DIHP Newsletter #7
“Rome wasn’t built in a day.” After a two-hour long walk around the property last week with several of my partners, I shared our progress and what didn’t get done. The response was this quote. We have now owned the Horse Park and competition for just over 15 months. With all that we have gotten done, there is still so much more to do.
Our aspirations for the Horse Park are clear. We want the West Coast to have one of the few amazing national destination equestrian facilities. A place to spend the winter season, or just a few weeks. A place with great competition for riders and horses of all abilities. A place that top riders from around the country are excited to come and compete at and where our local riders, whether professionals or emerging athletes, can compete at a high level, as well. A place that doesn’t compromise on the quality of the footing or the aesthetics. Simply, a place that we are all proud of and a place that helps to build the sport. Our vision will take years of work to achieve, so once again, we ask for your patience.
We think we have made solid progress on the facility, on the competition, and on our desire to create a fun, great experience for everyone. Please share with us what you like, what you want more of, what needs to be fixed next, and what you don’t like about what we are doing.
THE PHYSICAL PROPERTY
No doubt, the first thing you’ll notice when you drive in the stable gate is the addition of three new schooling rings. We added 252,000 square feet of schooling rings so that riders can work their horses away from the warm-up areas for the competition rings. Each new ring measures roughly 280 by 300 feet. The rings are all sand, without synthetic material, to give horses a different surface to ride on a feature fencing by RAMM Horse Fencing. We think you’ll enjoy riding in these new areas and if some of the non-competition schooling shifts to these rings, we think the warm-up areas will be significantly less congested. We’ll also designate portions of these rings each morning for lunging. In addition, we have added footing sand to the retention pond that many used for lunging as well. So, we think you’ll find that area safer for horses now. Since we have added so much space for schooling and riding, we have taken away the small lunging area by the office and returned it to much-needed parking.
We have made two major changes to stabling for this year. First, we have again reduced the number of stalls in the pole tents. Last year we went from 96 to 84 stalls per tent, and we have reduced the number further to 72. We think this should provide the needed extra space for proper physical distancing during the era of COVID-19. All of this added space will increase the width of the aisle ways. We think folks stabling in the pole tent folks will be excited by the extra space and to find they are just 20 feet from the entrance to the new sand rings!! Second, we have added two new clear span tents with a total of 125 stalls for FEI stabling this year to address the issues from last year. In addition, for both the FEI tents and the pole tents, we have rebuilt the base under each tent with fresh sand to add height if it ever floods again (please no!) and to provide greater comfort for horses.
When you get to the show rings you’ll find lots of changes. We want folks to love walking into our rings for competition. This year you’ll see the beginning (yes, there is lots more to do) of making our rings “beautiful!”. On the hunter side, we lengthened rings 2 to 7 to add an extra stride down the line (and along the way added drainage in the back). And we have started down a path to create the feel of individual rings with hedges and desert grass surrounding each ring. We seem to have gone crazy with desert grass but we think you’ll love it – and for sure it beats worn green carpet! We had planned on completing a new wall along the property at Hunter 7 but our permit was delayed. We hope to complete it during our break before Desert Circuit. On the jumper side, we think you’ll see the beginning of a new grand prix ring starting to take shape. We have moved the entrance to the corner near the new shade structure and closed the old entrance. We also added a new water and drag entrance on the back side. Once again, you’ll see new landscaping and when it grows in, we think the one thing you won’t see any more is the airport! One of the many things that didn’t quite get done yet is the new video board for the grand prix arena. It is scheduled to arrive on November 7 so we’ll put it up before Desert Holiday. The new video board is 28’ wide and 17’ high, so plan for a few “movie nights” in the grand prix ring in your golf cart! We closed the old water and drag entrance in jumper one and we think you’ll be surprised as well at the difference it made. We are also experimenting with using the schooling areas for Jumper 2 and 3 this year for competition.
And of course, there is the issue of footing. We spent considerable time this summer reflecting on the progress we made on footing and researching what others were doing. There is no doubt in our minds that the program undertaken at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center and Tryon International Equestrian Center seemed far ahead of what others were doing. And we heard constant praise from folks who traveled to Traverse City. So, we have made a change and embarked on a very data-driven approach to our footing program. We feel comfortable making a change at this point because the majority of the feedback from last year was that we made significant changes for the better and we were thus operating from a solid base. On the ground, our footing team will be headed by Kyle Gould of Four G Surface. He has led the footing program at Traverse City for the last four years. He’ll be on the grounds full time. We are more than thrilled to have him lead our efforts. Importantly, we have hired Bill Hawe from iEquiTek to lead the analytic efforts on our program. Bill is deeply involved in the programs at Tryon and Wellington and well, the results speak for themselves. We are also bringing in Travis Gould from JTWG. The partnership between iEquiTek and JTWG is what created the amazing WEF Hi-Pro™ Ultra Competition arenas in Wellington and Tryon. We hope to capitalize on the inflection point in the industry that work has created. We’ll update everyone along the way as our plans solidify.
Finally, on the ring side, we have started work on two big grass fields. You’ll notice the old grass derby field is under construction and the ground from the retention pond to the RV park has been cleared. You probably won’t notice the new water pump and thousands of feet of new irrigation system we put in but it was a critical first step to building great grass fields. It turns out the holes in the ground in the derby field came from a lack of water pressure. So, we have built a new irrigation system and we’ll be planting new grass on improved ground, first where the old derby field was, and then in the larger area behind the retention pond. By next year, we’ll have two very good purpose-built grass fields ready for competition. We’ll use these for special events.
Speaking of special events, we have obviously begun to change the competition schedule significantly. We want to hold the best competitions – for jumpers, hunters, and equitation – on the West Coast at the Horse Park.
We have obviously expanded the number of weeks of competition and expanded beyond hunter/jumper shows. In addition to National Sunshine Series and Desert Circuit, we have added our December circuit, Desert Holiday. We’ve gotten great response and beyond great competition, December happens to be the best weather in the desert!
As part of a collaboration with West Palms Events, we increased the prize money for Week II of Desert Holiday to create a $100,000 Grand Prix and added a $50,000 rider bonus as part of a Fall jumper circuit. We believe collaboration with our fellow show managers is critical to building the sport on the West Coast. We have also collaborated with LEG Shows & Events to add the National Sunshine Preview to begin to address the issue of affordability in the sport. We hope to build on this program in the future.
We have five FEI weeks as part of Desert Circuit, including four 3* events, and one 4* event during Week VIII. Week VIII will also include our second $250,000 Grand Prix of the season. Finally, on the jumper side, we are thrilled to be part of the planned Major League Show Jumping League, as both a host and a team sponsor. If the League works as planned, we’ll be hosting two 5* events in the desert next December, and you’ll see the DIHP team riding to success in the season finale.
We remain committed to the best hunter program in the country with eleven derbies this year, including two $50,000 and one $30,000 International Derbies in the Grand Prix ring. We applied for two WCHR weeks and only received one (Week VIII DC), but we’ll keep pressing for next season!
We’re proud to host two World Cup qualifiers for dressage this year and expect this to continue beyond this year. We are hosting our first reining show as well this year.
We worked hard to create a great schedule with meaningful, differentiated competition for everyone. We listened to everyone’s input on the schedule and attempted to hopefully address everyone’s wishes and wants!
As we described in our FAQ’s issued about the upcoming season, we’re going food happy this year! We are not allowed to open our restaurant, but you’ll see food trucks galore in our recently upgraded hospitality area around the Parlanti bar. We think it will be “the place to be” this year! And we’re incredibly proud of the permanent restaurant we have built in the VIP building, which will become a staple of food and fun in the future.
Lastly, we have made great strides in cleaning up the property and making it a better place for our team to work. We have invested significantly in new equipment for the team and to create work areas that are professional and safe for our employees. I think you’ll find an incredibly proud and committed team that is ready to help ensure you have a great experience here at the Horse Park.
We are committed to a transparent approach to running the Horse Park. We hope this information is helpful and we’re here to listen.
Have a great season and let’s stay safe!!