2017 Central Park Arena Eventing

Slide show photos copyright Amber Heintzberger. Please email amberwriter(at)aol.com for more information about ETB Equine Construction or if you would like a copy of a specific photo for media use.

The Central Park Horse Show Arena Eventing Challenge was a major logistical challenge for our crew. We used two 40’ trailers to transport the jumps, because there are some limitations as to what you can bring in to the city – we were 13’6” high and the Lincoln Tunnel is 13’ maximum, so we drove over the George Washington Bridge and then down to Central Park. If these jumps get on the news, we want it to be because they’re great jumps and it was a spectacular night, not because they’re jammed into a tunnel!

They’re all Mark’s fences, we loaded them in Tryon on Thursday. We took one of the trucks to my shop in Virginia, loaded up the “Big Apple” keyhole fence onto the trailer and then drove to the city. The only thing that didn’t work out was that the leaf for the big apple fell off the truck somewhere in New Jersey. We improvised with some brush, but next year it’ll be properly outfitted with its leaf and stem. It looked really good, and it was such a disappointment to lose it. You kind of wonder where a four-foot leaf and stem end up, but we improvised and did the best we could.

Both trucks arrived Friday night and that’s where the challenge began. When we arrived the ring was set up for the jumpers. To jump Saturday morning/afternoon were the hunters, and to jump Saturday evening were the eventers. The storage yard was 24’x12’, and it’s just a little sloped piece of property. We had to put the jumps somewhere, and effectively we had to assume there was zero storage.

Bobby Murphy, who’s the designer for the hunters, was AWESOME. I’d been to Central Park four years ago when we first talked about the eventers, but you never know how it will really work until you’re there, and Bobby’s experience with the venue was invaluable.

There’s no precedent for this competition in Central Park, where they’ve got hunters, jumpers and eventers all sharing the arena back to back in a venue like this. I don’t think this has ever been done in the history of the world.

So Friday night after the Grand Prix, the jumper jumps had to be taken out and the hunter jumps brought in. The only thing they shared might have been the jump cups, so everything had to be cleared out! Bobby made islands and decorations out of some of our jumps so that we could “store” them in the arena. We had the brush jumps flanking a hunter jump, the bank was an island covered with flowers, the corners were islands with more flowers decorating them. I’m going to say we had 13 jumps plus two warm-up jumps, and we got all but seven in the ring with the hunters and the rest went in the little storage area.

We worked through the night and all of this concluded at 6am. When you’re in a situation that has to come to a conclusion, you’re awake because you need to be. You can’t do 70%, you can’t leave anything until the morning. We’d started that afternoon and worked straight through, then got a few hours’ sleep back at our hotel.

The schedule was demanding: the night we loaded at my shop we finished around 1:30am and then left for the city.  Friday at midnight we started unloading jumps and finished at 6am, then headed to the hotel. Saturday at 5pm the hunters finished up and while they took their jumps out, our last five eventing jumps came into the ring and everything had to be moved into place. We had piles of hay bales, piles of hunter jumps. Remember there was only so much storage space, which also had to hold all the hunter jumps. We had two machines to move things around. After the hunters were finished Mark Phillips was laying rails on the ground and working out his courses which he’d drawn to a scaled drawing, but it always looks different in the ring than it does on paper. He’s laying the course out while there are still piles of stuff everywhere: rails, flowers and so on.

I’d never met Bobby Murphy before this weekend since I’d never been to a big hunter competition and Bobby had never been to an event. I think what we learned is there’s a lot we can do together next year. There’s a lot of stuff he brought that we had, and vice/versa. Next year the event jumps can be decorations for the hunters, so we can both bring less stuff. We did use a lot of the hunter decorations and flowers and stuff for our course.

Sunday was “family day” at the horse show so we had to clear out pretty quickly on Saturday night. When the class ended around 10:30 pm every jump had to get un-staked, un-numbered, taken down and put on the trucks to go back to Tryon, along with some additional stuff – a few dozen show jumps that had to go onto the already full trucks. We hired drivers for the trucks and they hit the road right away when we got everything loaded up.

The whole night time build and trucks and the way NYC works wasn’t foreign to me; it’s been 20 years since I worked construction in New York City, but I always liked working in the city at night. It’s always been fun to me that the “city that never sleeps” really never sleeps. We finished between 2 and 3 in the morning and went out for breakfast and there were still people out. Dylan flew home to Montreal and I’m getting back home to Virginia so I can get down to Stable View in Aiken, then back up here for Fair Hill. The other day we figured out with our fall schedule, we’re responsible for about 1200 horse jumps.

The apple and the bank were built for this, but the rest of the jumps have already been used at Wellington and Tryon. Some horses did crazy things over the bank but it was a good simulation of cross country. That’s what makes the arena eventing exciting and different: the jumpers jump extraordinarily big jumps extraordinarily fast and extraordinarily well. You can’t improve on that unless you add cross country jumps, and the Arena Eventing was really spectacular.

I did this one and Wellington with Dylan, and he does the Royal in Canada, so we’ve got a lot of experience between us now.  I also did Devon. We only had three weeks’ lead time for this event, which they added when dressage was canceled. It was Sunday at the AEC’s when they made the decision; we were between levels on cross country, and Shelley called me and asked if I’d do Central Park. I said I don’t really understand what I’m agreeing to, but yes. We’ll figure it out on Monday. It was the same for Mark, he pulled that course together having never been in that ring. He did a phenomenal job: it was safe, it was fast, it was hard. You don’t realize until you’re in there just how small that ring is.

I think the team format is where the Bellissimo group really hit it right. That was sort of the shot in the arm that “Arena Eventing” needed to draw the crowd in, with the clock running continuously – two riders had to have every footfall perfectly and the riders looked different from the hunters in their jerseys. It was fun and I think the greatest part for me is it’s sort of the ultimate logistical test. There were some parts of Friday night that felt pretty low, when we were still working in the middle of the night, but by the time Saturday night’s class wrapped up, I was really to do it all again.