Premier Equestrian parlays its place at the forefront of evolving arena industry to bring benefits to all.
By Kim F. Miller, featured in California Riding Magazine
FEI Grand Prix Freestyle CDI3* sponsored by Premier Equestrian, victors Sabine Schut-Kery (USA) and Sanceo at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. Photo: Taylor Pence/US Equestrian
Premier Equestrian has deservedly received a lot of attention and praise for its work as Exclusive Footing Products Supplier for the International Arena at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida. WEF is a global hub for highest-level show jumping, especially this year because of the World Cup Finals being held in the U.S. and the Olympics, that were set for this summer.
Closer to its home base in Sandy, Utah, the company has been winning over the West Coast for some time. Four-time Olympic dressage team member Steffen Peters was among the first Californians to recognize the benefits of Premier’s OTTO Sport Arena Base Mats, range of footing blends and expertise on sand, footing additives and all facets of arena construction.
Last fall, Peridot Equestrian in San Marcos chose Premier Equestrian as the best fit for its plans to become a hub of high-level dressage education and training. Most recently, the new owners of Toyon Farm in Napa, have chosen Premier Equestrian for an arena overhaul.
Peridot and Toyon have a common denominator in that first-hand experience made easy work of this critical decision in facility planning and management.
Peridot’s Jessica Eaves Mathews and her daughter Katherine kept their horses at Steffen and Shannon Peters’ Arroyo Del Mar stables in San Diego before opening Peridot. “I know there are other good footing companies out there, but I figured why mess with what works?” explains Jessica. “It was kind of a no brainer.”
Converting what had been a jumper training facility was a major undertaking and the arena and footing were “the easiest parts of the process.” Since they moved in and started riding last fall, “The footing has been perfect,” Jessica reports. “Everybody who comes here loves it.” Those “everybodys” include resident dressage trainers Dawn White-O’Connor, Niki Clarke and Verena Sonstenes-Mahin.
Toyon Farm was recently purchased by the Bonavito family, whose daughter Danielle Bonavito has been training in Florida all winter with her coach and Olympic hopeful, Sabine Schut Kery. Sabine’s base in Wellington, TYL Dressage, has a Premier Equestrian arena.
“It was an easy decision when Sabine asked me to check out their footing,” says Danielle, a rising dressage star whom the Bonavitos have entrusted with arena decisions. She is familiar with Sabine’s horses and saw how confidently and comfortably they worked in the Premier Equestrian arena. Next, Danielle visited WEF and watched jumpers meet their sport’s demands in the International Arena. The Toyon team was sold on what they saw.
Premier Equestrian is the exclusive U.S. distributor for Germany’s OTTO Sport Arena Base Mats. Their ability to reduce concussive impact by 40% was a strong selling point, Danielle explains. So was Premier’s ability to consult expertly on footing selection and all phases of Toyon Farm arena construction. The installation is being handled by one of Premier Equestrians’ Preferred Builders, Tony Judge’s Olympia Footing, and was set to be finished in late March.
Premier Equestrian recently provided the OTTO Sport Base Mats and the ProTex Footing product for the International arena at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, in Wellington, FL. Photo: Sportfot
An Option For Everybody
Premier Equestrian’s dominance in the West is just beginning, thanks to services and products that fit a range of budgets and priorities. Not everybody can get an International Arena-grade riding surface, Premier’s Heidi Zorn acknowledges.
“But everybody can get much better footing.”
The first of those options is DIY arena building. At this most affordable tier, Premier Equestrian walks the client through the best choices for their needs and budget. This starts with preparatory steps like arena location and grading and continues through the final touches of sand selection, footing blends and maintenance, all factors that vary depending on climate, proximity of suitable sand and arena use.
Working with a Preferred Builder, as Toyon Farm is doing with Olympia Footing, is an option for those who want a turn-key solution.
Arena building plans are Premier Equestrian’s newest service. “These are similar to engineered plans for building a home,” explains Heidi. “They can be taken to any excavator or licensed road contractor.” The plans include four base options and come with three detailed bid sheets for comparing accurate bids from local contractors. “The plans tell the contractor what kind of grading, compaction, testing and drainage is needed,” says Heidi. “They are perfect for people who don’t have a preferred builder in their region and who want the option between DIY and having somebody else build their arena.”
Heidi Zorn congratulates Sabine Schut-Kery and Sanceo on their win in the AGDF FEI 3* Grand Prix presented by Premier Equestrian.
Sand concentrate is a new Premier Equestrian product that improves riding surface performance while containing costs. Too many people overlook the importance of sand characteristics when building or rehabbing an arena, Heidi stresses.
“It’s not just about the fiber additives and the arena base. Sand is a huge key component in the final footing.”
The seemingly simple topic is complicated by the reality that sand characteristics vary geographically. There’s no such thing as “arena sand” even though building materials suppliers might market theirs as such. This explains why WEF owners, Equestrian Sports Productions, transported and mixed several different sands to reach the perfect footing blend.
Premier’s very fine silica sand concentrate addresses these challenges by binding to more common sands from any region. If it’s determined that an arena needs four inches of sand, for example, three inches of most local sands can be combined with one inch of Premier Equestrian’s “super sand” to work with any of its footing products. All proposed sands are tested for clients’ needs as part of Premier’s process.
At the Forefront of Evolving Industry
Prior to the current Winter Equestrian Festival arrangement that extends through 2022, Premier Equestrian may have been best known in the dressage world. That could be because Heidi is a dressage rider herself and has frequently spoken at educational events. And it could be because dressage riders often lead the way in identifying riding surface as critical to their horse’s performance and longevity in the sport. Playing a critical role in the International Arena where Nations Cup, Olympic qualifying and millions of dollars in prize money was determined, Premier Equestrian is now front and center in the show jumping world, too.
Footing advances at the sports’ highest levels have a trickle-down benefit for horses at the sport’s more populated base levels. Heidi is thrilled to see the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) lead the way in setting ever-higher standards for the safety and enhanced performance of its athletes. With arena surfaces, this involves cutting-edge research and technology and objective methods for defining “good footing.”
The FEI recently enlisted the Objective Biomechanical Surface Testing machine, aka the “OBST,” to quantify the various forces of impact involved in take-off, landing, galloping and turning. It measures the impact, cushion, responsiveness and grip, and the uniformity of those characteristics throughout the surface. In essence, it measures what the horse feels when it performs on a specific surface.
Equestrian Sport Productions’ Palm Beach International Equestrian Center closely followed the FEI’s lead regarding footing. The 12-week WEF series included four weeks of 5* rated competition, which must meet the footing standards made possible by the OBST.
Heidi hopes that national sport governing bodies will follow suit in adopting clear standards for footing that keeps horses safe and sound. But even before that happens, horse owners in all disciplines are becoming better educated about what surfaces — at home and shows — are best for their horses. That’s moving the needle in the right direction, she says.
Premier Equestrian’s principals are horse people, too. Heidi is an amateur dressage rider when time allows. Keeping more horses comfortable and performing at their peak longer is a gratifying aspect of the work. “The way the arena is built at WEF is only accessible to the upper economic echelons,” she confirms. “But we have options that make it affordable for everybody to have better footing.”