ARE AFOOT FOR DANISH
DIRT EXPERT HERMAN DUCKEK
New recipe for WEG Roma Footing
(September 30, 1998 Rome, Italy)-Danish footing
impresario Hermann Duckek had his work cut out for him when he was invited to design the
footing for the 1998 World Equestrian Games in Rome, Italy September 30-October 11.
"This is the first time that a World Games has been held in a grass stadium. The
challenge for me was to transform the arena from grass to dirt and then back to grass
again after the Games," explained Duckek, who was tasked to prepare Flaminio Stadium,
which is the main competition arena (70 x 110 meters), three warm-up rings and the paths
from the stables to the warm-up to the competition area.
Duckek was in charge of footing for the Games when originally they were scheduled for
Ireland, and he was invited by the Italian Federation to continue in that role when they
were moved to Rome. "The organization promised to save money on all things except for
the footing," said Duckek, who worked with several new products for these Games
plastic mats from Germany and a moisture retention product, in addition to the
basic materials of sand, river silt, stone dust and shavings.
"The footing is the most important thing," said Dott. Andrea Riffeser, Honorary
President of the Games, himself an active rider. The quality of footing is critical
because it affects how a horse moves and is able to handle take off to jumps. Poor
footing, for example, if it is too deep or too hard or contains debris, can cause injury.
The challenge is to find the right materials, which will drain properly yet retain
moisture. Ideally materials should be found locally to avoid thigh transportation costs.
When setting out to find the right sand, Duckek searched for two weeks in the environs of
Rome. When he didnt find what he was looking for he "started to get
nervous," and expanded the search to Tuscany then France. In France, he sourced some
wonderful white sand. In the back of his mind, Duckek had the dream to prepare a memorable
pure white surface for WEB Roma as he had prepared a green surface for Stockholm. But it
was discovered that the transport costs would exceed the overall installation budget for
Eventually the top sand, stone dust and river silt was found 30 kilometers from Rome.
These materials were mixed with 2,000 bales of shavings to produce a mixture which Duckek
rated a very high 80% in quality.
Installation of the footing started on September 3 first with the covered warm-up arena,
followed by the outside warm-up areas then finally the main arena. A layer of Robomats, a
kind of perforated mat in very durable plastic, was put down first. Duckek was a
consultant on the development of this product for which he said he has very favorable
reports from riders. About 18,000 pieces arrived in Rome of which 8,400 were placed in the
main competition area.
The special footing mix then was put down. A mix of approximately 3,000 cubic meters was
prepared of which 1,200 cubic meters were used in the main arena.
The final addition was a topping of Watersave, a white powder new on the market which
retains moisture and virtually eliminates dust. Therefore, it reduces the number of times
the surface has to be watered. Duckek used this product the first time this year in Aachen
and Munster. It is a safe product, which according to Duckek, you can eat, although you
may get bloated. While the manufacturer said it would be sufficient to water the surface
only twice a week, Duckek will give the footing a daily watering anyway as a precaution.
Even with all this preparation, there was still the question as to how the footing would
drain because it was layered on grass rather than the usual sand. Despite major
thunderstorms and flood-like conditions 10 days ago, the surface held up well and was
rideable within an hour.
Because the grass in Flaminio Stadium will be covered for a total of six weeks, the grass
will die (two weeks is the maximum that grass can be covered and still live). However,
with the mat system and special sand, the grass will be green again in four weeks,
according to Duckek.
At the end of the Games, the footing will be removed from the arena and given to riding
clubs and private stables in Italy. The mats will be sold locally.
Duckek is well-known for his expertise as a footing advisor, with a portfolio including
six Olympic Games, nine Dressage World Championship, and the past two World Equestrian
Games in the Hague and Stockholm. In addition, he handles about 40 horse shows per year in
Europe. He is preparing now for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Duckek started out in life as a farmer, who spent all of his time in the saddle. His
family said to him to either find a way to make a living with horses or leave the he farm.
So, for the next 30 or so years he has trained horses and riders in Dressage, most notably
the Swedish and Danish dressage teams. He worked with Flyinge Bobby, a Swedish team
competitor at these Games for several years prior to the 1996 Olympic Games. For 18 years,
Duckek has served as president of the International Dressage Trainer Club.
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