The big questions for those connected with the Lake Placid Horse Shows are, "Was the investment in the new rings worth it?" and "Will adding a third week attract riders?" By the end of the first week of the horse shows, the answer to the first was "yes."
This spring, the Lake Placid Horse Show Association invested $1.2 million in new footings for its rings that included a new drainage system, crushed rock and a mix of sands and a material that looks like shredded cloth. Because the horse show grounds are built on top of a large plain of sand, the drainage has been pretty good, but pretty good is not good enough in the highly competitive world of high-class hunter-jumper competitions.
The problem is rain. How fast can grounds being used by over a thousand horses recover when it rains, a problem being exacerbated by changes in weather patterns as an outcome of climate change, such as heavier rains? The new footings were tested by a reported 3- inch deluge opening week. Mud, pools of water or sloppy ground cover was nowhere in sight. While the rain did cause delays, they were at a minimum, and most events were rescheduled as a result of the incredible recovery time.
Richard Feldman and Gracie, 5, a winner of the Lead Line event
(Photo — Naj Wikoff)
The experience of riding on the new surface was a qualified yes, and all agreed it was a huge improvement. As it is so new, the soil mix had not compacted down as firmly as some desired. Most I spoke with felt it was starting to firm up nicely under the usage of so many horses and the constant grooming of the grounds crews.
"New footing in all the dirt rings is the major change," said Butch Martin, director of the North Elba Park District. "We raised ones by the road (Route 73) up 5 feet, and we put sod banking around it. The footing is state-of-the-art. It's what everybody jumps on. It will take about a year to get everyone accustomed to it, but for the most part the responses are great. That rain the other day went right down through it and the crushed rock beneath, and we were ready to go the next morning with no problem at all. It was just what we wanted."
"I was a huge job," continued Martin. "The company that put it in started May first and finished June twentieth. It's gorgeous. It's flat, it's level, and there was not a bit of standing water during or after that rainstorm. None. Our biggest problem is that it is brand new. It takes a little while to squish the air out of it. I'm not a rider, but it looks pretty tempting to me."
"The new footings have been very well received," said Marty Bauman, director of public relations for the Lake Placid Horse Show Association. "The trainers and the riders really felt we needed to do it. To remain a world-class horse show, which Lake Placid is, you can't just keep up with the times. You need to be a step ahead. We had great footing here, but we needed to move ahead. We did it, and the riders and trainers have been very appreciative."
"We had no choice," said Richard Feldman, chairman of the Lake Placid Horse Show Association. "The biggest stables told me that if we didn't put this new footing in, they wouldn't come back. If that happened, there would be no show. We'd have to close it down. The footing is a mixture of four different sands and a material you would think is cloth cut up and all mixed together. It's an enormous project. We did seven rings here. The cost approaches a million dollars. This is a legacy the horse show is leaving to this town. If they treat it right, which means just maintenance, you'll have a 25-year go without doing anything."
"We came to a crossroads," said Tim Hooker, vice chairman of the Lake Placid Horse Show Association. "We could have decided to just become a boutique horse show and rely on the location and good will, or we can say we want the horse show remain the top in the Northeast and we did that. We put that out there. If you talk to the exhibitors and trainers who have been coming for a number of years, they will tell you we raised the bar. We are the summer leader, and we are going to stay that way by being at the leading edge of the sport."
"The footing is quite high tech," said trainer John Williams. "The new footing is going through a learning curve, but it has been great. I've been coming here since 1975 or 1976, and I haven't missed a year since I first came. With the weather of the Adirondacks being a little inconsistent, it will help us be able to show regardless of the weather. The footing will get better and better, and that will help expedite our showing, help eliminate our days from being too late because of the scheduling changing we have to go through when events are canceled or postponed. We think it will help quite a bit, especially for the prospect of doing three weeks in a row. It's difficult to do three weeks in a row without footing that's to this level."
And what do the riders think?
"I think the new rings are great. They are super. It's a much-needed and appreciated improvement," said Grand Prix rider Molly Ashe Cawley. "We had a rough first day with the rain, but that would have been rough anywhere. The water cleared up fast. The rings are much better."
"The improvement to the footing is a big project, obviously cost a lot on money, but it will be great," said Jimmy Torano. "It's an all-weather surface, and it's going to be really good. It will take a little time to settle, but it is going to be a huge improvement. I've been coming here since the early '80s. I haven't missed a year since '84 or '85. We love Lake Placid. It is one of our favorite shows. The show, the Feldmans, really go all out for the exhibitors. The weather, the town, the restaurants, everything here is top notch."