The Ringmaster: The Quarterback of the Horse Show

Photo by Emily McNeil


If you’ve ever been to The Devon Horse Show or another major event, you have likely seen a man wearing a traditional-looking outfit, playing a large horn before the start of each class at the show. At the Devon Horse Show, along with many others including the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show and the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, as well as major Arabian, Saddlebred, and Morgan shows you can find John Franzreb III, a lifelong equestrian from Staten Island, NY.

Growing up at what was nicknamed “the incubator of horsemanship,” Franzreb’s family farm had around 100 horses where they taught many people how to ride over the years. They also trained and organized horses for use on camera in TV and movie sets. As a junior rider, Franzreb rode through the pony and junior ranks until his junior horse became injured and could no longer compete. That same year, the manager of the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden took over managerial duties and a new ringmaster was needed. Franzreb’s father was called. Franzreb, put up for the job at the tender age of 17, has been doing it ever since.

Photo by Irene Elise Powlick

But what exactly does the ringmaster do other than sound the horn before the class? Franzreb describes it best, “The ringmaster is the chief safety officer of the horse show. It’s his job to make sure the show is run smoothly and keeps running. He should make sure that everybody from the exhibitor to the spectator to the owners, trainers, and management is all running smoothly.”

Franzreb and other ringmasters do this by providing a large spectrum of duties including the iconic sounding of the call, which signifies to the riders what is happening in the arena, as well as managing the awards presentation, providing the perfect photo to sponsors, and always keeping an eye on what’s going on in the arena to help when needed. Working with large animals is often dangerous, especially when there are non horse experienced spectators or presenters. In order to make sure things go smoothly, Franzreb likes for everyone involved to be paying attention to him. “That allows me to call the shots,” he explains, whose sole purpose is to maintain safety.

Photo by Irene Elise Powlick

The ringmaster is often involved when something does go wrong in the ring, and he needs to help stop it. Everything from a horse acting up in an awards presentation, to children spooking horses, to the organization of medical experts when a horse or rider falls — all of it falls into the hands of Franzreb and his fellow ringmasters. “I don’t wake up in the morning looking for trouble, I hope to prevent the problem before it becomes a problem,” Franzreb explains.

So, to sum it up, the ringmaster is the quarterback. Everyone needs to listen to, and follow orders from, him in order to maintain order, smoothness, and safety, and most importantly, he must be a horseman. “The ringmaster is a horseman, and being a horseman, he can see what’s going to happen before it even occurs.”

Irene Elise Powlick is an intern and photographer for The Plaid Horse and is an incoming freshman at Goucher College in Townson, Maryland, where she will ride on their IHSA team. She has had success in the equitation and hunters on Carpe Diem Star, Francesca, and Lunar Cat, and plans to study biology at Goucher.