Radios are useful tools at horse shows where the warm-up ring is lined with trainers all attempting to coach individual riders in the swirling crowd. The rider doesn't have to try to pick out his own trainer's voice or wait for the few seconds that he passes that section of the rail. The trainer doesn't have to get hoarse from shouting instructions across the riding arena.
Trainers who teach all day can also benefit using radios, since they can stay in one place and still be heard without shouting. But even if you're teaching two lessons a day or taking one lesson a week, you'll appreciate a wireless radio since it's simply easier to hear. We found both coaches and riders were more relaxed when using a wireless radio.
HOW THEY WORK. Different types of radios suit different needs. Wireless radios that are useful for equestrians can be one-way (the coach talks and the rider listens but can't talk back) or two-way (the coach and rider can talk to each other). Two-way radios work either alternately, like a walkie-talkie, or simultaneously, like a phone.
The technology depends on whether the radio uses one frequency or two. One-way radios and two-way radios that alternate the transmission (you need to say "over") use a single frequency, called "simplex." Radios that are voice-activated (VOX) and click on with a brief time delay when they detect sound are also on a single frequency. Two-way radios that transmit simultaneously (like a phone) use two frequencies, called "full-duplex."
A voice-activated radio can raise the frustration level of a rider. There's a time delay between when you start to speak and then actually start to transmit. Ambient noise such as wind or clothes rustling against the unit can activate it.
Walkie-talkies are occasionally seen hooked on boots. They're inexpensive, starting below $50, can be long-range and last 40 hours on a set of batteries. However, the talk button usually has to be held down by the coach to transmit, which makes them awkward to use for any long period.
Radios marketed specifically for riders start around $300 and easily reach $1,500 or higher depending on accessories.
The Eartec and Comtek systems are commonly marketed for riding. Eartec is a full-duplex (two-way) system, starting at $300. Comtek is one-way, so the rider can't talk back to the coach (maybe a good thing?). It starts at $1,100.
We found both systems easy to use, even for total techno-phobes. The sound was clear, better than with the usual cell phone, across a large ring. We also used them over hunter-type jumps and at distances up to 300 yards, which made the issue moot for instruction since we couldn't see the rider any more.
The most complicated thing about starting out with each system is setting it up for the rider—deciding where to place the receiver on the rider, how to anchor the headset so it stayed in place, and what to do with the cord that runs from the receiver to headset or earloop.