Horse Arena Goes High Tech

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16-speaker music system creates soothing atmosphere for special needs riding students.


Jul. 01, 2009 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Unless you grew up on a farm, the thought of jumping on the back of a horse stirs up plenty of apprehension in most people.

Words of encouragement can help, but there’s no better form of comfort than music, says Shery McDonald-Galbreath. The owner and president of the SaddleUp! Foundation and Riding Academy, a non-profit therapeutic horseback riding organization in Parker, Colo., Shery plays music during every riding class she teaches, helping her mostly disabled students relax and enjoy the freedom of mobility.

“It’s particularly great for autistic students,” says McDonald, who founded the organization after her daughter Emma’s friend was left paralyzed after a car accident.

The audio system that fires through the arena isn’t fancy. Shery operates the components inside her well-appointed Middle Atlantic equipment rack (photo below) by hand and streams mostly CDs burned by her daughter Emma through the system. Although basic in control, the system has the brawn to cover the entire 200-by-100-foot arena with sound with “zero dead spots,” says Michael Murdock of Enhanced Living, a home systems installation firm in Aurora, Colo.

As his first time installing a system in a horse arena, Murdock admits that placing the speakers threw him for a loop. The MTX outdoor speakers had to be mounted nearly 120 feet high and the wiring tucked behind the massive steel beams that span the ceiling. Murdock rented a lift that had tires designed to roll in sand to reach each of 16 speaker destinations. “We went speaker by speaker to get them positioned correctly, walking around the arena after each one was installed to make sure there were no dead spots.”

Four NuVo amplifiers power the speakers, while a Newcastle receiver distributes audio from a Newcastle 5-disc CD changer, Pioneer iPod docking station and Shure two-channel wireless microphone system. Murdock designed the audio system so that Shery and her other instructors could speak to the students through a wireless microphone while the music continues to play in the background.

“It was important to me that the audio be crystal clear when we’re giving instructions,” says Shery. Parents relaxing in the viewing lounge area able to hear everything that’s happening in class, courtesy of two Jamo speakers. The lounge also features wireless Internet access. “For many of the parents, this is the only time they can catch up on work or emails.”

As for Murdock, the project left him with a sense of purpose as well as a new business forte. “After Saddle Up, we’ve been contacted by other arenas in the area to put in a similar system,” he says. “We’ve created a niche for ourselves.”



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