California Riding Magazine • August, 2008

EquiBase™ Arena Systems
are Underfoot in Hong Kong

by Joy Koch

As this article goes to press, our American horses and riders are preparing to compete in the most expensive, most highly publicized Olympic Games in history. From the horses, to the riders, to the owners, grooms, vets, farriers, and more, there are more resources at work than ever before.

Planning for Success

For one very special horse and rider, Brentina and Debbie McDonald, every step of the way has been carefully planned to give them the best possible opportunity to succeed again, as they did in 2004 as members of the United States’ bronze-medal-winning dressage team.
Recently, before leaving Southern California for the Team’s quarantine in Aachen and then the competition venue in Hong Kong, Debbie said, “To medal twice would be icing on the cake. To do it twice with the same horse would be even more icing!”

If anyone can do it, it will be Debbie McDonald and Brentina. The focus of their entire team has been on preparation at home, maintaining their training and fitness through their travels to qualifying competitions, and then the culmination of all their efforts at the competition venue in Hong Kong.

Confidence in Every Step

Unlike many of the horse-and-rider teams competing in Hong Kong, Debbie and Brentina will be riding on footing that is almost identical to what they have at home. A number of years ago, Bob McDonald installed an earlier-generation mat-based arena system at the Thomas family’s River Grove Farm in Idaho, where the McDonalds and Brentina live and train.

Bob and Debbie McDonald with Joy Koch at the 2007 World Cup Finals,
where Debbie signed copies of her book,
Riding Through with Debbie McDonald, at the EquiBase Arena Systems Int'l booth.

Describing the difference her mat-based arena makes to everyday training, Debbie told me, “I never have a spot of worry, because I know what’s under me, and I can be very confident in every step we take.”

Every step in Hong Kong will be equally worry-free. That’s where EquiBaseTM delivered 22,000 arena foundation mats, 340 tons of geotextile, and 70 tons of fiber to the Hong Kong Jockey Club for all 13 of the arenas of the 2008 Olympics. The Jockey Club hired renowned footing expert Oliver Hoberg to supervise the building of 200,000 square feet of riding space.

One reason that Oliver chose the EquiBaseTM mats was because they are designed to handle huge amounts of rain ... and according to the experts there is a 50 percent chance of a typhoon during the Olympics.

EquiBaseTM rings have been proven to drain at an incredible rate of 130 ml/hour. At the FEI test event held in August 2007, monsoon rains provided the perfect test, and EquiBaseTM delivered. Afterward, Wolfgang Bacher, EquiBaseTM Arena Systems CEO and Partner, even received a phone call from the Head Coach of the German Team congratulating both him and Oliver on a job well done.

Arenas closer to home have put the EquiBaseTM system to the test. Robert Jolicoeur of IED, International Equestrian Design, renowned Olympic course designer and landscape architect in charge of the top to bottom renovation still under way at Old Salem Farm in New York state, attests to the rain-worthiness of the EquiBaseTM Arena System: It enabled the recent A circuit hunter/jumper shows to continue through rains that had neighboring arenas under standing water. In its heyday, the venerable Old Salem Farm was an Olympic Selection Trial venue, and was formerly owned by Paul Newman.

An inside look at the EquiBase Arena Systems, Int'l. installation
in the jumper ring at Old Salem Farm.

At the other end of the weather vane, Will Simpson, renowned jumper trainer at Thousand Oaks, California’s El Campeon Farms, is a long-time fan: He has found that even in sunny, dry Southern California, there are appreciable advantages to EquiBaseTM. He called on Wolfgang’s expertise to sample El Campeon’s existing footing and determine the exact geotextile and fiber amendments to add to their arenas for optimum performance.

And according to Rich Fellers, the EquiBaseTM Mat & Footing System installed by Wolfgang in the FEI covered ring in Thermal “is the best footing that I have ever seen.”

The Competitive Edge

Whatever the discipline, maintaining a competitive edge takes constant focus. For example, Debbie has been known to jokingly refer to her “old lady’s workouts at Curves” but anyone who’s ridden competitive upper level dressage horses knows that the fitness required goes beyond that of most ladies, old or young.

Describing Brentina’s current conditioning program, Debbie said, “My job is to keep her as healthy, happy, and fit as possible. We just finished the Selection Trials, and now we’re doing interval training—trot, walk, trot, walk, gallop—keeping the heart rate going, and the lung capacity. Then we’ll be in Aachen for three weeks and continuing that program for a week and a half, then kick into trying to peak at just the right time for Hong Kong.”

Robert Jolicoeur, International Equestrian Design, with Joy Koch, President and Partner, EquiBase Arena Systems, In'tl., and Wolfgang Bacher, CEO and Partner, EquiBase Arena Systems, Int'l., at Old Salem Farm .

Maintaining their competitive edge is equally important to EquiBaseTM Arena Systems. That’s why all of the components have been technologically upgraded and re-engineered in this second-generation system, from a design that integrates the traction nubs with the mat base to eliminate break-off, to the manufacturing molds that ensure product quality and consistency, to the utilization of approved, ecologically-safe recycled PVC. An added benefit is that these improvements come with a 20 percent cost savings compared to the original mats.

As Wolfgang emphasizes, the mats are an important part of the equation, but not the only part. Equally important is the type, shape, and size of the sand, and the quality of the geotextiles and fibers that increase the life of the footing. For over a decade, Wolfgang’s footing amendments have been in high demand by the best arena builders the world over. These first quality footing amendments can be recycled into fresh sand, providing a 20-plus year lifespan, unlike cheap carpet fibers that decompose in a few years.

World-Wide Competition

As horses and riders converge on Hong Kong, they bring a variety of experiences to the competition, not least of which is related to the footing at their home and competition venues.

As Debbie told us, “The Thomases, Bob, and I are so encouraged to see EquiBaseTM being used in more venues; it’s so important to the soundness of our horses. We are proud to endorse EquiBaseTM – the product is amazing!”

What competitive rider wouldn’t want the optimal water retention, impact resistance, durability, and stability provided by the perfect blend of the right sand, geotextiles, and fibers manufactured from a variety of high-grade materials in different sizes and shapes?
Who wouldn’t want their beloved competition horse to benefit from the sensation of traveling across an old forest floor, elastic and forgiving, with their hooves treading comfortably on the surface of the 3.5” structured footing?

Thanks to world-class riders like Debbie McDonald and Will Simpson who appreciate riding on it at home, and many others who enjoy it at venues like Hong Kong and many European locations, awareness is spreading.

At EquiBase™ Arena Systems, we are looking forward to educating riders here at home about the technology and benefits of our mat-based arena systems and the state-of-the-art footing afforded by the use of our amendments, which provide the ultimate in safe and consistent footing conditions.

Through our sponsorship of online Olympic coverage on by renowned equestrian journalist Nancy Jaffer, we are also looking forward to helping riders here at home follow the Olympics as they happen.

Join us in the EquiBase™ Arena for Olympic coverage through Sept. 15, 2008, at!

For more information about EquiBase™ mat-based arena systems and first quality amendments, visit
Article provided by EquiBase™.