February 2017 - Ride The Rio Surface

Premier Equestrian, Olympia Footing & OTTO Sport enable all to ride on Olympic quality footing, or a surface pretty close to it.

by Kim F. Miller

There’s a common denominator in what might seem to be diverse corners of the equestrian world: the Rio Olympic venue, dressage Olympian Steffen Peters’ home stable in San Diego and the Rebecca Farms event venue in Montana. All have riding surfaces that incorporate the latest research, technology and applications available. And all have base, drainage and/or surface materials that are available to horse owners through the powerful partnership of Premier Equestrian, Olympia Footing Equestrian Services and the German company OTTO Sport.


Get the RIO Footing. Photo: ©Michael Moosdorf, OTTO Sport

Premier Equestrian is based in Utah and is operated by rider Heidi Zorn and partner Mark Neihart. Premier produces and sells a line of high-quality footing products, and consults on sand types, construction and biomechancis.

Olympia, Premier’s preferred arena construction and building expert, is based in Northern California and operated by Tony Judge. They’ve been working together for about three years and bring the best, at several price points, to public and private equestrian facilities.

Premier and Olympia, along with OTTO Sport’s work, is the result of extensive engineering from various perspectives. The first and most important vantage point comes from what they’ve learned about what happens to the horse’s leg and body when its hoof hits the ground. They’ve studied that impact extensively in regular flat work, high-level dressage movements and jumping courses of various heights and technical difficulty. Cushioning the impact and rebounding that energy while allowing just enough slide for each arena’s intended use are the bottom line for designing highly individualized riding surfaces.

These companies provide a variety of options for creating the right riding surface. Whether it’s a relatively small budget arena retrofit or a start-from-scratch effort to recreate the Rio footing, clients receive the full benefits of these companies’ research, testing and many years of expertise. All of it is in service to their main goal of helping horses stay sound and comfortable over the long haul by working on a surface that makes them confident and capable of performing at their very highest level.

The Rio Edge

Representing OTTO Sport as the German company’s exclusive North American distributor is a perfect fit for Premier, says Heidi Zorn. OTTO Sport has been outfitting international equestrian venues for nearly 30 years. OTTO Sport provided the arena surfaces for the 2017 Rio Games.

The OTTO Perforated Mat is an arena base system that offers drainage, stability, shock absorption and arena longevity. “The OTTO Perforated Mat is a product made of resilient material, specially designed for equestrian sports,” Heidi explains. “It is used in arenas and paddocks, set underneath the footing to provide maximum drainage, water conservation, concussion mitigation and stability for horse and rider.”

Along with the Rio arena, OTTO Sport mats are found at the facilities of Steffen and Shannon Peters, Akiko Yamazaki’s Four Winds Farm in Northern California and Olympian Debbie McDonald’s base in Idaho, River Grove Farm.

Sharon Stone, center, playing Meredith Parish; Christine Moore, left, and her housekeeper, Octavia, played by Lidia Porto.

The Peters describe it as the ideal riding surface for preparing their horses to succeed at the highest level, while sparing them considerable wear and tear.

Ideally, the mat is used in conjunction with OTTO Sport’s Ebb & Flow drainage system. As the Northern California rain storms gathered in early January, Olympia’s Tony Judge and his customers were in “bring it on” mode, especially at Gundi Younger’s newly refurbished private dressage training facility in Alameda County’s Livermore.  “They may not want to ride in the rain, but they could,” says Tony of the arena’s ideal combination of OTTO Sport’s base mats, Ebb & Flow drainage and ProTex™ footing from Premier. At presstime, the area had received five-and-a-half inches of rain in three days and, during a break between storms, they were riding in the outdoor ring.

Control is the Ebb & Flow system’s main advantage, Tony emphasizes. Modeled on rising and lowering tides in nature, the system delivers water to the arena from bottom to top and gives owners control over how much water is released into the arena and how much is drained out. They also control where that excess water is let out through drainage pipes that can empty a considerable distance from the arena if that best suits the property’s needs.

Thinking of the Ebb & Flow system as an automated watering/drainage solution is critical to understanding how it works. “You have full control over how much water you want to add to it.” That quantity of water starts with replacing water lost to evaporation, which is minimal. Beyond that, the quantity varies based on what type of footing additive and sand is used and how they are blended, plus the type of riding the arena is used for and the owner’s preferences. Whatever that amount is, it’s going to be small, which is great for water conservation and ease of maintenance.

Sand + the Right Additive = Perfect Footing

After the construction of the arena’s base and drainage system are determined, it’s time to figure out the right materials for footing. This almost always starts with sand, as in what type to use, based on budget and availability and, next, analyzing its type, shape and size.

Silica sand is usually the ideal choice. “It’s a fine sand and, because it’s made of quartz, you can use it repetitively without having the breakdown that you would with a limestone-based sand,” Tony explains. A fine silica sand is used to help bind the sand and footing additive. Premier makes six footing additives and, for Gundi’s facility, Tony recommended ProTex.

Premier ProTex is a premium-grade additive that is mixed with sand to mimic a sod arena surface by providing a rooting system. It’s made from carefully chosen recycled, non-woven textile fabrics and fibers. Added cushioning components prevent over-compaction of the surface. Like all of Premier’s offerings, it is formulated for optimal biomechanics using a consistent blend of materials to ensure a new and clean final product every time.

ProTex is joined in the Premier line-up by five other options. Master’s Blend, ArenaAid, ProStride®, Athletex™ and HydroKeep comprise the rest of the company’s ever-evolving line-up of textile and fiber products.

Master’s Blend is a mixture of non-woven textile and cushioning additives. The multi-purpose blend meets Premier’s mandate to combine the stability, grip and shear strength qualities of Premier textiles, while adding cushion, cupping and rebound characteristics.

“Too hard” is a frequent complaint about riding surfaces and Master’s Blend addresses this for dressage, jumping and any other type of performance arena.

Athletex is a blend of textile and rubber made from recycled athletic shoes. Athletex will help with hard, compacted and “dead” surfaces by introducing voids to increase cushion, cupping and rebound. Rubber enhances cushioning, while textiles increase stability and help retain moisture.

Arena Aid is one of Premier’s most popular offerings because it is renowned for working miracles on arenas with larger grain sands. The combination of nylon and polyester fibers stabilizes a wide variety of sands, new or existing. The unique formula of fibers gives sand a structure by trapping loose, rolling particles. This results in increased stability and grip, cushion, cupping, rebound and reduced shear. As an added benefit, the nylon fibers retain moisture in the riding surface.

The recent deluges don’t reduce the importance of water conservation and Hydro-Keep is a big help with that. It’s a safe, non-toxic chemical crystal that can reduce arena watering requirements by half.
Hydro-Keep’s crystals expand when wet, absorbing and retaining water. Over time as the soil dries, the crystal contracts, gradually releasing water and hydrating the surrounding area. As an added benefit, this continuous expansion and contraction reduces soil compaction.

Good, Better, Best

That’s an unofficial motto for Premier’s ability to offer facility owners a great option in several budgets, explains Heidi. Whatever a client’s circumstances and priorities, they get equal access to Premier’s greatest asset: “I think where our success comes from is that we can look at every client’s sand, whether it’s new or existing, and apply engineering specifications to determine the best footing additive for their needs.”

The critical role of engineering in riding surfaces should be the same as that in designing an interstate, Heidi asserts. “For example, there are construction and materials standards for building roads so they don’t fail.

Unfortunately this does not yet exist for equestrian surfaces. Matching the right mineral content to particle shape and size, combined with many other variables, can make or break your project. We have an engineer on staff who figures that out. Even if you can’t afford new sand, we can improve what you have.”

While Premier, Olympia & OTTO Sport relish the chance to work at their partnership’s highest potential in delivering Rio quality riding surfaces, they equally enjoy the chance to put their products, research and collective expertise to use for all of their clients.

For more information on Premier Equestrian, visit www.premierequestrian.com. For more information on Olympia Footing Equestrian Services, visit www.olympiafooting.com. For more information on OTTO Sport visit www.ottosport.com.

On Point At Eagle Point
Record setting rains are no match for new arena.

photos of Gundi Younger’s facility by Tony Judge, Olympia Footing

Arena base

OTTO Ebb & Flow System

“I have the highest praise for Premier Equestrian and Olympia Footing Equestrian Services,” says Gundi Younger, the Grand Prix dressage rider overseeing the finishing touches on her private Eagle Point Equestrian Center in Alameda County’s Livermore.

She bought the seven-acre property a year ago and says the process of upgrading the arena to meet her needs has been enjoyable every step of the way. That’s thanks to the two companies’ professionalism and great products and service. Tony Judge of Olympia Footing also helped with paddocks, pastures and other aspects of the facility.

As in projects throughout the West Coast, the Northern California-based Olympia Footing Equestrian Services, servicing the 50 states, provided site consultation, plus the preparation and installation of OTTO Sport’s Perforated Mats and Ebb & Flow system, for which Premier is the exclusive North American distributor. Premier provided its range of footing options, from which ProTex was deemed to be ideal. Working together, both companies gave Eagle Point the benefit of their many years of research and hands-on experience.

“This is a good time of year to see how well the system works,” said Gundi during the early-January storms that were drenching the Bay Area at press-time. Five-and-a-half inches of rain had fallen in three days and Gundi was out there riding in the outdoor arena during breaks between storms. She is especially excited that the OTTO mat and Ebb & Flow systems work on a completely level arena base. “You don’t have to feel like you are riding up or down hill!”

OTTO perforated mats

OTTO mats overview

“Tony has been extremely helpful in choosing the right product and making sure it works,” Gundi reports. “So far, so good” is an understatement as the arena’s immediate rideability after huge rains attests.

In addition to having the right amount of cushion and give for her horses, Gundi put a priority on water flow. “Not just watering the ring when it’s dry, but being able to get rid of water.” She acknowledges that the set-up was not inexpensive, but says it’s already paying off and is built to last a long, long time.

A covered arena would have been a much more expensive option to achieve year-round riding and local zoning ruled that out anyway.

From choosing the right products to sending bills that were consistent with what was bid, the Olympia and Premier partnership has been professional and reliable every step of the way. Gundi has been especially impressed with the safety consciousness and courtesy shown toward people and horses by Olympia’s crew and drivers throughout the process. “Tony made sure that everybody on the job was careful about that.” They were also conscientious about minimizing inconveniences to neighbors.

Being able to school rain or shine is a big advantage for Gundi and her horses. She’s looking forward to the show season with her 8 year old Dutch Warmblood, Escobar DG. Bred by DG Bar Ranch and by Vivaldi, Escobar is competing at Prix St. George. Gundi is also bringing along a few homebreds, including the KWPN 4-year-old and 3-year-old full siblings by Bordeau, Ivy League and Jetson EP, and some even younger horses. She hasn’t decided yet how many of those youngsters will come to Eagle Point, but those who do are in for a lifetime of steady training on a great surface thanks to Premier Equestrian and Olympia Footing’s good work.

OTTO mats with Premier footing

Arena complete

The finished arena in use.