I Can’t Hear You!

Dale Forbes:

In a previous post I indulged in a satisfying rant about arena manners and keeping unmounted people out of the schooling area.  https://dressagesnob.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/traffic-control-how-to-negotiate-the-arena-space/

I also promised to give my two cents on hearing and being heard with the thought that proper voice amplification devices can assist in keeping the instructor where I think they belong–in the corner.  Never mind it helps the student figure things out.

But first a quick story–it’s related.

I think I have told you that in my first year in Germany I had brought with me the bad habit of holding the dressage whip steady using my thumb.  I’d done it that way for some time and no one had bothered to correct me on it.  I can totally see why they did not, even if they noticed, as it took daily nagging for months to help me fix it.  I had developed a body memory that was planted as a habit and I did not actually realize I was doing it.  Given that, it was insanely difficult to correct.

But Rudolf is nothing of not persistent.   Every morning as I inelegantly bounded around the arena as I passed by him he would say one thing: “Take your thumb from the whip.”

That was it. Until I came around again, the sneaky thumb having crept back whipward whenever I concentrated on anything else: “Take your thumb from the whip.”

Yes, this is why we Americans love to train in Germany.  The glamor and high style of being an American riding student in Europe is perfectly breathtaking.  Every day there is a new treasure that makes learning difficult skills suddenly easy.  Every moment is like a great light bulb turning on in the American brain.

Er, not so much so.

So, assuming I was the most stupid student that had ever lived, after the ride one day I approached Rudolf, getting ready to leave, and red-faced blurted out, “Don’t you get sick of saying the same thing over and over again?”

He replied, “No, I assume that the rider can only hear about 10% of what I say.  They can only do another 10%.  So I had better say what it is I really want them to do.”

How very optimistic of him.  This might explain a teaching style that people have described as terse.

However, it was the correct approach for me and indeed I did eventually figure out how to adopt the correct method.

So, back to being heard.  Even if the student can only do 10% of what is being asked, it is nice to think they can actually hear it.  And it is also nice if you are an instructor not to have to shout all day–and healthier.  Also, given that most good instruction is telling someone to do a hopefully small and simple action that they CAN accomplish, being able to communicate clearly is an advantage.

As a tagline on my email I have the quotation:
The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished”. ~George Bernard Shaw

Some Solutions:

A simple megaphone–with care not to touch the inevitable siren button–can work nicely for less than $30.

Good things: Typically enough amplification and decent sound quality.

Bad things: Siren button is not a good training aid, tiring for teacher to hold up for long periods. They can’t be plugged in and they run through batteries like crazy and so are more expensive to use than you at first think.  If you get one, also get a universal battery charger.  (One of these by the way is the most thoughtful baby shower gift you can think of.  Why do people not do this?  Perhaps low ooohhhh! quotient.)


Next, a portable sound system: I searched like crazy for one of these a number of years ago and most locally available systems seemed more designed for the local rock group or karaoke.  Then I found this gem: http://floridamagic.bizhosting.com/

Less than $500


The model I got is actually no longer available, but I believe they have improved on it.  Mine has the option of plugging in to a 12 volt car outlet or a battery or a 110 plug, which I am told is also true of the new one. One can easily imagine a situation in an outdoor area with no plug, but a handy vehicle.  They report,  “It would be useful if you needed to run the system for many hours on 12V power (the internal battery will run the system for 4-6 hours) the PAS-8000 has its own, built-in rechargeable 12V battery so you can use it anywhere. It also features 2 built-in wireless mic systems and a built-in mp3 player with remote”.

These guys are thinkers  The company is Florida Magic and Sound and they specialize in equipment for–you guessed it–magicians.  (In my next life I want to be one of those–I think it would be satisfying.)  They are a super company, and at the end of the transaction it is quite likely they will list the methods of payment and add a dry, “Pick a card, any card.” comment.  What’s not to love?

Advantages: Your students can hear and so can everybody else. Good sound quality, the speaker can be at some distance from the talker, though you have to arrange where you are transmitting from via the wireless mic somewhat carefully.  Some background fuzzy noise in mine’s case–but it is eight years old or so.  Has worked for years. A Godsend.

Disadvantages: Your students can hear and so can everybody else.  If you teach and ride in a suburban neighborhood this could be an issue.  Not useful at shows.

Something that does seem to be useful at shows is this: a wireless communication system.  The teacher wears the small transmitter with microphone and the student wears a receiver with ear buds.

If used, this is an item that a student should purchase whatever ear device they like that is compatible with the receiver.  At very least every student might best have (and pay for) their own.  Sharing a device that includes ear buds is gross!  And there are lots of choices.  More on that in another post later on learning to use a communication device.


There are three main ones: Eartec, Comtek and Eponaire.  The picture above is the Comtek system.

An Eartec system can be used as one way or two-way transmission device.  At a bit more than $300, it the least expensive of the options and the only one that can do two way communication.

I have spoken with the Comtek representative, who kindly loaned us a system to try.  Their offering at about $1,200 offers only one way communication, but claims a better range and sound quality.  They are right about sound quality, it is superb.

In the middle in cost is the Eponaire system. http://www.eponaire.com/index.html


The Eponaire offering is very like the Comtek in that it can be used to power a portable speaker, or used with any of various earphones that might fit your I-pod.  The sound quality is very good–perhaps not quite as clear as the Comtek, and with less technical volume control, but still very workable.

The big difference between the systems is how many channels they offer.  None of the systems will interfere with any of the other systems, but the range of frequency groups available is markedly different.  The Eponaire offers two, the Comtek fifty, but cautions that only six different frequency groups can be used in each 200 foot  segment of teaching space.  (If getting two pros to cooperate over arena time is tough, I am having fun imagining the negotiations for “air time”).

So, if you are the only one teaching–a clinic for instance–it is quite likely you will not have difficulty with fewer available channels–at least for now while the technology is still relatively new.  But, if you are at the Wellington classic and fifteen trainers are on the rail, the student might very well be getting some “conflicting” advice!

My note is this is far less likely to be a problem for dressage trainers and students in the US than some other disciplines and in Europe.  We have definite times of classes, unlike hunters who might be in the warmup much longer awaiting their turn.

But back to sound systems: Back in the dark ages when this technology was just emerging I asked Rudolf what he thought of it.

Suitably long pause: “It might be nice, but it had better only go in one direction!”

I could not agree more. Having on more than one occasion while being taught, rhythmically chanted under my breath things I will not repeat.  The rider is suffering enough already–some privacy is vital.  Amusingly the Eponaire rep that I talked to confided that the Eartec systems with two way communication, are frequently purchased by students.  The Comtec and Eponaire  “one way” almost exclusively by trainers!  Go figure. . .

I will give you another post presently about what it is like to use the systems and how we found teaching and listening to be different with them–link to follow.