Ready for WEG 2018!


Fence 1. Photo courtesy Jenni Autry.

It’s pretty awesome to see the course come together for the World Equestrian Games here in Tryon; I’ve wanted to do this for more than 20 years and now I’ve done it. I thought there would be a point this week I could actually sit back and enjoy it but I don’t think that’s going to happen – we’ve had a week of hard work, but we have a great team and it’s all come together.

All of the feedback I’ve heard is that it’s beautiful and challenging but it looks like a fair test. The weather is the biggest topic of conversation here and it keeps changing, we’ve gone from epic disaster to now looking like it’ll be a little bit breezy and we’ll have a magic little window where it cools off before it rains. I think the crew involved in show jumping on Sunday will be involved in an entirely different competition than me – Sunday looks like it’s going to pour, with maybe 6 inches of rain in 24 hours.

We are prepared for the worst: we bought sheet plastic to cover takeoff and landing areas which it doesn’t look like we will need, and we have staged gravel and sand around the course to patch up any areas that need it. We’ll have a team of ten builders on the course, and another 14 people just working on footing, working together with the builders. So we have 24 people on the course solely responsible for keeping things running smoothly.

The footing looks good, we have that fantastic footing that everyone saw at the test event with the sandy-based golf course footing. The maintenance keeps changing: obviously we irrigated like crazy for the past three weeks, up until just a few days ago, and now we’ve set up pumps to remove water from the course if we need to. The sod that was laid on the final track is really well established, you can put your hands deep into it and grab it and it doesn’t move around. There’s one small stretch of GGT footing on course where we didn’t have time to establish the grass, and in the main arena for the last fence. Everything looks good when it’s on green grass – the grass here looks amazing!

It’s pretty incredible having it all come together. I just gave two ladies a ride to the top of the hill and they were both ecstatic about how beautiful the course was; I don’t think they knew that I’d built the course and it was nice to receive those unsolicited compliments. You do this job to see the athletes prove themselves – all the horses and riders and owners have worked so incredibly hard to get here – and helping them achieve their goal is part of why we do this. The other side is that there are a lot of stories told through this course, with the layers of footing and ground work, of jump construction and painting, the bigger décor and the final dressing, and at a WEG all those layers are thicker and more complicated than at a typical horse trial.

At a WEG, the jumps are harder and more thought through – on top of that gorgeous footing you have the extra things like the small turtles next to the big turtles, the cardinals next to the bird feeder, the little apples next to the big apples. Then you have the amazing detailed painting that the painters added, and the final layer of decoration which again at a weg is 100% more than at a horse trials. Every horse trial has these four layers but here it’s to the nth degree, and it’s not until you have those layers all put together that you see the final product. It’s really satisfying to see it all come together with this cohesive North Carolina theme. Tomorrow’s sport is going to be freaking awesome!

Here’s a tour of the course from our friends at

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Update on the 2018 World Equestrian Games Course in Tryon

Photos from 2018 WEG Test Event Copyright Amber Heintzberger

I spent the day at the Tryon International Equestrian Center doing some work on the course for the World Equestrian Games, which are just a couple of months away now. There’s not much new to say about the progress of the course at this point, but things are really happening and the course is going definitely be in great shape for the WEG.

We’ve been focusing on some of our other clients over the past few weeks: Plantation Field is all squared away and we’re going to build all the Fair Hill portables this week so we can come back the last week of July/ first week of August for the Pony Club championships and the final construction build-out. On the 20th of August we’ll set the portables with course designer Mark Phillips, and the course will essentially be complete.

The excavation of the mountain at the end of the course is complete and the footing has sod and irrigation; it’s probably a 50-foot-wide track so we have lots of ground to work with, and there’s a good service road off to the side. People often forget that if there isn’t a road to keep the traffic off the grass, it’s hard to establish great grass, so that’s particularly beneficial.

We had pretty epic rain this spring and the footing is in great condition. The golf course has amazing footing, we’ve run competitions in both the wet spring and the dry summer and it’s always had good reviews. People always say they want to run cross country on a golf course and this is the real thing! It’s really the best of both worlds: it’s old turf because the golf course was abandoned for years, but it still has the installation and drainage and irrigation that are all first class because they were installed for the golf course.

We know where we’re starting and finishing, though the start box and finish flags will be installed closer to the event. The stadium for the Derby field is being constructed and it’s going to be very impressive, the stadium will definitely feel big and important. They’ve hung some of the trusses and rafters up so you can start to feel now how big and grand it’s going to be in its build-out. I’m pretty sure there will be a Jumbotron in there so you can see what’s happening on course, which is great – you can sit anywhere you want and see what’s happening anywhere on course, it gives you the most information and the clearest picture. It’s almost more vivid than real life.

We have a solid building crew for the WEG in place and have a great decorating crew in place too.  We’ve really acquired the best people for the job.

The part I’m looking forward to the most is the last 30-day trip, where we go from setting the portables to really turning this into a World Equestrian Games course. A lot of the leading up is just hard work, but we have tons of fun, interesting stuff built. At this point all of the complexes are still just parts, all the way from the logs and portables and other basic elements down to the décor and finally the flowers. In the final 30 days we will be fitting out all of the bigger décor items like archways that go between fences and for example, if you’re jumping a carved turtle, there are little carved baby turtles and rocks to make it look more interesting. We have different animals and some other “colorful” items that really turn it into a WEG course, with a theme. Once you fit the brush and pull it all together, it’s going to be pretty incredible. Right now there’s still an amazing amount of stuff that’s just sitting off to the side of the course in the weeds, ready to stand up in its final form and have the grass mowed underneath it so it can look really impressive.

Next weekend is Fitch’s Corner Horse Trials in Millbrook, New York. The only competition other than that, for us, between now and the Games, is a horse trials at Fair Hill in Maryland. Fitch’s Corner is the best: it’s fun and it’s a low-level competition that they run like a big event, with lots of social functions, so you have all the fun parts of putting together a nice competition, without the stress of building a course for the upper levels. It’s really the worrying and stressing over high performance events that give us gray hair! This year they’re going to have a spectacular Rolls Royce car show, and knowing Fernanda, everything will be gorgeous. Fitch’s is where I grew up, and it’s fun seeing people I’ve known all my life, eating at places where I ate growing up, and being in familiar surroundings. It’s also the 25th anniversary of the horse trials, which means I’ve been building horse jumps for more than 25 years now!


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The Fork 2018 and WEG Test Event

Eric discusses this weekend at The Fork CIC and preparations for the eventing and driving courses for the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina.

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Wrapping up 2017

Happy holidays, everyone! It has been a big year for ETB Equine Construction, including The Fork CIC3*, the American Eventing Championships, and the Central Park Horse Show in addition to our regular big events like Plantation Field, Fair Hill Stable View Aiken as well as the numerous horse trials that keep us busy year-round.

We are well into construction on the eventing and driving courses for the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon, NC, and also have big plans for Fair Hill in the future. We’ve been hard at work in our shop in Virginia building portable fences for the WEG, and the North Carolina-themed course is going to be a lot of fun to put together.

From all of us at ETB, we wish you and your families a very happy holiday season and all the best in 2018.

Eric and the ETB Crew


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ETB at the 2017 Fair Hill International CCI

We’ve got another successful event at the Fair Hill International in the books. The two star started off slow – five of the first horses fell off and then things got going and we saw the results that we were expecting. In all there were a few stops and falls throughout the day but no major problems. It was a pretty nice day temperature-wise and I think the footing was as good as it could be. We sort of dodged a bullet with the rain the week before the event. All of the hard ground turned to good soft ground. The challenges on the course were spread around pretty well. We didn’t have any broken pins or MIM clips- really all we had to do was put out a bit of gravel and put flags back up when they get knocked down. A lot of the corners take a lot of abuse! Last year we had one get a flag caught in its tail. That’s one thing about sitting on a cross country course watching horse after horse go by: you’ll always see something new and unexpected!

We took down the portables this morning and all the permanent fences that he’s not planning to jump next year. It makes it easier to clean up the grounds when the jumps aren’t out there. Next year’s event will still be on the same piece of ground, so there probably won’t be any huge changes. The spring event might still be run on that property but I think everything is subject to change in the coming months as we figure out what the four-star is going to look like and how everything will work around that. Over time these questions will be answered but for now we’re planning to run a very similar track and won’t have any major dirt work. The tracks are still fairly new: the two-star is a two year old track and the three-star is a three year old track so we still have a few tricks up our sleeve for making things interesting.

I’m finally home for a couple of weeks, and have Full Moon Horse Trials left for this fall, then it’s all WEG: Capital W, Capital E, Capital G! We have a lot of jumps to build in the next four months. A lot of that has started with carving animals and things, and I’m meeting with Mark Phillips at the end of the month to go over the plan for the Eventing track and Richard Nichols mid-November to put some sticks in the ground and nail down his plan for the Driving Championships.

If you want to be part of be part of the action give us a call – we are still looking for help and it’s a great year to get involved! I’ve wanted to build a WEG course for 20 years, here’s an opportunity to do it the first year on the job.

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ETB is Ready for 2017 Fair Hill International


Boyd Martin and Master Frisky at Fair Hill 2015. Photo Steve Berkowitz

We got a ton of good rain Monday and Tuesday and after a few weeks of sunshine it’s now green, cold and wet – it’s Fair Hill weather after all!

This year the two and three-star cross country courses are going the same direction and there’s new stuff the whole way around: new combinations and handful of new portables. It’s very similar to last year – it’s very typical of Derek’s course design, a steady, calculated step forward rather than something radical that might not work. He always provides a good reliable test of the horses and riders.

From our end, all the brush is in and the decorations are great. We have maybe 80 fences and each one is decorated individually, plus all the other decorations on the grounds. It looks spectacular.

The Young Event Horse competition is huge this year – their courses are on the Sawmill side, where all the spring and summer horse trials courses are. They do their dressage today in the main arena, next to the two-star, so it’s a big experience for the young horses will the flags flying and all the atmosphere. Normally the YEH is almost an afterthought, set up on the side of a hill somewhere, but here it’s really front and center; it’s a true championship. We lend them a handful of jumps to help make the cross country course different each year, and with some changes from the usual horse trials it has that championship feel.

We’ve been pretty squared away here all week. A couple of the guys are at Boyd’s farm today doing a little work. We really needed to be finished Monday and did a little tweaking Tuesday. Yesterday we were really finished with all the final touches. Ideally you should spend Wednesday drinking coffee!

We really dodged a bullet with the footing because before the rain the footing was hard as a rock, which would have been too bad because the footing was perfect in the Mid-Atlantic for the past year or so. All summer it rained and everything was green and perfect. It really stopped raining the week before Plantation, and it hadn’t rained a drop in five weeks. This rain was perfect; a little rain helps quite a bit. It wasn’t like we had a bottomless summer drought, we really just needed a top-up. There was plenty of moisture in the ground and just the top was dry. There’s no irrigation here, but even with serious irrigation you can’t replicate Mother Nature. Conditions now are perfect and we are looking forward to the weekend.


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2017 Central Park Arena Eventing

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Slide show photos copyright Amber Heintzberger. Please email amberwriter(at) 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.


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