April 2016 - Rain Or Shine

Steffen Peters prepares for a hopeful fifth Olympics with OTTO Sport and Premier Equestrian.

With El Niño forecasts dominating the West Coast weather headlines this winter, equestrians’ first thought is not umbrellas and galoshes. It’s “Can we keep riding with all this rain?” The answer relies heavily on how well our arena handles the rain, and thus that’s been a focus of footing discussions of late.

Photo: OTTO Sport

Photo: Joseph Newcomb

Equally important is how well an arena surface supports every good horseman’s desire to help their horse perform well and stay sound, regardless of weather, discipline and intensity level of their training.

Premier Equestrian has an answer for any question related to good riding surfaces. Supported by many years of evolving expertise, the company has arena systems, footing products and the know-how to meet any need. The company’s contribution to the United States Dressage Federation’s new Underfoot booklet is the latest example of Premier advancing understanding of the impact of arena construction and footing on sporthorse health and performance.

San Diego-based Steffen Peters is preparing for what will hopefully be his fifth Olympic appearance for the United States: this summer’s Games in Brazil. The consummate horsemen, he and his wife and fellow competitor Shannon knew that selecting an arena footing system was of utmost importance—especially with the threat of harsh storms and heavy rains that could have derailed preparation plans for his horses.

That’s why they chose to train on riding surfaces provided by Premier Equestrian and selected the advanced OTTO Sport arena for their Arroyo Del Mar headquarters in San Diego.

In January, the dreaded El Niño did its best to interrupt Steffen’s preparation by causing record flooding, potential flash floods and mudslides. Thanks to the OTTO Sport arena, Steffen, his clients and their horses were able to “walk on water” and maintain their training regimes.

“OTTO Sport offers a system of drainage, concussion relief, biomechanic benefits and longevity,” says Heidi Zorn, President of Premier Equestrian. “The OTTO Sport system is a proven product that has been around for over 30 years. Many arenas are still standing and performing as well as they did the first day the system was installed 30 years ago.”

Premier Equestrian is the exclusive North American distributor for German based OTTO Sport- und Reitplatz GmbH.

Photo: OTTO Sport

The OTTO system centers on the OTTO Sport Perforated Mat. This arena base mat system provides maximum drainage, concussion mitigation, stability for horse and rider, and a proper and durable separation of footing and substructure.

El Niño was no match for the OTTO system because drainage holes in the mat remove excess water quickly, making the arena useable immediately after persistent rain. Built-in reservoirs hold enough water to rehydrate the footing later, which is especially great in California where El Niño has yet to counter the effects of five years of drought. Water conservation will continue to be a stable management priority regardless of weather patterns in the future.

Photo: OTTO Sport

Another key factor in the Peters’ arena is the revolutionary Premier HT footing, which stands for Hydration Technology. This is a programmable textile footing that can be configured to uptake water at different levels and rates. The HT footing drastically reduces the amount of water needed to maintain an ideal riding surface, and reduces the amount of time spent maintaining the arena. Premier HT will always maintain the appropriate hydration whether in drought or flood conditions.

Steffen was originally introduced to the OTTO Sport arena system at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, where the system held up against two weeks of heavy rain.

Keri Homer, the barn manager for Steffen and Shannon at Arroyo Del Mar, remarks that before the Premier Equestrian and OTTO Sport arena system, they would have had to close the outdoor ring with no telling when it could be reopened in the massive amount of flooding.

During the big January downpours, “We were playing in the rain on stable, safe and consistent footing. Let El Niño in—we are ready!

Surfaces Impact Performance

Determining the right arena treatment requires a thorough understanding of how a riding surface affects the horse’s performance and biomechanics. The horse’s stride happens in a three-phase process: landing, loading and rollover/take-off. The characteristics of the riding surface are a critical influence in each of these phases, affecting both performance and the physical impact on the horse’s body.

In the landing phase, the hoof slides, forward and down, to a stop. During this slide, bones in the leg and hoof collide and generate shock waves. The extent to which the shockwaves are absorbed by the horse’s hoof and leg, versus the footing, is one example of how footing affects soundness, injury risk and performance.

In the loading phase, the whole hoof is on the ground, while the flexor tendon, fetlock and suspensory ligaments create a shock absorbing effect. Shock absorbed through the frog of the hoof stimulates blood flow up through the hoof and lower leg. The force of the generated blood flow varies depending on what the horse is doing and the qualities of the footing.

Steffen Peters training on the new OTTO Sport Arena Base Mat System, provided by Premier Equestrian. Photo: Joseph Newcomb

In the push-off phase, the heel lifts off the ground and the hoof rolls over the toe. Here again, the footing determines how effectively the hoof can handle this phase of each stride.

An ideal riding surface should minimize concussion, absorb shock, provide support and return energy. The OTTO Sport Arena System combined with the right footing mixture, provides the firmness, cushioning, cupping, rebound and grip that enable the surface to do that. The nature of each characteristic depends on how the riding surface is being used. Obvious extremes are book-ended by a jumping horse that wants footing that will allow a little slide on landing and a reining horse that performs best on footing that allows a lot of slide. There are many gradations between those extremes.

Identifying the right surface and materials is a fine art that requires extensive knowledge of and experience with horses and all the surfaces and materials they perform on.

Premier Equestrian has been providing exactly that since 1999. It is the Official Footing Supplier of the United States Equestrian Federation and the Official Dressage Arena of the United States Dressage Federation, along with being a sponsor of and major contributor to the Underfoot booklet on riding surfaces.

For more information about Premier Equestrian, visit www.PremierEquestrian.com or call 800-611-6109.