More Information

This section is for people who would like to understand a little more about the Dark Deer Timers and how they work.

The Gates

Most timers use a transmitter to send an infra-red beam across the horses path to a reflector as shown in the diagram below.  The reflector sends the beam back to a detector in the transmitter box.  When the horse breaks the beam, the detector sends a signal to the control unit.  The boxes have to be aligned so that the narrow beam hits the detector exactly after being reflected.  It is like trying to focus a light onto a small spot with a mirror but, because it is infra-red, you cannot see the light.  Tricky, especially if the mirror is 30 metres from the spot you are trying to hit!  It is not surprising that people can take up to 15 minutes trying to align these devices.




Dark Deer Timers have a separate transmitter and receiver; there is no reflector as shown below:


Further, the transmitter sends out an infra-red beam which widens with distance, at 20 metres the cone is 1 metre wide.  All you have to do is place the receiver within the “cone” of the beam and the alignment is done.  At a distance of  20 metres this took 4 seconds and at 40 metres it took 20 seconds.   Within the cone, the detector in the receiver responds to just that very narrow part of the beam that hits it directly shown by the arrow line in the diagram, so there is no loss of accuracy.

This is why the two gate units are both powered.  The transmitter is the simpler device and is shown on the right in the picture below:


It has only an on/off switch and a USB port for charging the two lithium ion batteries.  There is also an array of LED’s together with a small button which when pressed shows the battery state.

The infra-red receiver is shown on the left and this sends information about the beam being broken to the control panel via a wireless link; hence the small antenna.  As well as the on/off button, there are switches to set the radio channel from 1 to 3 (CH1-CH2-CH3); a switch to set the gate type:

  • “S”  – Start
  • “F1” – Finish of A7 or Phase 1
  • “F2” – Finish of Phase 2

It also has a USB charging port and a battery indicator LED array.  This unit also has two lithium ion batteries which provide an average life of around 16 hours.

The gates are mounted on tripods and these can be any which have a standard camera fitting or we can supply these if needed.  We recommend tripods which contain a hook on which you can place a bag of water or sand to keep it steady if there are very high winds.  This is an alternative to using very heavy specialised steel tripods which are expensive and where you have to carry the weight even on calm days.  We supply “CAMLINK TP-2800 tripods which have proved sturdy and easy to ad

The timer box fits to the tripod using a standard camera fitting, i.e. per ISO 1222:2010, the current tripod standard for attaching the camera calls for a 1/4-20 UNC thread.  Most tripods conform to this standard.

The transmitter and receiver may be up to 50 metres apart and can still be aligned quickly!  It is also possible to “cross the beams” when placing two sets of gates and this can give much more flexibility to the course designer.

The maximum distance between the receiver gate and the control box is 100 metres.

The gates are supplied with the “A7 System” and also as an add-on to this basic system for customers who wish to run single and two phase events.

The Control Panel


The control panel can be up to 100 metres from the gates and does need a clear line of sight.  The unit is very light and portable as it does not need to be plugged into the mains or connected to a large battery.  You can walk around the arena with it and check that breaking the beams is recorded correctly; however, it is no use making the gates easy to use if the control panel looks like the cockpit of a jumbo jet.  Ours contains 8 coloured buttons and a couple of switches which do the following:

  • Channel Switch: This sets the channel as 1, 2, or 3.  Normally set to CH1, it is only used if there are other timers in use which use the same transmitting frequency.  In the UK the permitted frequency band is 04- 434.79 MHz with up to 10 MW Effective Radiated Power (ERP)  and no duty cycle restrictions.  Note that the channel also has to be changed on the gate unit as we saw above.  We use channels:

CH1 – 434.040 MHz

CH2 – 434.390 MHz

CH3 – 434.790 MHz

  • Last Rider: When pressed this displays the time for the previous rider.  It is useful if you forget to write it time down before pressing “Start” which clears the display.
  • Bell: This button sounds a tone for 2 seconds which is sent to your PA system.  The control box has a standard jack plug for making the connection.
  • Config: This button allows you to set:
    • The brightness of the external display,
    • The competition type – A7 (basic), Single or Two phase
    • An optional countdown of 45 seconds
    • The bell to “auto” when it will sound when the countdown starts, or to “Manual” where the bell is controlled only by the judge pressing the “Bell” button.
    • Time Faults:   The facility to record and report time faults.  These are handled differently for BS and FEI competitions but by allowing you to set independently for each phase the number of seconds per fault and the allowed time, the system can cope with both standards.  The functionality is implemented in software so it can be upgraded if necessary without any additional hardware costs.
  • Start: This resets the system and makes it ready to receive a new rider.  You press this button at the start of each session.
  • Pause/Resume: When pressed this stops the clock.  When pressed again, the clock starts from where it left off.  This is used to pause the timer while a fence is being rebuilt for example.
  • Arm: This button “arms” the next gate in the process.  This means that when the beam is broken, the clock will start or stop depending on where the gate is in the sequence.  The system “knows” the sequence of steps for A7,  single and two phase events, e.g. for A7:

After pressing “Start”, the operator presses “Arm” when the rider enters the arena and everything is ready. The bell sounds and the display shows “Waiting – S Gate”.  In addition, if a 45 second countdown was chosen, the display will show this countdown.  If the countdown gets to zero, then the system will display “Counting” and the timing will start.  Otherwise, if the rider goes through the start gate before the end of the 45 second countdown, then the timing starts when the beam is broken.

When the rider is approaching the finish gate, the operator presses “Arm” button again and the display shows “Waiting – F Gate”. When the finish gate beam is broken, the timing stops and the elapsed time is displayed.

For a single or two phase event, when the finish gate is crossed, the time for the first phase is displayed, the timer resets to zero and starts timing the second phase  When the rider approaches the last fence in the second phase, the operator presses the “Arm” button again and the display changes to “Waiting – F2 Gate”.  When the rider crosses the beam after the final fence, the timer stops and displays the time for the second phase underneath that for the first.  The display changes to “Waiting – Start”.

The difference between one and two phase is that in two phase any faults that are accrued in phase 1 disqualify the rider from phase 2.  As the system knows about time faults, it will stop at the end of phase 1 automatically if there are time faults in phase 1.  If there are other types of fault such as a knock down, then the judge presses “Start/Stop” at the end of phase 1 and phase 2 is then cancelled.  In a single phase contest, the rider does both phases regardless of any faults in the first phase.

This “Arm” button together with the “intelligence” built into the control panel software, avoids having a proliferation of buttons and makes the whole system easy to use.  All the operator needs to do after setting the configuration, is to press “Start” and then “Arm” repeatedly until the round is complete. When finished, pressing “Start” again, clears all the displays and primes the system for the next round.

  • Disarm: Pressing this button resets an armed gate.  It is not used often but can be useful when a rider goes through the start gates but does not start the round or if the previous rider has not left the arena and passes through the start gates.  Disarming the gates stops the clock starting when the beam is broken.
  • Gate Lights: These lights are illuminated when a gate is armed or when a gate is knocked and they are no longer aligned.
  • Memory: This is the “Oops” button and is used when the judge has forgotten to arm the gate before the rider passes through it.   If this button is pressed up to 10 seconds after the rider has broken the beam, the system will behave as if the gate had been armed, e.g. If the rider goes through final finish gate while it is unarmed, the clock will continue counting but if the “Memory” button is pressed within 10 seconds, the clock will stop and display the time when the beam was broken.
  • Interface Connections: On the back of the Control Panel (not shown in the picture are two connectors.  The first is a mini-jack socket for connecting to a PA system or amplifier. This is the connection for the bell.  Adapters can be provided to convert the connection into a large jack socket or an XLR connection.  The second connection is a “mini-USB” connection which is used for both charging the unit and for downloading new versions of the system software.

The control panel is supplied with the basic A7 timing kit .

The External Display

with time

Our external display is waterproof and strongly made.  It is powered either by 240V AC mains if you wish to attach it permanently or by 12V DC from a small car battery (about 30 amp/hour is sufficient for the standard display).  When using a car battery, an inverter is needed to change the battery’s 12V DC to 240V AC mains.  This setup is shown in the picture above.

Very important is the fact that it is wireless so you can move it around the arena as long as it is within 100 metres from the control panel.  You can also use multiple displays as they will all receive the same wireless signal and therefore be automatically synchronised.

The display does not use segments but rather is a matrix of LED’s (Light Emitting Diodes).  Consequently, the characters are very bright and can be seen clearly in sun-light with a 160° display angle.

The display is comprised of panels each 32cm x 16cm (12” x 6”) and the standard configuration is 3 panels wide by 2 panels high measuring 96cm x 32cm (3’ x 1’).  However, you can order whatever size you require (within reason!) and as the panels contain a matrix of LED’s, you can display numbers, letters and even simple graphics.  The standard display colour is red but you can choose from red, yellow, orange, green, blue, white and pink.

The standard configuration has 28cm (11”) high characters but the larger displays can display much bigger characters if needed.  The standard configuration is ideal for arenas up to 100 metres in length.

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