More Than Sand: Creating the Next Generation of Horse Show Footing

With a swift flick of high-flying hooves and a forward thrust of momentum, Lauren Hough and Ohlala launched over the final 1.60-meter fence of Werner Deeg’s testing track at HITS Post Time Farm. Gathering themselves upon landing, the top rail untouched in the cups, the pair galloped through the timers and listened as a roar went up from the crowd.

Hough and her veteran mare captured the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix in Ocala, Fla., in March, unquestionably the pair’s biggest payday to date in a highly successful career that has thus far included an individual bronze medal at the 2015 Pan American Games and inclusion on the Short List for the 2016 U.S. Show Jumping Olympic Team.

A winter resident of Wellington and a member of the globe-trotting Global Champions League, Hough has jumped in venues from Miami to Qatar—and everywhere in between. So, when the 2000 Olympic veteran took a moment to recognize the superior quality of the surface on which she jumped in Ocala, it merited great clout.

“I’ve been coming to Ocala for a few years now, and I also jumped there at the [CSIO4* FEI Nations Cup in March],” said Hough. “The footing is great, and all my horses have been very happy there.”

HITS CEO and President Tom Struzzieri produces, installs and maintains the footing at all of his HITS facilities in Ocala, Thermal, Saugerties, Culpeper, and, starting this summer, Chicago. The surface in Ocala’s Grand Prix Stadium is a combination of sand and textiles that Struzzieri says has been installed in three-quarters of the rings there in the last 24 months.

“I don’t care if you make it out of motor oil and oatmeal.”

“[The riders] like the ground there,” he said. “Footing is a challenge. It’s a moving target to get it right. It all depends on the weather, traffic, and the courses; all those factors play into it. We’re around the country, and we’re putting in a dozen rings in Chicago, and there you have different sand and different weather and bases. There’s no real blueprint to use in every location and application. You have to adapt to the variables.”

Michael “Mick” Peterson, Ph.D., researcher and director of the University of Kentucky’s Ag Equine Program, agrees that footing is much more than simply materials. GGT (German Geo Textile) material, which consists of nonwoven geotextile and high tensile strength polyester fiber; rubber and woodchip; wax-coated sand; silica sand; grass and turf are all materials that can be found dressing the arenas at top show jumping venues across the globe, but Peterson says it’s the surface’s maintenance program that matters most.

“I don’t care if you make it out of motor oil and oatmeal,” said Peterson. “If you can make it perform properly, I am perfectly okay with it.”

Peterson is considered to be an innovator in the realm of surface examination. In 2009, he co-founded the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory and has worked with countless tracks to improve their racing surfaces, including Louisville’s Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. In the four years since, data from the Equine Injury Database has revealed a 23 percent drop in the fatal injury rate among Thoroughbred racehorses up to 72 hours after racing. This data, gathered from racetracks holding 96 percent of race dates in the country, has also been used to determine the relative safety between the racing surfaces dirt (1.7 fatal injuries per 1,000 starts), turf (1.09), and synthetic (1.14).

Peterson later expanded his work to examine other equestrian sports, and he is currently working with the FEI to gather information on footing in show jumping and dressage. He was one of the authors of the revolutionary Equine Surfaces White Paper, “the world’s most extensive study into the effect of arena surfaces on the orthopedic health of sport horses” in 2014, and in 2015, he participated in a two-day forum at FEI headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland….

…..This article was published in the Spring 2017 issue of NOELLE FLOYD Magazine.
 Click this link and flip to page 116 to read more.

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