5 Surprising Things I Learned Announcing at a Horse Show

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

BY LAUREN MAULDIN

Horse shows—I can’t help but love them. Grooming, spectating, photographing or competing, there are few places I’d rather be than watching hunters strut in the hack and jumpers nail the inside turn. But when I unexpectedly lost my horse over Christmas break, competing at my barn’s show circuit suddenly became out of reach.

Even though I was sad not to be out there doing my best with my heart horse, I decided to participate in the show another way—announcing. They needed a volunteer to man the judge’s stand with a microphone, and I figured there would be no better way to add to my equestrian resume.

What I didn’t expect is that no matter how many horse shows I’ve been to, announcing was a whole new ballgame. It gave me insight to the show on a different level than I had ever experienced before. Here are my top takeaways from my time with a microphone, a giant Diet coke and tons (tons!) of paperwork.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

You have to do a lot more than just announce.

Before I volunteered, I had no idea what an announcer actually does beside recite horse names and reveal who won the class. Turns out, the answer is a lot! Besides being the (wo)man behind the mike, I had to diligently keep track of class numbers, add/scratch forms, keep an eye on the schedule and most importantly—record results. At first, I thought this was no big deal, but do you know a really easy way to feel like a failure? Mix-up judge’s card or mis-calculate champion so that you announce the wrong ribbon to the wrong kid. My math teachers in school always yelled at me for careless mistakes, but that didn’t really sink in until I had to ask a small child to exchange her blue for a pink. Ouch. Didn’t make that mistake twice.

Yes, it really is that easy for the judge to miss something.

As the announcer, I sat right next to the judge. This meant I had the same viewpoint as they did for the flat classes and hours of endless hunter courses. How many times have you gotten mad at the judge for not seeing someone blow a lead, or not notice when a rider broke at the canter? I know I have, but the truth is that you just can’t see everyone at once. We had great judges, and they saw far more than I could, but there were certainly times where I’d watch the judge diligently scrutinize the class yet completely miss a grumpy horse buck in the corner during the hack. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad judge. It means they’re human.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

There aren’t enough ways to announce gaits during flat classes.

I can’t tell you how many times I said “and canter please!” during the last twelve hours I announced. Do you know how monotonous that gets? I kept trying to shake it up some with some variety. “Let’s go to the canter! All canter please, all canter! And everyone canter!” Calling flat classes is like a really bad version of the cha-cha slide that never ends. Then I began to second-guess myself. Duh Lauren, stop saying “All” and “Everyone” it’s not like you’re calling out one specific person to pick up the trot. These are things I doubt any of the exhibitors realized (although I was told I picked up a new, unknown accent around 4pm) but that long in the judge’s booth can make you start to go a little crazy.

First impressions matter more than anyone wants to let on.

When you’re being held captive sitting in the judge’s stand all day, the horse show feels about 10x longer than it does when you’re watching and competing. I can tell you that sitting there that long, I didn’t give a flip about what brand someone’s coat was or if they had the latest trend of breeches. But it was immediately noticeable when a rider came in than less than stellar turnout. I’m talking grass stains on pintos and grey horses, dirty saddle pads, ill fitting clothing. On the other hand, the best turned out riders (especially at the schooling level) gleamed when they came in the ring. It was like the skies parted, and the angels sang to see a shiny horse and a rider with neat helmet hair and a properly fitting coat. These are not details that cost extra money, but they make a big impression in a long sea of horses. And from what I could tell, they often helped riders place a bit higher.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

Blessed are the simple horse names.

I used to have a hunter whose show name was “Waiting for Godot.” Back then I was a wee bit pretentious literature snob (okay, still a little pretentious) and named him after a Samuell Beckett play. Godot is pronounced Ga-Dough, but many an announcer called him “Go-Dot.” I rolled my eyes, and got annoyed that nobody knew my horse’s deeply literary name. Which… was absolutely ridiculous. When I announced, there were poor riders whose names I pronounced differently every single time because I couldn’t figure out how to do the syllables correctly. And thank god for the American Thoroughbreds at this show, because it was a lot easier to say names like “Blackjack-N-Beers” and “Sullivan” than some of the imports I see a the big AA shows. I’ll never, ever get frustrated at an announcer again for butchering pronunciation. It’s hard, yo! Especially after hours of never-ending crossrail trips.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

Despite the long day and challenges, I suggest any horse show aficionado to considering volunteering for a local or schooling circuit. Maybe you’ll even get to announce! There’s an interesting sense of pride that comes with rattling off the first place winner to an eagerly awaiting crowd. By the end of the day, it almost feels like they’re cheering for you.