Mary and Jim Darling already had a 130’ x 70’ covered arena but they needed something more. They were just starting to import European warmbloods to their Virginia farm and they wanted a full-size dressage court.
“Our attitude has always been to hire the best you can and get out of their way and that’s what we did,” Mary Darling said.
Their 22-acre farm, named J & M Arabians even though they are not in Arabian horses anymore, is located right outside of Smithfield, Virginia. They contacted Austin Wood of Diamond W Contracting. He has the education, research background and more than a decade of arena building experience to customize each arena for its intended use.
“He took an open field and did his thing,” Mary said. “I mean, I don’t have money to burn, but it’s one of those things that you get what you pay for it. And, it’s funny how people don’t learn that.” Austin brings his expertise, equipment and a hand-selected team to every job site. His extensive experience in dealing with each site’s unique drainage and water run-off issues is reflected in each arena he engineers.
“I saw how he had to revise the base because of our soil,” she said. “It’s a very tough place to put an arena in the Tidewater. We have a lot of clay and stuff just doesn’t drain. And of course, it was going to cost more but my whole attitude is if you don’t do it right, it’s going to cost you in the long run.”
Mary said Austin was amazing; they absolutely adored him and he answered all their questions.
“I knew I was in for a good outcome when he rolled in with his equipment because nobody around here has that kind of equipment,” she said.
“People will say, ‘Why did you spend so much money on an arena?” For something that’s as important to the horse’s well-being as good footing, people don’t put a priority on it. We knew we were going to pay a good price for it, but I can honestly say it was worth it a hundred percent.“
A rider himself, Austin is committed to making every arena a success story by providing a surface that contributes to the well-being of the horses and leaving behind elated customers.
“Everything about it has been very nicely done and far exceed our expectations,” Mary said. “My trainer, Kris Montgomery is a [USDF] Gold Medal rider. She’s ridden all over in Europe and she says, it’s the best footing she’s been on.
“That’s why, when I look at what we put into this arena, my husband and I say it was worth every penny.”