Dan The Turf Man at Little Everglades International Combined Driving Event

Saturday, January 30, 2010
Posted by Written by Jean White

Who hasn’t dreamed of taking their horse across a golf course? At the Little Everglades International Combined Driving Event being held this weekend in Dade City, Florida, driving competitors had the opportunity, in the Dressage arena created especially for them. “When I entered the turf arena my pony just started to bounce” said Vivian Creigh, describing her pony’s bigger trot and amplified cadence.  That extra “bounce” landed Vivian and her Fjord pony mare in the lead in the FEI Advanced Single Pony Dressage class. 

With many of the other dressage competitors equally enthusiastic about this beautiful emerald green arena, I decided to explore the making of this wonder. The creator of this sea of green is Dan Millstead who managed the turf on golf courses for many years before coming to Little Everglades Ranch.

This man knows his turf!  Dan’s work on The Little Everglades Ranch dressage arena began on July 10, 2009.  After the ground was cleared Dan took soil samples from several different locations around the arena.  These samples were sent to the University of Florida for analysis.  Dan advises that you send your soil samples directly to the tester and in a time frame that allows the soil to be tested upon arrival.  Apparently having your soil sit over the weekend can lead to inaccurate readings!   Once the results of the soil testing are in hand, Dan could then correct any deficiencies that would result in a less than stellar turf.

The irrigation was a bit problematic as the water source is quite far from the arena and, according to Dan, irrigation is a must for a good turf arena.  Because of the distance and the chance of getting air pockets Dan needed extra heavy duty fittings for the underground pipes.  These fittings had to be made especially for this application to connect the underground pipes to the above ground sprinkler risers.  The sprinklers were imported from Italy and they are powerful!  Just three on each side covers the whole arena with water!

Sybill Humphries and Bouncer bounced to the highes Intermediate Dressage score of the day with 45.11 penalty points (71.8)

Once the irrigation was in progress Dan was able to hand sprig Bermuda 419.  This Bermuda was then fed, watered, aerated, and mowed until it covered the entire arena.  This regimen of food, water, aeration and mowing continued through out the fall.  Since Bermuda does not stay green in the winter, Dan over-seeded with Three Way Perennial Rye Grass in December.   This Perennial Rye is what gives the arena the beautiful color and the thick Bermuda turf gives the arena its body.   Dan planned the feeding of this turf so that it would be at its peak during the week of this international driving competition.   

The final mowings on the two days right before the start of the dressage competition were done with a reel type golf course mower.  This mowing left the arena looking like the most luscious green on the best golf course.  Even one of the judges was heard to comment that this arena was “probably the best turf dressage arena in the world”!  Dan Millstead should be proud.