Jul 16, 2019

World Class Footing at the 2019 AEC: Q&A with EEI

By Claire Kelley - USEA Staff
Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam at the 2010 WEG held at the Kentucky Horse Park which was the same time of year as the upcoming 2019 AEC. RedBayStock.com Photo.

“Mick Costello knows every single blade of grass on this property,” said Vanessa Coleman, co-organizer of the 2019 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC). Mick Costello, Derek di Grazia, and their team of experts will be building and designing all six cross-country courses for the 2019 AEC. With the same team as the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, the 2019 AEC will be a world-class event. The event will take place on August 27-September 1 at the Kentucky Horse Park and will have competitors from all over the country competing for the chance to win big. From the footing to the facility, Vanessa Coleman of Equestrian Events, Inc. (EEI) explains what competitors can expect.

Q: Derek was in town over the weekend, how was his visit?

A: Yes, he came out to solidify the AEC tracks. He looked at what still needed to be done to the jumps and what still needed to be built. He also met with Mick Costello on specifics and groundwork for a new feature. Derek is planning to come back the first week of August and that’s when we’ll have the jumps staged. He will go around with the builders and set every single jump exactly where he wants it. He will be out again the weekend before the AEC. At that time, everything will be flagged and a lot of the decoration will be out. He’ll be here to finalize everything and make any other tweaks he finds necessary. So, he’ll be back the first week of August, and then the weekend before and the week of AEC.

Q: What can competitors expect from Derek on this year’s AEC cross-country courses?

A: I don’t want to give too much away because it’s very exciting, but I can tell you that Derek is such a phenomenal course designer. The Kentucky Horse Park has some terrain, but it’s not obvious at first glance. He’s a master at asking the right questions and utilizing the terrain for that. You can absolutely expect championship level courses at all levels.

Q: What can competitors expect from the $60,000 Adequan USEA Advanced Final?

A: The Advanced track will be fantastic, but so will all of the levels.

Q: The Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event runs in April and the AEC will run in August, can you explain how the weather affects the footing? And what you do to work with the weather?

A: The weather can be very hot and very dry in the summer, but the turf at the Kentucky Horse Park is well established with very deep roots which is a huge factor in making the footing as good as it is. Yes, we can get dry and hot but if anyone came to the Kentucky Horse Park in 2010 for the World Equestrian Games, the entire park was brown except for the cross-country course. There’s irrigation in place and the footing for the cross-country was fabulous and we expect to utilize the same irrigation system as needed for all the tracks at the 2019 AEC.

Derek di Grazia and Mick Costello planning the AEC cross-country courses. Vanessa Coleman Photo.

Q: With any summer event, there’s always a concern of hard ground, is this something to be concerned about for the 2019 AEC?

A: No. Mick Costello knows every blade of grass on this property. He knows where some areas need more attention than others for different reasons. He has different pieces of equipment he can use in addition to the irrigation system. Depending on the weather, it may or may not need to be irrigated. Mick owns an aggravator, that helps relieve the compaction and aerate the soil. Additionally, Mirimichi Green was a sponsor for the five-star event, and so a lot of the tracks have been treated just by them being a sponsor of the five-star. The Mirimichi Green products help aerate and relieve compaction but also helps enhance root growth and recovery. Also, the Kentucky Horse Park does a good job of mowing. They have a finish mower which is going to cut differently and cut smoother than a standard mower. Dave Leonard, who works with EEI, also does a lot of mowing of the tracks with a smaller ZTR Mower.

Q: Why does mowing regularly help the ground?

A: Regular mowing is important because it keeps the turf from getting too thick and too clumpy. It keeps the grass strong and healthy and you decrease weeds and keep your turf in better shape.

Q: Alternatively, what steps would you take to fix footing that might be too soft? Or too muddy?

A: Mick has a Harley Rake that helps with the rutted areas if the footing gets deep. Hoofprints - he can roll those out. But he’s got all the pieces of equipment he needs to fix the footing - no matter the issue.

Again, the ground drains very well. It wouldn’t take that much time to make the footing back to perfect if we happen to have a lot of rain leading into the AEC. One of the biggest things is to keep all the vehicles (golf carts, cars, and trucks) off the tracks and fields. We try to keep any weight off the tracks and Mick keeps an eye on it on a daily basis.

Q: And why is keeping weight off the tracks important?

A: Keeping vehicles or any weight off the track is necessary because if you continually drive on the same path, that makes the ground harder and compacts the soil. Conversely, if it is too wet, keeping vehicles off will prevent tearing up the ground or ruts.

Q: For competitors coming from all over the country, can you describe Kentucky ground?

A: We have a limestone base which is one of the key reasons why Thoroughbreds are bred here - there is a lot of calcium in the limestone which promotes strong bones. The soil drains really well and the turf is long established with deep roots. For terrain, we have rolling, grassy fields, and hills. It’s lovely.

Q: What is being done to maintain the footing before and during the competition?

A: While the KHP is a multi-use/multi-user facility, Mick does his best to take care of the footing on the tracks we will use on a continual basis. The super dry ground would be taken care ahead of time with the irrigation system. Closer to the event, if we have to irrigate in the middle of the night, that’s what we’re going to do. During the competition we’ll do the same thing. We’ll continue to irrigate as necessary or fix anything. If any areas in front of jumps get torn up, we’ll certainly be prepared to fix that.

Q: Specifically, what farm equipment is being used to maintain the footing?

A: Tractors with turf tires, balanced finish mowers, aggravators, Harley Rakes, cultipackers, and the irrigation system that’s across all of the cross-country tracks are available for footing maintenance and repair.

Q: What about the show jumping and dressage footing? And warm-up areas?

A: The dressage rings, show jumping rings, and all related warmups will be on German Geotextile (GGT) footing. The designated schooling areas will also be on GGT footing. With the number of people that will be here, we want to make sure we have rings that are designated just for schooling and just for the competition. In addition to the Kentucky Horse Park staff, we’ll be working with Bobby Murphy, the AEC show jumping course designer. He is very well versed in the footing and his crew will be maintaining the warmup and competition areas. They’ll be dragging and watering every day, at night, and whenever necessary.

All competition rings, related warmup areas, and schooling areas will be on GGT footing. RedBayStock.com Photo.

About USEA American Eventing Championships

The USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) is the pinnacle of the sport for the national levels. Held annually, the best junior, adult amateur, and professional competitors gather to vie for national championship titles at every level from Beginner Novice to Advanced. This ultimate test of horse and rider draws hundreds of horses and riders from around the country to compete for fabulous prizes, a piece of the substantial prize money, and the chance to be named the National Champion at their respective levels. This year, the USEA American Eventing Championships will be held August 27 – September 1 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Click here to learn more about the USEA American Eventing Championships.

About Equestrian Events, Inc.

EEI is a non-profit charitable Kentucky corporation that was established initially to produce the 1978 World Three-Day Event Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park. Following the success of those championships, EEI established an annual event that evolved into the world-renowned Kentucky Three-Day Event, which draws some 80,000 spectators to the Kentucky Horse Park each year. In 2018, EEI introduced the new Kentucky CSI3* Invitational Grand Prix and will be managing the 2019 and 2020 USEA American Eventing Championships. All three competitions are held at the Kentucky Horse Park. For more information, please visit www.eq-events.com.

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