Transforming an ice skating rink into a competition ring for the Rolex® Central Park Horse Show could never happen without intense cooperation and the perfect equine footing “underhoof”
For the past three years, as September draws to an end, Wollman Rink in Central Park has hosted the Rolex Central Park Horse Show. It’s a high point of American equestrian competition that draws upper echelon riders and their equine athletes from around the world for five days of events.
The competitions feature some seriously high purses – the winner of the U.S. Open Grand Prix CSI3 this year took home $216,000. Frederik the Great, billed as “The World’s Most Handsome Horse,” made an appearance, as did dressage royalty Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain, fresh from individual and team gold at the Rio Olympics a month earlier.
But before the festivities and high-profile events are the intense activities, totally invisible to showgoers, that change an iconic ice skating rink into a world- class equestrian ring in just a few days’ time.
Arguably the most critical technical factor in the high-stakes competition at Central Park is the footing for the horses, the base the courses are built upon. Listening to Brett Raflowitz of Equestrian Services International, the company contracted for the third time to prepare that footing, gives one a true appreciation for what would otherwise likely go unnoticed.
In 72 hours, beginning with a bare base, the crew from ESI installs a network of drainage and fabric layers and then puts down their specially formulated equestrian footing. It is an arena that his crew of about 20, mostly young, mostly from Florida and South Carolina, work through the nights to prepare.
ESI tailors their footing blends to the events and conditions at venues around the world. If the footing is too pliable, horses cannot properly propel themselves over the jumps. But if the footing does not have the right amount of give, landings will jar horse and rider and could cause injury.
His footing blends are so well designed that they can be installed one day and ridden upon the next. “No one else can provide that to venues like Central Park,” Raflowitz says with confidence. He has designed different blends for different applications, indoor and outdoor with different grades.
The basic building block of ESI’s formulations is sand, a material which comes in a lot of varieties that are not suited to equestrian competition. But one sand is well suited, a pearly white variety that Raflowitz acquires from a particular O&G quarry. It is the characteristics of the sand that drive the balance of stability and binding. Sand determines if it will retain the right amount of moisture to keep the mix tacky and tight. By the time Raflowitz is done compounding the sand with additives and binders it reaches the perfect composition and carries a muted pink tint.
This was ESI’s third year setting up the Central Park ring. He knows the process and has a rhythm and recipe for installation and takedown. But it all depends on getting his special footing delivered over the two-night window permitted by the park. For ESI this is the highest stakes US event of the year primarily because of the short time to get in and out.”At the end of the day it comes down to logistics,” says Raflowitz. It takes a 80 dump truck loads of sand hauled into Manhattan and 18 tractor trailers with flooring materials and equipment.
That’s when he absolutely depends on the materials and logistics O&G delivers.
In a typical week Raflowitz will pop between Chicago, his home state of Florida and North Carolina, overseeing crews and projects. He’s busy: in 2016 ESI installed 1,000 truckloads of footing, the most square footage and tonnage in their history. While he does more private installations than competitive ones like Central Park, the highest volume of footing and installation goes into competition rings. “At a home ring we put in 800 tons of rock and 800 tons of sand and we’re done. For a commercial ring we do 10,000 tons of rock and sand. We just did that at a one location in North Carolina for eight rings.”
“Our relationship with O&G is a great one. T.J. [Oneglia, V.P. Materials Division] is so easy to work with. We work with a lot of companies and nobody is as responsive as O&G,” says Raflowitz.
Dependability and spped are non-negotiable with Raflowitz: “T.J. quotes quickly. When I need a product at a place at a specific time O&G gets it there. That kind of reliability is very hard to find. Nobody’s better than O&G.”
He met Oneglia in 2007 when he called O&G looking for aggregates for an installation in southern Connecticut. Oneglia toured him through the company’s plants and showed him the different products the quarries produced. It was one year later that Raflowtitz created the blend he’s using at Central Park.
Because of the many irons ESI has in the fire and the last-minute nature that seems to be the norm of the equestrian world, it can be “a little bit of a challenge” to plan the way he is used to, says Oneglia. But it has never been a deterrent.
Their trust in not only O&G’s products but the diverse logistics capability is so solid that ESI is using the company and its rail connections to deliver equestrian footing by train across country. In early December, rail cars were loaded and on their way to ESI’s next installation in Omaha. In the fast-paced, demanding ring making at Central Park, it’s all about logistics. And reliability.
At dusk in Stamford, stockpiled equestrian sand is loaded into triaxles for the first trip of the evening into Manhattan; ESI owner Brett Raflowitz coordinates with his foreman at Wolloman Rink; the night’s first shuttle run of trucks is escorted through Central Park to the rink – there will be four more round trips before the night’s delivery window closes; one dump-load of sand being delivered; ESI brings in their own equipment to spread and groom the sand