Horse Show 101 – Horse Show Radio Etiquette

Horse Show 101
Radio Etiquette
(for judges/volunteers/staff and management)

The most important thing at any horse show is the safety and well being of all. Communication is a key factor in helping with safety, and radios are the typical form of communication at shows. So let’s start with an overview of a radio and how it works in general. It does not matter what type/make/manufacturer of radio you use…they all operate in this same fashion. Some radios have more features than others but they all work the same way.
Authors note: Before we get into detail here, we all have cell phones these days. It would be a very smart idea to have the phone numbers of the show office and any staff member you find yourself having to communicate with. Who knows when/if you end up with a dead battery or a radio that is otherwise not working. (Asking for the announcer’s phone number, is usually a very good thing as he or she is in communication with everyone… also in-gate folks might want to get others’ numbers for conflicts…much more on that later) Okay, so back to the issue at hand…

The radio itself:
There will be an on/off button. Locate this and make sure the radio is turned on…if you are planning on using it, of course. Often this same nob/button also doubles as the speaker volume control.
There is always a volume nob/button(s). Make sure it is turned up to an acceptable/usable level. If someone is trying to talk to you and it’s turned on but the volume is all the way down, you are not going to hear anything others are trying to communicate to you. (Side note – you may not know: the volume you have set on the radio you are using does not have any impact on the person you are transmitting to. You can have the volume all the way up/down…but if the receiving radio is not turned on or up… they may not hear you. Often you’ll find they are talking to someone else and aren’t going to hear you or for some reason they have changed the channel or are on their cell phone or otherwise just not paying attention to the radio. These are all very common causes of frustration when trying to communicate).
Make sure you are on the channel designated for your assignment. If you are a judge or in-gate person working the same ring together, it is vital to communicate that you are on the same channel (obvious right? but you’d be surprised). Also while in the office please feel free to introduce yourself to the people you may be talking to over the course of the show. It’s always good to put a face to a voice/name. Before you leave the office, it’s okay ask someone what channel you should be on. Otherwise you may be talking to yourself…or everyone in the barns. This would also be a good time, as safety is really paramount, to ask if there is an EMT for a show and if so what channel are they on. As a judge/in-gate person, you are often one of the first people to see the need of emergency staff.
On every radio there is a Push to Talk (PTT) button, almost always it is on the left side of the radio as you look down at the speaker (the speaker is always opposite of the belt clip). The PTT button will be on the left and upper part of the radio. It should be a rubber button. It is important to look at the button. Make sure you will be able to find it without looking for it in the future. Sometimes there are other buttons in the vicinity of the PTT button. On some radios there may be a “call” button. This button transmits a series of tones on whatever channel the radio is tuned to. I’m sure you’ve heard this noise if you have ever dealt with these types of radios. If you are pressing this “call” button you are not talking to anyone…just making an annoying racket.

So… how do I use this fangled thing? If you want to talk to someone on this channel, you push the PTT button and talk. Now it’s important to realize you should have the radio 6-8 inches from your mouth for the microphone to “pick-up” and transmit your voice. It does no one any good if you have the radio 2-3 feet away from your mouth as all you are doing is making yourself not able to be heard. You should not hold the PTT button in for any reason but to talk.

Different people have different speaking levels. So whoever is trying to hear what you have to say is adjusting the volume for the softest voice speaking. In other words, if other people are “loud talkers” they are going to be much louder than the “soft talkers” so you’ll have to figure out what level works best for you as a listener.

Important asides:
What might not be obvious is that only one person can talk at a time on a radio channel/frequency. It is different than a cell phone. If someone is talking on the radio and you want/need to talk to someone, the air needs to be clear. If someone is talking already and you push the PTT button, all you are going to do is “clog” the frequency and no one is going to be heard at all. This is very counter productive and annoying. For example…you are a judge giving results to the in-gate person/ announcer. Someone else needs to speak to someone on your assigned channel/frequency. This person pushed the PTT button without first listening and “clogs” the channel. So now the judge/in-gate person has to repeat all the missed information that was interfered with and typically what they had to say was also not heard by the intended recipient.
Often, more than one (1) ring is on a single channel. When this is the case, it is important to pick your moments to speak to the intended receiver of your message. This is where things can get dangerous-and yes I mean dangerous. Let’s say for example we have a jumper ring and a hunter ring on the same channel. Assume the jumper in-gate is transmitting the next back number to the judge/announcer. At the same time an under-saddle class/flat class is underway. This under-saddle/flat class is in the cross rails division. The fact that it is a cross rails division this should tell you something very important!!! These are little children or inexperienced adults. If you have been around horses and horse shows for any length of time, you should know that often as a beginner under-saddle/flat class if going on…the longer a horse or pony is in a trot or canter…the horse/ponies have a tendency to speed up – especially with the inexperienced rider because they are not “checking” the horse/pony as needed since they are only thinking holy cow… “I’m trotting/cantering!” Now remember, we have an under saddle/flat class and jumper class on the same channel. Do you think from an outsider’s standpoint, this is a good time to try and resolve a ring conflict between any other ring(s) anywhere else on the show ground?

Here is an actual real-life and often too common example…
So the “conflict” conversation goes…one minute, two minutes and horses/ponies are still trotting…getting faster and faster and the judge sees a horse/pony getting faster and faster and, well this “conflict” conversation is on-going and the air is not clear and this is where the danger comes in. The in-gate person at the ring for the under saddle/flat class is not paying attention to the ring because they are trying to figure out the “conflict” with another ring and the judge can’t talk to anyone because of the said conflict conversation happening. All of a sudden we have an emergency and all the spectators are now yelling because they (the spectators, mothers, trainers and other riders) have been watching and see what’s going on. The judge could have prevented much of the horror now occurring the ring if they had simply been able to tell the announcer/in-gate person for the competitors to “walk”. Now the in-gate person is changing their radio to another channel because they need an EMT.  All due to trying to solve a perceived conflict at another ring that really could/should have waited a whole 10 minutes.

Most common mistakes with radios:
Radio not turned on/Wrong channel/Volume too low/Battery dead-not charged
Dropped radio (please be careful) / two radios on the same frequency that are too close together when someone pushed the PTT causing a painfully annoying sound.
You would think most of these comments were no-brainers…but with years of announcing horse shows under my belt, these mistakes are common and at almost every show, no matter how experienced, almost always happen at some point.


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