more to figure out whether it is my instinct or the data that is wrong – and most of the time it’s the former, because numbers generally don’t lie.” 

 

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