Werner Otto, founder of German company OTTO Sport- und Reitplatz GmbH, explains why his family-owned business has Olympic fever.
H&H: We understand that at the moment you’re making the most of the opportunity to spend time with the Brazilians ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games as one of your construction teams is currently in Rio de Janeiro building the surfaces for the equestrian disciplines.
WO: That is correct. At the moment, all of us have the Olympic fever, so to say. We are building five outdoor arenas and one indoor arena with 33,400 sqm in total for the Games. We have already shipped about 40 containers with machines and material to the construction site. We sent our team of engineers who have already built surfaces in every corner of the globe. So, it is safe to say that we are prepared for the Games. And with the well-known prime quality of our surfaces, the Brazilians are too.
H&H: This project must be a great honour for you.
WO: Knowing that the people who are responsible for this project requested OTTO Sport by name means a lot to us, of course. After the positive experiences that were made with our system during the rainy World Equestrian Games in Rome 1998, the European Championship in Madrid in 2011 and during the World Equestrian Games in the legendary Kentucky Horse Park in 2010, the organisers appreciate our quality. We – myself, my children, grandchildren and our amazing team – really live our product. We love riding! So yes, we feel very honoured and are looking forward to the future.
H&H: How did you become who you are today?
WO: When a was a small child, my family sought refuge in Bavaria during the war. As a young man I started building tennis courts. However, being a farmer’s son – by the way my father was a carriage driver and riding teacher – my heart and soul were always with horses. My wife and I, and later also our children, are passionate riders. The more we engaged in that hobby, the more we were confronted with bad surface conditions, whether paddocks, outdoor arenas or lunging rings where water couldn’t drain and horses slipped. So one day I wondered if there was anything we could do about it.
H&H: So could you?
WO: Yes, we could, and our OTTO-PerforatedMat is proof. Simply put, our product is a very special kind of separating layer system, specifically designed for equestrian surfaces. There is a substructure underneath, a special sand footing on top and the mats are in-between. The latter keep the crushed stone drainage layer underneath and the sand on top. They are water-permeable with superfluous water draining considerably fast so that there are not puddles on the surface, even after days of heavy rain, as is common in many regions across the globe. Every rider knows: puddles do not only disturb – there are horses, which refuse the course because of that. Our OTTO-PerforatedMats do not only prevent horses from slipping, they also absorb the shock energy. This is absolutely vital for the horses’ health, especially when landing after a jump. Therefore, the surface is easy on the joints, tendons and ligaments.
H&H: You mentioned that you used to build tennis courts. Is it easy to switch professions like this?
W.O.: It was anything but easy. After all, the requirements are very different. I almost set the house on fire and drove my wife crazy when I experimented with different mixtures for the OTTO-PerforatedMats in our basement for nights.
H&H: What was so tricky about it?
WO: The material should neither be too hard nor too soft. So I cooked different kinds of synthetic material until I finally found the right degree of hardness. If you think of toxic fumes now, I can put your mind at ease. Our OTTO-PerforatedMats are regularly tested for environmental friendliness, tested by the German TÜV and our company is ISO-certified.
H&H: So how does your surface differ from what is typically seen in the English market?
WO: For the British market, it is tradition to use so-called wax surfaces. Our company does not use this additive when building equestrian surfaces. Again and again, visitors at fairs are surprised that there are alternatives to wax when they get to know our system. We rely on a geotextile-fiber-mixture. This composition is modifiable and can be adjusted to the needs of the individual rider and discipline. Well-known British equestrians such as Billy Twomey and John Whitaker are absolutely convinced of the quality of our products. They ride on our equestrian surface system.
H&H: Now, it is not just enough to have an arena built by experts like your company. The importance of eEasy maintenance must be another key factor.
W.O.: Absolutely. And we are happy to say that our system is really easy to maintain. Obviously, you have to remove manure and level and water the arena, that is just common sense. But with our system we keep the effort as little as possible. Not only does our special sand mixture save water, but also our OTTO-PerforatedMats save up to four litres of water due to cups on the upper side. Additionally, the installation height of the footing is not too high. All of this contributes to saving a lot of water and, therefore, reduces costs. Furthermore, we offer fully automated irrigation systems which you can even operate from your smartphone. Just push a button when you are still in the office and the system starts working. The OTTO-Ebb&Flow System which provides subterranean irrigation, is especially comfortable as it guarantees steady moisture in the footing. It is also possible to collect water in cisterns and to then use it for irrigation.
H&H: Apart from the Olympic Committee, we understand you’ve also convinced the Spanish Royals as well as the American horse behaviourist Monty Roberts and Olympia champions such as Klaus Balkenhol and Lars Nieberg of the quality of your system.
W.O.: That is true, but it does not mean that we accept only large orders or orders from famous equestrians. We are a fairly small family business with a passion for what we do. The size of an order does not matter. Plus, it has always been important to us that our system is affordable to everyone, a goal that we have definitely achieved.
H&H: Are there any places in England where Horse & Hound readers could go to look at your arenas?
W.O.: We will be in England for several upcoming events. But if you happen to be close to Hickstead, we recommend driving 10 km further to Hascombe Farms in Henfield – formerly known as Royal Leisure Center. There we had the opportunity to build several beautiful indoor and outdoor arenas, making our clients very happy. They tell us that anyone is welcome to have a look at their arenas.