What happens between the jumps on a cross-country course is every bit as important for the horse as clearing the jumps themselves. Riders place a high value on good footing because their equine athletes benefit from it. The footing on cross-country can mean the difference between a comfortable horse and a lame one at the end of the day on Saturday.
Good footing requires good turf. It’s a long term process to build the twelve inches of topsoil that is recommended for really good turf. The turf at Red Hills must endure up to 860 thundering hooves in a single day – definitely more than the average lawn can take.
The volunteers at Red Hills International Horse Trials are engaged in turf-enhancing activities year-round. Best practices include repairing any divots after the event, regular mowing, the addition of compost, and aeration. Seeding and over-seeding, rolling the ground to seal in moisture and promote seed growth, and good growing seasons that include sufficient amounts of rain and sunshine are all part of the science of footing improvement.
The 2013 relocation of the cross country courses in preparation for the 2014 event meant a fresh start producing superior tracks for the cross-country courses. Part of the property was timbered, a process which dramatically disrupted the ground. Repairing the damage involved a lot of earth moving, stump removal to create new galloping lanes, and other ground disturbing activity. In the aftermath, the tracks required rolling, raking, seeding, topdressing and fertilizing. With no growing season available between building the new course and the event dates, rye grass and Zoysia sod were used to stabilize the new earth and reduce erosion until the new ground could settle and support native grasses once again.
After the 2014 event, galloping lanes were aerated and native Bahia grass seed was broadcast on the lanes. The entire lengths of the tracks were rolled to help seal moisture into the ground. The results were visible in a few short weeks. A solid growing season and regular mowing contributed to improving the turf in advance of the 2015 event.
Immediately following the 2015 horse trials, all lanes were aerated again and the most challenged areas were reseeded. A second growing season combined with regular mowing has greatly improved the course footing once again and these efforts will continue well into the future.
Photo by Shems Hamilton Photography