Wellington, Florida, is the equestrian capital of the world. Every year, thousands of riders, trainers, breeders, and enthusiasts flock to this affluent community just outside of West Palm Beach for the Winter Equestrian Festival, a four-month-long series of competitions and events. At the center of all this activity, building the arenas in which horses and riders from across the country train and compete, stands one man — Drew Discount, owner of Discount Dirtworks.
"We bred horses on our family farm, so I grew up riding," says Discount. "But then I got into dirt bikes. I raced motocross from 1993 to 2006 and used farm tractors to build tracks on our property."
Building dirt tracks — and his family's history in the concrete and general contracting business — gave him the confidence to start Discount Dirtworks in 2002. "We began operations with a single skid steer,” he says. "We did final grades, slab work, concrete work, and tear-outs. Then we got into drainage and full sitework around the higher-end homes on the beach. I was still racing professionally, but it got to the point where business was booming and I had to choose one or the other. Motocross is a short-lived career, so I focused on running the company."
According to Discount, the transition to equestrian work came about naturally. "We were working on my father's farm and he needed a new arena, so I built one. Then someone else asked if I could build their ring too, and it snowballed from there. Every day of the year, we’re on a horse farm."
ON STRONG FOOTING
Discount Dirtworks builds and maintains show grounds around the country, but most of its projects are for private horse farms in South Florida. "We're typically brought in early to help with the overall design of the property," says Discount. "Owners will ask for advice on paddock placements and additional sitework since we have a background in construction management."
Discount knows that to build an arena fit for world-class horses, you need a strong foundation. "Draining and footing are key for the rings to operate as they should. Footing is what we call the final surface — it's a high-quality, fine-grain sand blended with a geotextile fibre made from 100-percent polyester. The fibre is designed to be preblended with sand to mimic a synthetic root system, which stabilizes the horse while it's on the move. The footing releases energy and retains moisture, but every client wants something a little different. Some want their footing softer, others want it harder. It really depends on personal preference and whether you're running jumper or dressage horses."
HORSES OF A DIFFERENT COLOR
Discount Dirtworks deploys a small but efficient fleet of machines to construct each arena, including a John Deere 35G Excavator, a 333G Compact Track Loader (CTL), a 244K-II Wheel Loader, a 450K LGP Crawler Dozer, and a 4066R Compact Tractor as well as a HAMM H 5i Compactor. "Building the average horse arena on a private farm takes about two weeks from start to finish," says Discount. "We'll use the 35G to dig drainage trenches — there's a rock layer below the ring to grab all the water and send it out. We'll also use the excavator to reach over fences to help backfill. There are plenty of tight areas in Wellington, lots of two- to three-acre microfarms where we can't even fit a CTL. So the 35G saves us some handwork on zero-lot-line properties. We can get the bulk of the grading done without too much manual labour."
The 333G is another versatile machine in the Discount Dirtworks fleet. "We'll use the CTL with a laser-box attachment to help grade the final layer of footing. I really like its power and size — it's perfect for sites like this. We can do things that a dozer or wheel loader would normally do, and we can use it to get rid of the tracks left by the 4066R when we come in with a rake for the final grade.
"I've had a lot of John Deere 244s since I started this business," says Discount, discussing the role wheel loaders play in everyday arena construction. "I like the visibility, steering, and the fact that we can use our CTL attachments on them. We'll run the 244K-II because most of these properties are very tight and the loader moves great around paddocks and other areas. Plus, it tends to be a little quieter to operate, so we can load trucks without startling the horses."
One of Discount's newest additions is the HAMM H 5i Compactor. "We use the H 5i to compact subgrade, drainage rock, and the final layer of footing. We'll also use it to compact the paths trucks use to enter and leave the jobsite so they don't get stuck. It's another versatile machine for us."
I like working with good clients and keeping my team busy, knowing they can support their families. It’s fun, you know. I get to play in the dirt every day.
After the team finishes up on this two-acre site, it's headed to Wilmington, Ohio, to build a private indoor arena. Then, according to Discount, the busy season begins. "Once we're back from Ohio, we'll start preparing for a horse show we do every year down on Miami Beach. We haul out the footing, laser grade the beach, bring in a temporary base system, and lay down the riding surface. When that's done, the tents and stadiums go up, the riders and horses compete, and we tear it all down until next year.
"I try not to stress too much about the work," Discount continues. "When I was racing motocross, I was stressed all the time, so I try to remember that while I run my business. It really is a pleasure owning Deere machines. I like tractors. I like equipment. I like problem-solving. I like working with good clients and keeping my team busy, knowing they can support their families. It's fun, you know. I get to play in the dirt every day."
Discount Dirtworks is serviced by Everglades Equipment Group, Loxahatchee, Florida.
Discount’s fleet wouldn’t be complete without vintage machines. “I have a private museum with antique Deere Tractors. I think it’s one of the rarest and most complete collections of Ms out there. Now that I’ve started this collection, I don’t think it’d be proper to own a brand other than Deere.”