PBIEC & TIEC Unveil Ultra-Competition Arenas

The first fully-engineered riding surfaces in the world make their debut.

Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) at Tryon Resort in Mill Spring, NC and Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) in Wellington, FL are excited to announce the completion of the first two fully-engineered Ultra-Competition Arenas in the world. This advance to the state-of-the-art was made possible by a strategic commitment to produce extreme performance arenas which remain kind to the horse.

The new and fully-engineered Tryon Stadium at TIEC.  Photo by iEquiTek.

International 5* Irish competitor, Shane Sweetnam has now competed in both the International arena at PBIEC and the Tryon Stadium.  He said, “The surfaces feel amazing: more like really good turf than hard sand. My horses are very happy to jump on them. The surface character is forgiving, kind and predictable. I am able to safely go quite fast over large jumps, with confidence.”

USA 5* competitor Kristen Vanderveen said, “Just like the arena in Wellington, I feel the new arena in Tryon allows the full speed and jumping potential of my horse to be safely expressed. I wish all arenas were like these.”

Shane Sweetnam on Indra Van De Oude Heihoef competing on Tryon Stadium’s new ultra-competition surface.  Photo by Sportfot.

The Process

In the summer of 2019, Equestrian Sport Productions (ESP), responsible for producing the annual Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), began plans to completely redesign and rebuild the International Arena at PBIEC. With 2020 originally marked as an Olympic year, it was important that the arena be of the highest professional competition standards.

“In 2019 we made a strategic decision to fully re-engineer the PBIEC International Arena using state-of-the-art engineering processes,” said ESP President Michael Stone. “With this major advance, we proved during WEF 2020 that we can combine extreme performance surfaces and kindness to the horse. The feedback from the riders has been tremendous.”

Through the spring of 2020, Tryon Equestrian Partners (TEP) embarked on an ambitious project to rebuild the Tryon Stadium at TIEC. This would be only the second fully-engineered arena in the world, using all of the design engineering deployed in Wellington, but optimized for TIEC. The Tryon Stadium is now up and running successfully.

Sharon Decker, President of Tryon Equestrian Partners, Carolinas Operations, said, “We are excited to have completely rebuilt the Tryon Stadium using the same fully-engineered processes that were used in Wellington. This has completely changed the character of the competitions at Tryon. Together with Wellington, we have now set the standard for Ultra-Competition equestrian arenas.”

The engineering project which started this process in Wellington was managed by David Burton, Chief Operating Officer of ESP. The team included Travis Gould, CEO of JTWG All Equestrian Surfaces due to his extensive familiarity with PBIEC. The laboratory design and modeling of the footing and all other components in the arena, as well as extensive measurements of the final arena, was done by Bill Hawe, CEO of iEquiTek, LLC. Bart Poels, CEO of Bart Poels International, Ltd. was brought in based on his extensive experience in designing international competition venues such as the Olympics and World Equestrian Games. Together this team conceived, designed and built the new PBIEC International Arena. Later in the process, Lars Roepstorff, representing the FEI, tested the surface to show it conformed to expectations for high level international competitions. The positive FEI tests served to verify the team’s results.

The new ultra-competition surface in PBIEC’s International Arena.  Photo by iEquiTek.

The engineering process designed and modeled the entire system in a lab before the first grain of sand was installed. Components tested included the drainage, base, particular sands, geotechnical amendments, the concussion mats used in Wellington, the drainage stone used in Tryon, as well as all other factors. This way the performance of the arena was known before it was built, not discovered after the fact. The team set the performance objectives of the footing mixes utilized at PBIEC and TIEC to exceed the performance of other top-level competition arenas, tailored to each each venue’s unique conditions.

While the testing incorporated a vast array of metrics and test methodologies, some extremely minute, one of the more important metrics considered was shock attenuation (sometimes called cushioning). As it was critical that the surface to avoid injuring the horses, this metric was evaluated closely in the design process, in the lab, and in the final, installed arenas.

Ultra-Competition arenas are an example of the most extremely fine-tuned riding surfaces. The speeds and heights of CSI 5* competitions in general make for a narrow aperture of what is acceptable, even in the best of conditions. CSI 5* Competitions may be held in the rain, yet still demand 5* levels of performance. In fact, this past season in Wellington, this happened several times.

Utilizing lab measurements, coupled with comparisons in the iEquiTek database, the team knew were they stood as a starting point. The formulae were then enhanced to improve certain aspects of the peak performance. In the process, the team utilized knowledge gleaned from the well-received 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon.

To engineer the new Tryon Stadium, all of the same iEquiTek laboratory and field processes were used, as they were in Wellington. JTWG constructed the arena, and iEquiTek continued at Tryon to tune and adjust the arena for its opening, still employing that process today to maintain the arena within its “design envelope.”

Bill Hawe, from iEquiTek said, “It is very impressive when an organization makes an all-in commitment to advance the state-of-the-art, as ESP and TIEC have done together. This is what changes the sport for the better. We are very excited to partner with them on this journey.”

Travis Gould, from JTWG said, “ESP and TIEC have shown the vision to take arenas to the next level through this new process. Our partnership with iEquiTek now allows us to deliver to them arenas which exceed everyone’s expectations.”

The result of this process has been the creation of WEF Hi-Pro: a family of performance-engineered riding surface designs. WEF Hi-Pro Ultra-Competition, as used in the PBIEC International Arena and the TIEC’s Tryon Stadium, achieves Ultra-Competition level standards and is intended for the very top level of International competition. Additionally, through the design process, variants were created such as WEF Hi-Pro Competition and WEF Hi-Pro Training. These variants are tailored for performance levels associated national competitions, high-end training arenas, and private professional training facilities.

The new ultra-competition surface in Tryon Stadium at TIEC.  Photo by iEquiTek.

Throughout the process, before construction and during competition, riders were interviewed extensively and anonymously, to ensure the most productive feedback possible. Here a few rider comments, which speak to the resulting arenas in both Florida and North Carolina:

  • “This is the first extreme performance arena I have competed on which is kind to my horse.”
  • “This arena has changed the nature of the sport in South Florida.”
  • “I am so happy to be jumping on the new surface in Tryon. It was clear from the beginning that my horse is happy to jump again, specifically on this new surface.”
  • “Unlike many other arenas, this Wellington surface does not adversely affect my strategy. I can ride the most aggressive line I need to, which my horse is capable of, to achieve my objective.”
  • “I have no trouble getting up off the ground, even in a difficult 1-stride combination. Yet there is no concussive shock upon landing.”
  • “Every aspect of the new surface in Tryon is perfect. In particular, I can tell immediately it is not concussively harsh. Yet we can get up off the ground quickly and easily for big fences.”
  • “I don’t feel any loss of momentum away from a fence in that first stride upon landing.”
  • “My horse and I have complete confidence in the outside rear leg in sharp fast turns. The surface gives as its designed to, but it does not give away.”
  • “The surface is perfectly neutral allowing my horse’s natural ability to come forward. It does not artificially help him. Nor does it hinder him. The quality of his canter is great.”
  • “I love the new Tryon surface. I finally feel I can safely go as fast as I want or need to.”
  • “I wish this arena in Wellington had been built years ago, and I hope you do all the arenas this way.”
  • “Having ridden on all the great arenas around the world, I feel right now this Wellington arena is clearly the best one in the world.”

To learn more about TIEC, click here.  To learn more about PBIEC, click here.