Making Improvements to Plantation Field

While nobody sitting at home is thinking about Plantation Field yet, a lot of people behind the scenes are thinking about it and taking steps to improve the course for next year’s event. We just finished doing all the dirt work to reverse the one, two and three-star courses next year at the Plantation Field International in September, 2017.

The Ruin has a middle section that’s always been rubble and debris and we cleaned all of that up . There’s still some rock work restoration to do ,but it’s looking good. The point was to get the seed on the ground and start growing grass; you can do the rest, like rock work or building timber fences whenever, but at this point in the schedule it’s all about footing. The excellent weather at the moment is an added bonus. This is really the best time of year to do the dirt work, with a season and a half of growing season before the event, and things are right on schedule. The fall of 2017 seems like a long ways away, but it’s not that far anymore!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. We’ll have more updates after the holidays.


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2016 Fair Hill International

Last weekend we wrapped up the Fair Hill International CCI3* and CCI2*. To start with, it was probably the most amazing Fair Hill weather week possible! In fact it was probably the nicest weather of the year – it’s rare you go outside seven days in a row and don’t wish it was 3 degrees warmer or cooler, and since we work outdoors we’re always complaining about the weather, but it was perfect. Start with that and have a great course design and it all goes up from there.

It was probably the easiest and best FHI I’ve been involved with in 18 years. That’s not because we didn’t have a lot of work to do, because the courses had huge changes: we constructed eighteen new fences, and the 2* changed direction, so every two star jump was manipulated in some way. Whenever you have different levels you start borrowing from one for the other, so from the design and build standpoint there was a lot to do and that all came together extraordinarily well.

Thanks to some fantastic work from the crew this weekend, things also worked well from our standpoint. Dylan, Jamie and Chris are all really good at what they do and they are able to do a phenomenal amount of work. Derek is a very consistently good designer, too. He and I meet the same day every year, spring and fall, like clockwork. It’s very reliable and it produces good results.

The competition results were also impressive, for 150 horses to have virtually no injuries – no people or horses were transported by the emergency services all day. I don’t know the percentage of horses that jogged the next morning was better or worse than normal but there was not a lot of complaining about unhappy horses on Sunday morning.

You’d have a tough time duplicating that footing, even if you had control of the elements. On Monday it was too wet but by Saturday it was perfect. Jamie Hicks has renovated the Aggrovator back to its original 5” long tines – they had worn down to about 2” – so the footing is in much better condition than the past couple years. The top couple of inches are really just roots and “clutter”. That aggrovator is owned by Lorney Forbes, who’s Sam Slater’s wife, and is borrowed by Jersey Fresh, Plantation Field, and Fair Hill, so it’s an important piece of equipment. She bought it to support good footing in eventing and it’s been an amazing contribution to the sport, so it’s good to have it back in excellent condition. Jamie was doing the footing at Plantation, realized the tines were short, and did some much-needed maintenance at the time.

We spent this weekend in Tryon going over plans to move the Advanced course into White Oak Plantation, which is an absolutely gorgeous property and has a very different look and feel to the property where the course currently is. It’s an abandoned 18-hole Arnold Palmer golf course that’s part of an old, failed housing development, and we have a lot of interesting and beautiful terrain to work with.

It’s been a great year, everything has worked out really well. It’s been nonstop, traveling from one course to another: in eight weeks we did the AEC’s, Loudon, the new Advanced event at Stable View Aiken, Plantation Field, and Fair Hill. There were two more events before that too, so it’s been pretty intense. We will also be working on Full Moon, a new event in Maryland, and will have updates from there later in the year.







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This blog entry originally appeared on in June, 2015. While we are not currently looking for help here at ETB, it’s worth reading over the job description if you’ve ever considered building horse jumps for a living.

We are looking for an enthusiastic and talented builder to join our team at ETB Equine Construction. We offer good pay, full benefits, and lots of travel and adventure. This is a great job if you’re handy and if you love the outdoors. If you have a passion for three-day eventing, even better, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time at competitions.

In addition to working in our state of the art workshop in Virginia, you’re also going to be spending a lot of time on the road, far from friends and family, working long hours in every sort of weather. We are a close-knit team and want someone who brings a positive attitude to the workshop and the field, has a good work ethic and is open to new ideas.


This job isn’t for everyone; if you want to spend weekends at home with your family, propping your feet up and watching T.V., course building is not the lifestyle for you (that’s right, it’s not just a career, it’s a lifestyle). But for the right person it’s a dream job: you spend lots of time outdoors, put in an honest day’s work, and create something solid that you can be proud of at the end of the day.

Cross country jump built by ETB Equine Construction

Cross country jump built by ETB Equine Construction

You can also experience working alongside some of the best course designers in the world: we build some of the top courses in the United States, including Fair Hill, Plantation Field, Southern Pines, as well as the first-class lower level courses at Fitch’s Corner and various events around the Northeast, Midatlantic and Southeast regions. We also built the jumps for the 2015 $50,000 Wellington Eventing Invitational and are the official builders for the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.

Experience is preferred, but we are willing to train the right individual. This position is open immediately. For more information contact Eric at 860 930-3688 or

Eric Bull at work in Virginia. Photo Credit Scott Nathan.

Eric Bull at work in Virginia. Photo Credit Scott Nathan.

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The Pros and Cons of Frangible Pins

This blog first appeared on in September, 2015

This year’s Plantation Field International was a really similar course to last year, but things got interesting on Sunday with a lot of horses galloping home without their riders. I don’t think the big fences were necessarily the problem. Most eliminations have little to do with the actual jump itself. You can run out of wind, scope, confidence, even bravery, as  those big courses can take their toll over time.


At the end of the day we were more than an hour delayed, partly from taking the time to catch horses, and partly because we had to fix broken frangible pins. There were 9 pinned fences between the 2* and 3*, 11 if you count the 1*, which ran on Saturday. That’s about 10% of the total jumps on course.

The coffin broke three times. We had both jumps pinned, which I don’t think is necessarily the best technology for the first jump into a coffin, since horses tend to see the ditch and drop back a bit.


The big oxer broke twice—once when a horse’s hind end came down on it. In those cases you’re probably helping the horses get hurt a little less, but you’re not saving any horses. The last time they broke it was because the horse put his front legs down between the rails, and the pins in that situation most likely prevented a catastrophic situation. If we all stood around for half an hour fixing pins during the day, and the event was behind schedule, it was worth it for that last rider. If you save one horse, it’s all worth it.


We did not hear much grumbling about the delays. I think as long as we’re out there working hard to get things going again people are pretty patient. Part of the thing with the pins is that reverse pins, which are put on the back of the fence post, take longer to fix than the original straight pins, which go on the front of the post and are held in place with rope. The further the rail goes out on the pin, the easier to break a pin. It’s set to 9 pounds of torque and when a horse hits it hard it breaks. With the traditional pins, the horse’s body has to actually rotate to break the pin. They each have their place, but the back of an oxer is definitely the place for a reverse pin. Most designers have their own preferences—Derek diGrazia always does two reverse pins on oxers, while Mike E-S does reverse pins on the back of oxers but no pins on the front. It seems everyone has come up with their own formula through their own experiences.

MIM pins are another item to consider—they are on hinges and have red, fancy-looking clips that go on the side of the post. They break under horizontal pressure, while a standard pin breaks under downward pressure. The easiest way to explain it is comparing it to when you see a crash test with a car—the car hits the wall and the back of the car jumps up because the energy can’t go down and the car can no longer go forward, so the energy escapes by going up. With a horse, the hind end flips up, resulting in a rotational fall. If the horizontal energy is absorbed however, and the pin breaks, then the horse stops rotating.

mim frangible pin (

It’s not foolproof, but it works often enough that it’s worth using it. The pins are the best thing we have at our disposal at this time.

Unfortunately, fixing broken pins makes for a hard, stressful day as a course builder. That’s about as hard as I’ve worked on cross-country day in a long time! It’s kind of the rule of numbers though, if you keep building big jumps and running a lot of horses over them, you’re going to have to work hard at some point, and the last few events we’ve done were relatively easy on competition day.


So what exactly are we doing when we repair a broken pin? Reverse pins are cabled and torqued tight, so you have to loosen them, undo the turn buckle to get slack in the cable in order to jack the rail back up, then put the pin back in pretty near perfect. The line in the pin has to line up with a nail placed under the rail, put the keeper pin through the pin and the sleeve and then you have to let the rail down and finally re-torque the cable with the torque wrench.


In every case on Sunday both pins were broken, which almost never happens. Fortunately, we had enough sets of pins to fix them all, but I only had one left at the end of the day. Also, with the last horse that fell, the turn buckle was stripped out. The rail falls about six inches onto a “keeper post”, which means you just lift the rail back up instead of having to lift it off the ground. In this particular instance however, the cable broke and the rail fell to the ground. So basically we had half a horse jump to build.

Then we had a horse get stuck in the trakehner. We took it apart and put it together and it was only a four-minute hold. As much as people were tired of waiting for me to fix things, I did some things right.

Fortunately, as difficult a day as it was, with all the horses running around and the various delays, most of the falls were minor and no horses were injured. Cody Sturgess was the only rider transported off course. The event was good advertising for the schooling cross-country course we built for Boyd—if you want to go clear at your next event, get over to Windurra and start schooling!

About the Author

Eric Bull is the owner of ETB Equine Construction, based in Scottsville, VA specializing in building attractive and safe cross-country obstacles, stadium jumps and providing the best in course design and management.

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Let us help you achieve your goals with your young horses…


Most simply, small, inviting fences help get horses going and confident while leading them down a road in their training to where they can answer a more complicated question. In buying a small set of portables and building a small schooling course for yourself, you need to select fences that are adjustable so that you can build up as your horse develops.



A great way to build “inventory” is to use simple things like existing logs, hay bales, and other materials. These make great fillers and small, simple fences for young horses. To progress being prepared to compete in a recognized competition it’s nice to have some schooling fences that look more like what you will encounter at an event, like a roll top and a table.


A small roll top is infinitely useful; on flat ground it is straightforward and inviting, but at the top of a hill it is a whole different question, and at the bottom of the hill it’s another question still. Later you can use two small roll tops together, or in combination with a ditch or a bank.


Another good fence would be a simple table, or any fence with top spread, which is a different shape from a rolltop, much as a vertical is different from an oxer in the show jumping ring. Horses jump differently over fences with a spread.


Keep in mind that while they are cheap and useful, logs will eventually rot and you will have to replace them. They are a good jump material to start with, but eventually replacing them with jumps constructed of pressure treated lumber will give you a schooling course that withstands the elements and will provide you with years of schooling opportunities.






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Spring Maintenance For Schooling Jumps

Spring has come early for most of us this year and now is the best time to get your schooling jumps and footing prepared for some serious fun. Think of it as spring cleaning—a little maintenance will make your jumps last longer, look more beautiful and even provide a better schooling experience.

Logs eventually rot and wear out. They tend to wear out inconsistently as some last much longer than others. Check them thoroughly and replace logs that are sinking into the ground or rotting away. The same goes for boards. A few rotten boards does not necessarily mean that a portable cross country fence is junk, however. Normally the frame holds up better than the “skin” since it’s not exposed to the elements, so you can re-skin them (replace the outer boards) at least once. Pressure washing and staining portable fences can make them look like new.


For portable jumps, I recommend moving them a few times a year to protect the ground underneath. If a jump sits there for a long time it settles into the ground. Pick them up and put them on new ground to preserve the turf and keep the jumps in better shape.

As for footing, spring is a good time to over seed or reseed—the sooner the better. Some turf experts say you can effectively broadcast seed as the frost comes out of the ground because the ground sort of heaves a bit and the seed gets into the dirt. You can also drill the seed in the spring for the same effect. At the end of winter it’s easier to see the ground itself—the bare patches and the humps and bumps. After the grass comes in it’s less obvious where the patches that need maintenance are located.


Now is also a good time to fertilize. It’s much better to do this early before the grass gets high; you want the fertilizer in the dirt, not in the grass. Different regions have different grasses, so what you use depends on where you are. Local farmers and agriculturalists are generally most helpful. For instance, the mushroom compost in Pennsylvania is inexpensive and very effective. Once you ship it to Virginia, it’s more expensive. In Georgia I’ve seen them use peanut hulls because it’s a local commodity. Ask around to find out if there’s local compost you can use.

Remember that none of this is a quick fix, it’s yearly maintenance. Our goal at Fair Hill is to make 70% of the track 30% better than it was last year. You don’t want to tear it all up and start over, you just want to keep improving what you have. There are a lot of smart people out there who know how to grow grass and manage properties. Again, this time of year you can see what’s going on at the dirt level. By April or May the window is starts to close because in the summer there’s no guarantee of rain.


Competition courses are becoming increasingly new and shiny. Young horses can school all day at local schooling courses that have gotten old and gray, and then you get to a competition with lots of shiny new painted jumps and the young, inexperienced horses react differently to that look. It doesn’t have to look like Disneyland, but you want to give your horses a school that better simulates a competition. Giving your show jumps some shine can make a better schooling experience.

The rebirth of spring tends to motivate us to go outside and get things done. It’s a great time to add a few new jumps or a couple of new portable fences. You tend to get involved more with the horses during the competition season, so now’s a good time to assess if you should add new things.

Pressure washing and repainting jumps will make feel like you have a new set. If the task is too daunting, hire it out; there are contractors who can take care of this and your jumps will last longer. There are a lot of competitions on the calendar in the next few months and now is the time to get yourself prepared at home.


About the Author

Eric Bull is the owner of ETB Equine Construction, based in Scottsville, VA specializing in building attractive and safe cross-country obstacles, stadium jumps and providing the best in course design and management.

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Putting Flair in Your Schooling Course

So you’ve followed our tips from last month to pressure wash and paint or stain your schooling course, but it’s still looking a little plain. Like plain white walls in a freshly remodeled house, you need some decorations to make things look good. Our crew at ETB has come up with a few simple, inexpensive ideas for decorating with items from around the house or barn, or easy found at your local hardware or crafts store.


  1. Artificial flowers. This one’s a no-brainer. We all know that these can look super tacky as home decor, but these show ring staples add color and variety to a jumping course. Most large craft supply stores have an abundance of blooms at affordable prices. Stick with one or two colors for a simple, classy color scheme, or grab bunches in every color of the rainbow and let your freak flag fly. Remember that horses see a monochromatic color scheme, so they’ll be more interested in the shape and placement of the flowers than whether the orange and purple fake daisies are screamingly bright.


  1. Spray Paint. Say whaaa? Last year at the Central Park Horse Show, street artist Ian Debeer painted some amazing graffiti on a few of the show jumps. It was cool, edgy, and can be cheaply replicated at home. Grab some straw bales or a basic box type jump filler and a few cans of paint and start tagging! Tip: throw down a tarp or drop cloth to keep your footing from becoming part of your work of art. This would be a great project for the Pony Club set.


  1. Ever heard of designer trash bags? We have a better idea than to “dress up your mess” with these stylish PartyTrash bin liners: wrap up a hay bale and use them as a brightly colored, relatively inexpensive jump fillers. Or get a pack of Hefty™ bags and a Sharpie™ and make a cheaper DIY art project with (sort of) the same effect.


  1. Potted plants. Especially at the end of a season, you can score great deals on potted trees and plants at your local garden center. Those tiny Christmas trees that no one wanted will look great propped next to a couple of jump standards or flanking your new portable cross-country jumps. And come next Christmas, they might be big enough to string some lights on and decorate your barn for the holidays.


  1. Tarp/pond liner. You can fake a water tray by folding a tarp or small pond liner to the desired width and weighing it down with wooden jump poles. Or hang the tarp or or pond liner over a vertical and anchor the ends under a ground pole to keep it from flapping around.


BONUS: Hit the dollar section at your local Target for fun, decorative and seasonally appropriate items to decorate your jump standards. Giant paper hearts, sparkling shamrocks and fluffy bunny ears can all be put to good use, and your horse will be totally unsurprised by whatever tricks come out of the bag at your next event.


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