Before speaking with Alex Carr, the savvy, climate-active vice president of ArenaMend, I had no idea that the sand-filled circles where horse shows are contested have outsized carbon footprints.
Carr took me through how she and her father built the Florida-based company to disrupt the horse show industry and make a positive difference on climate change.
GreenSportsBlog: Alex, I have to admit I had never thought about the environmental impact of horse shows, in particular the sandy stadiums that are built to host them. Before you tell me how ArenaMend, the startup run by your dad and you, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, I want to know, how did you get into this?
Alex Carr: Well, Lew, I was always interested in sustainability. I was an international and environmental studies major at Rhodes College in Memphis, worked in Yellowstone National Park on water quality, in Australia on biodiversity at the Great Barrier Reef and in Thailand in eco-tourism, elephant tourism to be specific.
GSB: What did you do next?
Alex: I was planning to go to law school for environmental law; in fact, I worked for two law firms.
But on the side, I joined my dad Dan Carr — who had been building customized horse arenas for 20 years out of sand and grass through his company, WestWind Surfaces — we developed a product that could change the horse show industry from an environmental sustainability point of view.
Alex Carr (Photo credit: Alex Carr)
GSB: What was the product?
Alex: Before answering that question, a bit more about my dad. He is at the forefront of the industry because of his ability to create new footing options.
And a bit more about me: Back to high school, I worked on a project where we took used cooking oil to make biodiesel to fuel some of the machines at the school. Glycerin was a residue — which happens to be a natural dust suppressant. We added it to make the footing less dusty, but it still required water for maintenance. He had been trying to make the arena waterless going back to 2011. Although we don’t use glycerin, it became a starting point for us.
So, we developed a product that became the basis of a natural, environmentally friendly waterless binding agent that would provide great footing for the horses. We created our own product that used a natural binding agent and mixed it with recycled aggregate — this way, there would be no need to source new sand from quarries. It is also non-abrasive and passes California’s Proposition 65, which mandates that it must be safe it gets into the water supply.
GSB: This sounds like a difference-maker for sure. I’m betting you never went to law school. Did you join WestWind Surfaces? And what is ArenaMend?
Alex: I came onboard in 2018 — it was 100 percent the right decision! It’s been so special to work with my dad and he gave me a platform I never would’ve had anywhere else.
We decided to keep WestWind Surfaces as my dad’s company; ArenaMend is a split off from WestWind; its focus would be the environmentally friendly, waterless footing product. Growing ArenaMend became my responsibility.
GSB: How did the marketplace react? Are the environment and climate change issues that horse show producers and competitors care about?
Alex: Education was and is a big factor. Most customers just didn’t get how the product could be waterless and still bind well. Some venues gave ArenaMend a trial and they saw that it worked. And that led to positive word of mouth. But the best way to market it is to show it to people at a prominent horse show. And that led us to host the ArenaMend Classic in October at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
The ArenaMend Classic at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia (Photo credit: Ashley Neuhof/AMN Photography, LLC)
GSB: The Greenbrier is a legendary, exclusive resort that dates back to the days of the Revolutionary War. Why would they want to host a horse show and a sustainable one at that?
Alex: Management has been looking to expand their sporting event portfolio and felt their guests would respond positively to a horse show. Dad had done major horse shows before; he was a known quantity. In fact, they called us.
In addition to our greener product, we worked with The Greenbrier to minimize waste, which was new for them for a big event.
GSB: How many people attended? And how did it go from an environmental point of view?
Alex: About 500 people attended throughout the four days. Our plan was to be a zero-waste event, but it didn’t work out. We controlled what we could control. The manure was composted, all of the temporary stalls were made of 100 percent recycled materials, and of course our product is the greenest on the market.
As for The Greenbrier, this was all new for them. So, things like recycling bins and reusable flat wear fell through the cracks.
GSB: My guess is that those things would easily be ironed out by Year 2, assuming you guys decide to run it back next year. What about the carbon footprint of the event? Was calculating it part of things?
Alex: We have the data on most of it. We were able to track the private planes that flew in and were able to estimate the mileage of the fans who drove. Other aspects were trickier. How did the horses arrive? Freight was also difficult. Did it come overnight via air or on ground? What was the weight?
All of this will be ironed out. Nick Hallmark, a research economist from the IMF, is going to help us crunch the numbers. Once we have a baseline, we’ll be able to measure our emissions reductions over time — of course we’ll reduce wherever we can and offset the rest.
GSB: What are your thoughts on working with The Greenbrier in 2022? And taking a wide-angle lens view, what do you think the future looks like for the greening of horse show industry?
Alex: We’re having conversations with The Greenbrier to see if we’ll do a 2022 version and, regardless how that turns out, we will likely look to do three shows next year.
For ArenaMend and beyond, I see lots of opportunity to green this sport.
Several riders have expressed interest in the environment-climate conversation; education will mean we’ll get even more. Green Is the New Blue is an exciting nonprofit that is working to green the horse show industry. I’ve been involved on several panels with them.
One thing I’m excited to work on is fan engagement because we have a fair amount of influencers among our fan base.
GSB: I hope some of those fans decide to fly commercial or drive an energy efficient vehicle rather than take private planes to your events. And I can’t wait to see how ArenaMend helps to advance the greening of the horse show industry.