2017 Central Park Arena Eventing

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Gearing Up for the New Year


Winter is a great time to catch up on work in the shop at home in Virginia.

Once again we will be the course builders for the Wellington Eventing Showcase, January 5-6, which is similar to what we did last year. This is an easy year for us at this event since we are using jumps that we used last year, and some jumps that we used at the AEC, so we do not have to build anything brand new.

The Fork CIC3*, which is moving to the Tryon International Equestrian Center, will be a completely new track for the Advanced division. They’re also adding the Modified division, which is a new division between training and prelim, at 3’5” in height. That will be a completely new course including portables, with similar questions to the other courses. I don’t think every event is going to have this level, because it’s a stepping stone between the levels – but it makes sense for TIEC to have it, and for the to create a championship course for it too.

We’ve built a bunch of ditches, banks and steps for the prelim through intermediate levels on the Equestrian Center side of the property at TIEC, and we’ve done a lot of work on the track for the new advanced course, which will be on the former golf course next door. All of the dirt work is finished now, and Mark and Tremaine have a design, so now we’ll place the portables and build a handful of post and rails. It’s well ahead of schedule and the grass is seeded and growing. There are a bunch of bridges under construction, because a stream runs through the golf course, which we’ll cross a few times. It’s all going to be green and beautiful by April; that’s a really nice time of year in North Carolina.

The dirt work is also done at Plantation for next season, so now we’re just waiting for grass to grow there, too. I’m at home where things are a bit quiet and spending some time getting caught up in the workshop. We’re doing a bunch of benches for a Botanical Garden right now, which is a fun change of pace, and we also did an entryway for a local guy. I generally like to stick to horse jumps, but this is something different.

Stable View added the Aiken Opener this coming weekend, so we’ve set all the fences there. It’s BN through prelim and the idea is to keep it on the easier side to get the season started. They left out some of the big spread tables and made the combinations a little easier, and you start and finish in a different spot than they used to. Mogi Bearden-Muller designed it, so it’ll have a different feel to Mark Phillips’ courses. Aside from that we’ve built all the portables for the Intermediate, which they’re hoping to run in October.


COMING SOON: Directions for building a simple portable fence at home

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.







Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

This blog entry originally appeared on HorseCollaborative.com 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@etbjump.com.

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Pros and Cons of Frangible Pins

This blog first appeared on HorseCollaborative.com 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 (eventingsafety.wordpress.com)

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. www.etbjump.com.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.






Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment