Bill Price has owned more than 30 racehorses and he and his wife founded the Queen’s Cup Steeplechase in Charlotte, NC in 1995. In the 22 years that he has been a horse owner, Bill has had the misfortune of seeing his own horses both injured and killed on course – not to mention numerous jockeys suffer devastating injuries from racing. So in 2009 he set out to develop a steeplechase jump that would be safe, economical and long-lasting.
He considered the fact that horses were getting faster while jumps were getting smaller, so he developed an artificial brush fence with a bigger, fuller appearance, in hopes of slowing the pace of the race and making racing safer. With this in mind he teamed up with friend and retired champion American jump jockey Jeff Teter along with fence consultant and fence builder, Bill Watt of Watt Fences, Ltd. of North Yorkshire, England. With much research and investment, they developed the SafTfence system.
Jumping over the SafTfence jump at Queen's Cup 2013Bill describes the original SafTfence system developed in 2010 as a plastic, stepped box with 396 sturdy plastic birch branches held into the frame with plastic thread and nylon nuts, giving the realistic appearance of a birch hedge. The height of the entire frame and birch branch can be as little as 40” tall to as much as 60” depending on the needs of the fence designer and discipline.
“The fence frame today can be made of either plastic, steel or a combination of both forms in order to appeal to multiple equine disciplines and has been tested in both cross country and American steeplechase racing for the past two years,” he explains. “One of the more important elements of the fence is its plastic birch branch made of space-age co-polymer plastic stuffed into the frames of the fence frame. The new plastic and its mold allows for a sturdier, more resilient branch with incredible memory.”
According to Eric Bull of ETB Equine Construction, “The biggest advantage to me is that once we put the brush in the aluminum racks we can adjust the height easily; you install it and then you use it. You can also shape it; you can cut the brush with hedge trimmers, which you can’t do with the competitor to this product.”The SafTfence branches can also be stuffed individually for a custom and personal design. For fence builders, jump designers and horsemen alike, this means no more stuffing, tightening and trimming real birch or cedar for competitions, as this fence provides a consistent hedge every time.“With cedar, horses can brush through it but it has resistance,” says Eric. “As a 180-pound person you can’t push through it. The SafTfence branch is similar in look and feel. The other product is thin and light and not resistant; so if you’re trying to replicate brush, the SafTfence branch is a good substitute for cedar.”
Eric notes that because it’s in portable racks, it is easy to move around the course. “Denis Glaccum at Plantation has quite a bit of this stuff – in the fall we put it in his Intermediate and Advanced courses; for his other events we can move it to the novice and training events. If you had to stuff a 16’ wide brush with cedar you wouldn’t bother, but with the SafTfence plastic birch product we can offer the lower level horses the same look and feel throughout the year.”
Jennie Brannigan at Plantation FieldsThere are some big three-day events that will probably always use real brush, like the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* and Fair Hill CCI 3* in Maryland. “At Fair Hill every fall we spend $7-10,000 on brush alone,” says Eric.
“Another advantage of the artificial brush for events that don’t have that kind of budget is that we’re able to offer the lower level horses big, full brush fences that that level rarely sees, since organizers of lower level events are not likely to pay for that much natural brush. As I say to Denis, every time he use those brush jumps he’s writing himself checks - and he’s been writing himself those checks four times a year for the past five years now. That probably cost him $7k originally instead of every time. Also you save on labor for setting up and taking down brush every time.”Customization is also appealing: the standard color for steeplechase racing is black, but the company produced green brush for Plantation field. You could order brown, or a mix of green and brown - the options are endless. Hot pink or orange, anyone? “Even within the plastic they can control the density and customize it specifically to your needs if you buy directly from the factory,” says Eric.
Finally, the product holds up to the elements. “It has UV inhibitors so you can leave it outside for years,” says Eric. “This is particularly on a schooling course; with some other products you’re supposed to take them out of the sun, which in the real world never happens -- you either never take it out of the shed and use it, or you leave it out in the field and it gets destroyed. Five years later, while the SafTfence products that we installed don’t look showroom new, they still look good -- and that’s being left out year-round in the elements in South Carolina or New York.”