June 03, 2015

Cowboy Up

Jim Kiser of Kiser Arena Specialists doesn't compete in the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) World Championship Show. But if they had an event for preparing the footing, he'd win going away. We caught up with him as he was getting the arena ready for last November's show in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

As contestants readied themselves behind the scenes, Kiser put on a show of his own, using Deere equipment including a compact track loader (CTL), a wheel loader, and a tractor to haul in and spread about 3,000 yards of natural footing material — a blend of sand, silt, and clay. He used the CTL to spread the material after he hauled it using the wheel loader. He then groomed the footing with the tractor equipped with a device specially designed by his father, Bob.

Jim Kiser would be just as at home in the arena on a horse. He is an accomplished horse trainer and showman. Since 1998 he has been taking care of arena footing for the AQHA World Show, the premier event for quarter-horse owners. Each year the show draws thousands of entries from all corners of the globe to compete for a total purse of over $3 million. Events include reining, roping, barrel racing, and horsemanship.

Kiser spends about 300 days a year on the road managing footing for the AQHA and other world championship events. People sometimes ask him why he only runs Deere machines. "I tell them the answer is simple. There is other equipment on the market, but if you want to make a living, the only way to go is with John Deere. It's just that much more reliable — you can depend on it. I can't tell you the last time a piece of Deere equipment broke down. And the company's service is the best there is."

Getting their footing in the door
Kiser gives us a bit of company history as he prepares the arena for the cutting finals, the event where the horse and rider are judged for their ability to separate an animal from the herd. Over the years, Kiser Arena Specialists has also worked hard to separate itself from the herd. Proper footing is critical to reducing injuries, and the company has established a strong reputation for constructing proper footing every time.

Yet despite the company's enormous success, Kiser admits it didn't come easy. "When we started out, my father and I weren't sure we could make a business of it. We didn't really have a plan, but we've been very fortunate to find our niche. With the help of the AQHA and the NRHA, business has exploded. To this day, Dad still tells me we need to have a game plan, but we're making out all right," he laughs.

The company got its start in 1988 when the NRHA asked Bob Kiser to take over the footing at the NRHA Futurity in Oklahoma City. His contribution has been so significant, in fact, that he was inducted into the NRHA Hall of Fame. His work soon caught the attention of the AQHA, which asked him to develop a new footing and maintain all subsequent world championship events.

When the company took off, son Jim decided to leave his career as a horse trainer and showman to help his father grow the family business in 2000.

Stable choice
Installing the footings is exacting work. "First we establish the base, then we put the top material on it," says Kiser. "We have to be extremely careful that we don't disturb the base material." With their high-flotation tracks, John Deere CTLs can work where rubber-tired machines can't. "When we're installing a quarter-to-a half inch of material in an arena, we can be so much more precise with tracks than we ever could be with machines with wheels on them. We've run a lot of wheeled equipment, but now that we've used CTLs, we've never even considered going back."

The compact size of the CTL enables it to slip in comfortably for work in cramped areas. "We get right up into the corners with it. We can work in alleyways and in confined areas of the barn and arena. A Deere CTL simply provides the maneuverability to put dirt anywhere you need it and level it off. It's much more efficient than other types of equipment.

"They're really gritty little machines. They've got all the horsepower you need. We're able to do a lot of work with them that we used to do using a much larger machine."

Kiser's day usually involves switching between several machines, multiple times. The noticeably larger entryway and all-glass curved door on the CTL helps him beat fatigue. "Getting in and out of the CTL is so easy. Many of our operators are pretty big guys, and they are very impressed.

"We've had quite a bit of experience with Deere farm and construction equipment, and as with anything Deere does, they're always going to be a leader as they evolve their equipment. The John Deere CTL is the perfect example of how they are leading the way toward the next evolution in compact equipment."