By Sissy Wickes
They are the voices in our head, the sound track of our horse show lives, the narrators of the day.
Every horse show grounds has one thing in common: the announcer. They sound the beginning of the day with a familiar, “Good morning, and welcome to the…” Fill in the blank with any location, any season, any discipline. Some have accents, bringing an international flavor. Some inject humor to their dialogue; some are strictly informational. Large grounds have multiple announcers whose words bounce back and forth all day like a ball over a net while smaller venues have one announcer. All must expertly juggle scheduling updates, results, and directions. Announcers are the scriptwriters, directors, and producers of the documentary known as a day at the horse show.
Their voices are smooth and melodic, assuring that all is well and according to plan. How difficult could it be to read off of a list and announce results that the judge radios in? Well, as one who has observed announcers from a shared judges’ box, the author guarantees that it is not as easy as it sounds.
Kenn Marash, Peter Doubleday, and Brian Lookabill are three of the busiest announcers on the show circuit. All of them possess voices that you could listen to all day, all have been involved in the horse show business for decades in many capacities, and all take their roles very seriously. They are multi-decade road warriors, each describing a schedule of more than forty weeks per year at the height of their careers. One week per month at home is a daunting challenge. The current reward is the opportunity to trim their schedules and enjoy well-deserved time at home. Marash, Doubleday, and Lookabill followed different routes to the same destination: the announcer’s chair at the best equine competitions in the world.
Kenn Marash proudly hails from upstate New York and is adept at pronouncing some of the more difficult cities up there, including the hometown of recent Maclay Finals winner, Madison Goetzmann. Somehow, the word Skaneateles rolls off his tongue with relish. Recently married, Kenn now reluctantly cites Pennsylvania as his too little visited home base. “Never afraid of the microphone,” he began announcing polo matches at Cornell University, his alma mater. “I wasn’t good enough to make the team, so I announced the matches,” he jokes.
Marash explains his job as “the liaison between the judge and the exhibitor, the traffic cop between rings, and the communicator in the barns.” While he may be fielding results from one ring, he is listening to the manager and ring crew discuss scheduling, or answering questions about the numerical cut off for a class. It takes a high level of management skill to recognize and respond to ring conflicts, make sure that exhibitors know whom is being addressed, and understand the flow of the show day. As Marash explains, “There is a lot that can go wrong. It can go from quiet to chaotic very quickly. If someone gets bucked off or there is a loose horse, if the radios go out, the announcers need to respond.”
Doubleday hails from Syracuse, NY, and is the son of a local radio and TV announcer who moonlighted at horse shows on weekends. Doubleday hung around the shows with his father and, after college, went on to work as a horse show groom. Soon, he was announcing different types of shows.” I was doing all different breeds – Morgans, appaloosas, Arabians – all of them. I feel so fortunate that I was exposed to anything with four legs that showed. I was working forty weeks a year at all different shows. When I got into management, it helped that I had been exposed to so much.”
Lookabill was born a singer. In high school, he was the lead in a local band. “I used to perform shows around town. At one point, I had to decide whether I wanted to keep doing that or make some money.” His friend, J.P. Godard, now manager of prestigious shows throughout the U.S., introduced Lookabill to the horse show industry. “I started to hang around the horse shows with J.P., and it kind of took on a life of its own.” He learned the mechanics of running a horse show by doing any task presented.
Lights, Camera, Voice!
The quality and energy of a class can be created and sustained by a good announcer. Big horse show audiences are usually diverse in their depth of knowledge. Some are familiar with the program, some are neophytes. The announcers walk the fine line of talking down to people in the know or talking over the heads of newcomers. “A good announcer can enhance a show and make it a better product. It is our job to make a pleasurable experience for the people there,” Marash states.
Big night classes are where Doubleday shines. “Part of the success of a big night is the energy and excitement. I come to each session as fresh as possible, even if I have to dig deep because I have been there all day. You have to step up to the plate in every class. Regardless of whether it is a schooling jumper class or the World Cup Championships, it is important to somebody. So, it is important to do everything correctly.” Informative, precise, appropriate are the words he uses to describe his dialogue. Doubleday has several prepared speeches for possible ring scenarios such as injury or death. Thankful that he hasn’t had to use them often, he carries them as a talisman against bad fortune.
Music is a big element in the life of all announcers. A good playlist can involve the crowd or and build emotional momentum. For internationally diverse shows, the announcer has anthems for all of the riders’ countries available for the victory presentation. With the influx of European horses, foreign names can be a challenge. Often, there is a call down to the starter for pronunciation clarification from riders and trainers.
I will never forget the time…
In almost a century of announcing between them, Marash, Doubleday, and Lookabill possess an array of memorable moments. Doubleday describes the experience of announcing the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. “I will never forget it. There were 33,000 people waiting in the Olympic Stadium for a 9AM team class. The producer said in my ear, ‘Ok, Peter, we are going on in 10, 9, 8.’ The Olympic theme started and every single person stood up. I thought, ‘Wow, this is what it is all about.’”
• Marash enjoys most of the large shows, especially The National Horse Show. “It is the only one. I grew up watching it and is an honor to sit in the chair.” As a foil to typical horse shows, the New York State Fair is one where the playbill ranges from draft horses to tractor pulls to car races. “I get a kick out of it all,” he says warmly.
Today, the three giants of the booth are preparing to head to their winter venues, each having branched out from announcing to larger roles in horse show production. Marash manages shows in New York, Doubleday oversees Devon, The Pennsylvania National, and The Royal Horse Show in Canada, while Lookabill is a Production Manager for large entities such as The National Horse Show. In addition, Lookabill and business partner, Visse Wedell, have started Envisian LLC, a company that offers Polylast Rubberized Flooring. Seamless and porous, it is a permanent surface ideal to the horse community because of its durability and non-slip quality.
Marash, Doubleday, and Lookabill are the voices woven into our horse show experience. They are part of the day that we won the big class, led the victory gallop, witnessed the event that gave us chills. The day, the venue, the course, the class – and the sound. All combine to make a map of memories that chart our lives.
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist, an autism advocate and Editor of The Plaid Horse. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.
Read More from This Author »