California Riding Magazine • May, 2008

New Era Begins at
Flag Is Up Farms

Laurel Roberts implements horse, eco and
budget friendly changes at the home ranch.

by Rebecca Sparenberg

For years Monty and Pat Roberts’ training facility, Flag Is Up Farms, has served as a starting point for some of the world’s highest earning racehorses and a testimonial to Monty’s non-violent training methods. However, to his daughter and well-respected equine facility designer, Laurel Roberts, Flag Is Up Farms has been more than just a home or boarding facility. It has been a facility where she can research and test products that make the stable a better, safer place for horses.

“Flag Is Up Farms has always been a place where I can test out my new ideas,” explains Laurel, fresh from one of her most challenging recent projects; the re-design and restoration of the Stanford University equestrian facility. “It’s a tough market out there and everyone is looking for ways to cut their budget. I have been working on developing and implementing environmentally savvy approaches to saving money at Flag Is Up Farms, that can then be applied to new designs as well as older facilities that are in need of a conservation effort.”

One such conservation effort was the introduction of an aerated static pile (ASP) composting system. With the help of Aisha Krechuniak of Return To Earth, LLC and Peter Moon of O2 Compost, the model was built on the facility to encourage education in the industry. Aisha runs an equine-based compost site in Salinas and has successfully built a model she is now sharing with Laurel. Manure management has now become a significant financial burden for most facilities, and the pile has become a hot topic everywhere.

“We all need to look at staying ahead of the curve and implement one or more conservation methods for horse keeping today—especially in California,” advises Aisha. “Only by solving our own problems, taking responsibility for their residual issues as an industry now and bringing back solutions to the regulators, will we be able to maintain our horses in urban areas for future generations to enjoy.”

Static aeration allows onsite composting where applicable, in small or large spaces, and has a very low impact on the environment taking less than 30 days for a finished project. Laurel says this new approach allows the facility to save resources, equipment and manpower that would otherwise be used in hauling off site.
“The first batch was beautiful material, the lab results were great and it was sold within a week,” quips Laurel.

From Racehorses to Jumpers and Everything In Between

Perhaps the biggest change at Flag Is Up Farms has nothing to do with implementing new, budget savvy methods. Since Monty founded the facility in 1966, it has been focused largely toward colt starting and improving the performance of racehorses. That is about to undergo a change. Always in the past, the infield of the Roberts’ 5/8ths mile training track has been basically unused. It has been kept green for aesthetic reasons, but did not have a purpose other than it needed to surround the immaculately maintained training track.

“We have always been an all-breed facility, but we are implementing changes to the farm so we can offer more to the hunter and jumper industry,” explains Laurel. “We are working with two prominent life time achievers that are highly respected in the industry, Mike Edrick and Richard Keller.”

Laurel managed the ranch for her parents while she studied horticulture and landscape design courses throughout her youth. She then moved on to work for various barn companies to learn the construction side of the business and now runs her own equestrian facility design and management company. She credits her father for introducing her to many innovative ideas and products that he has discovered during his travels around the world. One such product is Otto Sport.


Monty Roberts proudly showing off his Otto Sport arena!


Footing First

Otto Sport is a matting system that has existed in Europe for 23 years, but is just gaining exposure in the United States. The Otto Sport composition of layers includes special sand and fiber mixture that drains nicely through their patented perforated mat. The reservoirs retain moisture for dust-free riding while the drainage holes facilitate rapid transfer of water away from the riding surface. The stability knobs on the upper side of the mat provide buoyancy for sensitive horse joints.

Just recently test results have come out from an independent research lab that has been testing the impact absorption of a standard arena (compacted base with a washed concrete sand footing) versus an Otto Sport arena system. The results were a 30 percent increase of impact absorption in an Otto Sport arena. “That is huge!,” exclaims Laurel. “The company did the same testing with a half inch layer of crumb rubber and those results were only three percent.”

One of the four new rings at Flag Is Up Farms will be an Otto-Sport arena. Laurel goes on to say, “There are places you can cut corners to save money, but your arena and footing is not one of them. Good footing can influence performance, health and veterinarian costs. You may pay more in the beginning for better footing, but in the long run the benefits will justify the initial investment.”

A Brave New World

“There is still a market out there for horsemen with vision,” says Laurel. “It’s becoming harder and harder to find zoning and to obtain permits to build new facilities. Five years ago I could finish a barn in a year; now it’s taking twice as long. More and more of my clients are looking to renovate older facilities. If we (equestrians) are going to thrive in a world that is becoming increasingly less horse friendly, we are going to have to continuously look for more progressive methods for horse care and facility design. That is what I’m trying to do now at Flag Is Up Farms, as well as for my clients.”

For more information on Laurel Roberts Equine Design and Consulting visit the web site www.laurelrobertsequinedesign.com, or call 831-682-1121. To check for updates on or to learn more about Flag Is Up Farms visit www.montyroberts.com.