Saturday, December 08, 2007

Bulldozers Primed to Uproot Wellington's Green Carpet; Showgrounds Will Get High-Tech Euro-Footing in Time for WEF

Equestrian Sport Productions, LLC Managing Partner Mark Bellissimo (left) and Olympic footing expert Bart Poels of Belgium (right) surveying Palm Beach International Equestrian Center's Internationale Arena in preparation for installing an all-weather surface.

The 124th National Horse Show winds up tomorrow at the Palm Beach Polo Equestrian Club in Wellington, Florida.

For years, we have come to associate the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), which opens in mid-January, and other events held at Wellington's Palm Beach Polo Club grounds, with carpets of green grass. Green is a foreign color to northern eyes in winter.

But all that changes forever on Monday: Heavy equipment is waiting in the wings. The 2008 Olympic Games footing specialist, Belgian Bart Poels, has received the nod to rip up the grass--immediately--and put in an all-weather surface in time for the big shows to start a scant five weeks from now. One grass ring will be preserved.

The first major project will be to install an all-weather surface in the Internationale Arena. An area measuring almost 70 by 120 meters (230 by 394 feet) on the side of the arena closest to the Jockey Club will be all-weather.

(Note: At 8,400 square meters that is more than double the size of 4,000 square meters required for International Equestrian Federation (FEI) outdoor jumping competitions and larger than Hong Kong's Olympic arena; it can hold three dressage arenas when the jumping circuit moves on.)

All-weather footing is also scheduled to be installed at the adjacent Stadium facility that is being completely rebuilt to become a major high performance event arena.

Poels is also working with HITS/Culpeper (Virginia) on arena footing for 2008, having completed consultation on HITS/Thermal (California) footing for the upcoming west coast shows.

Different types of sand that are the primary ingredient of what is known as the "Poels-sand" surface footing were sourced to several quarries in Florida. Mixing the sand and other ingredients has been underway at a site near Wellington since November 27. Over the following two to three weeks, about 4,500 tons of rocks of varying sizes and 2,000 tons of sand will be installed in four layers.

In addition to the Hong Kong Olympic arena, the Poels family has installed indoor and outdoor arenas in their native Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Austria, Italy, Portugal, United Arab Emirates and Turkey. Individual customers include top riders Francois Mathy, Ludo Philipaerts, Philippe Lejeurne, Mark van Dijck and Henk Nooren.

All-weather outdoor arenas have replaced grass at some of the world's top horse shows in recent years because of concerns over the welfare of horses and the difficulties of maintaining grass for longer than the four to six days of a major competition. Among those to have made the switch are Rotterdam and Rome, both of which are in the Samsung Super League Nations Cup series.

WEF in 2008 is being expanded to 12 weeks in Wellington, from January 16 through April 6 with record prize money of more than $4.7 million. Wellington Equestrian Partners, LLC, operating as Equestrian Sports Productions (ESP), bought The Show Grounds and The Stadium in September and acquired the U.S. Equestrian Federation Wellington licenses in November to enable it to stage several months of hunter, jumper and dressage shows, including the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington.

A year ago, the WEF was almost delayed or even canceled when an outbreak of Equine Herpes virus (EHV) in December sent the show and polo communities into paralytic quarantine.

Check this blog in late January for feedback from the farriers on how cuppy, slippy, trappy, dusty or hopefully perfect the new footing turns out to be. There's a lot riding on that surface, and the horses shipped south with their shoes set up for training and showing on specific surfaces. Many go south with extra shoes already made up from their northern shoers.

The expression "horses for courses" applies to show horses as much as to racehorses; certain horses seem to prefer some types of footing, or a certain showground. Some horses excel on grass, while others are "indoor" specialists. Schooling and warmup areas can make a big difference, too.

Will the last Jack Russell on the grounds please have a good roll on the grass?