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Play By Play... At River Ridge

Anne Judd providing commentary at River Ridge.

by Margaret Cordes

The crowd heard something new and unexpected at this year's River Ridge Horse Show: a voice from ringside, adding color commentary to the show. That voice was familiar; it was Anne Judd from Land O' Lakes, Fla. She was there working for a company called Play By Play, a group that provides color commentary at other sporting events. It was an idea brought about by Cecille Hetzel-Dunn. It's a service that usually requires the use of headsets available to the audience and are either sold or sponsored.


Play By Play was tested at a Scottsdale, Ariz., Show in February. Without a sponsor, participants purchased the headsets for the entire show. They were small and disposable and participants were able to take their purchase home. Brian Chappell was also invited for his color commentary. It was entertainment and information that kept a crowd in their seats listening through a long-lasting in-hand class, according to Judd. The comments are chosen carefully says Judd, and even more carefully when headsets are not provided.


At a show where participants are wearing headsets, the commentators are able to talk about the riders, the horses, their past accomplishments, their current performance and even mistakes being made. It is meant to be educational as well for some audience members who are visitors or new to the show scene. It is certainly helpful to even some "veteran" show parents according to Judd. "A father at the Scottsdale horse show came up to me and said, ‘I finally get it, my wife explained it to me, my daughter explained it to me, but listening to you explain it while she's in the ring, I finally get it.’"


Under headsets, Judd says she is able to tell the crowd even more including what could cost a horse in that division, what judges may be looking for, what the rules call for and what not to do.


The color commentary was a bit different for Judd at River Ridge. The technology was not in place, so audience members were not able to listen with headsets. Instead, Judd shared air time with the ring announcer. It was more air time than Judd imagined, forcing her to realize how much this commentary could fill and entertain during the downtimes. Armed with notes, a rulebook and a computer, Judd kept the crowd informed to a degree without interfering with the judging of the class.


She was able to talk about patterns in equitation and what was expected of the riders. She was able to tell the audience what was expected of each class and according to the rulebook beside her, how it was supposed to be scored and judged. She did offer some background after a horse had won and for the Morgan divisions, which horses were headed to the Morgan Grand Nationals. But without headsets, she was limited and careful, "I felt like I was walking through mine fields."


Judd hopes this service will be considered for larger events including Louisville, Lexington, Kansas City, New England and the Morgan Grand Nationals. She suggests the color commentary would add to the live feed of the show played back at the barns at Louisville. Corporate sponsors could provide their advertising and even area show barns could provide information about their lessons and workshops. Judd believes it may lure more people to the shows.


"Audiences do not come back because they don't understand," said Judd. She hopes this would help not only include the visitors but invite them back for more. "It opens the door and it's thinking out of the box," she continued who expresses she is very concerned about promoting the Saddlebred, "I just don't want to see us die. Think of some of the big state fairs where you have the walk-ins like Illinois State Fair, Play By Play would make it more fascinating and it make the fan a part of it too."

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