The Fine Art of Footing at the Washington International Horse Show

The Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) takes place Oct.26-31 in the nation's capital, and plans are already in the works to ensure the footing is up to the standard demanded by internationally ranked riders and their horses.

"Hosting a horse show in the center of a major metropolitan city is very different from a putting on a show in the country," explained Eric Straus, WIHS CEO. "We must build an arena and bring in the footing."

When it comes to choosing type of footing, the staff at WIHS places the horses' safety at the top of the list. But they also have to deal with the reality of quickly creating an arena in the Verizon Center that has stable and reliable footing.

Washington's footing is a mixture of limestone screenings. "We have a very small window to get the material in and out, so if we had to use what they have at a permanent facility it would take too much time and require too much maintenance," explained show manager David Distler. "We get the limestone screenings shipped in locally and they are easy to maintain."

Tony Hitchcock, COO of WIHS, continued, "Our recent tradition has been to purchase new footing and (after the conclusion of the horse show) sell it at a discount to a local school or riding program or to donate it." One example of this was in 2007, when seven hundred tons of the lime sand footing (a mixture of lime stone siftings and sand) valued at $14,500 was donated to the U.S. Park Police Mounted Unit.

Getting 700 tons of footing in and out of the Verizon Center is another tough situation. On the day before the show begins approximately 15-20 trucks are lined up at the top of the loading ramp ready to make their delivery, which adds to the traffic congestion. It takes about 40-45 total truckloads and about eight hours to bring in all the footing for both the main arena and the indoor schooling area.

Once in the arena the footing has to be unloaded and spread. Some of this is done by tractor but human help is also necessary. Approximately five workers are on hand to ensure that a quality job is done in record time.

"If it needs it, we wet it down as it goes in. The footing has to be moist in order not to create a dust bowl," commented Distler. Yet, once the trucks are gone and the arena is quiet for a few minutes only those who were present know how much effort was put into creating this fine art of footing.

When the first horse enters the Verizon Center, there will be carefully installed and devotedly maintained footing for the 500 competitors from all over North America as the 52nd Washington International Horse Show gets underway.

Diana DeRosa

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