A brand new show venue is in the process of being built in Central Ohio: Willow Way Equestrian Center and people are excited. While the farm itself (Willow Way) has been around for quite some time, connections with the farm purchased land behind the existing facility, excavated it, and are building a showgrounds. I had the opportunity to compete at the inaugural horse show at Willow Way Equestrian Center, and while it’s far from finished, what is complete is phenomenal and it’s easy to see the facility’s potential.
The most difficult part of showing at Willow Way Equestrian Center in June was everything in between the barns and the rings. Driveways, parking, and walkways were just gravel and it was obvious this was the last thing construction crews worked on before the show started. With the horses, you had to be careful to stay on the paths, because everything else was wasteland. The area got a ton of rain Wednesday evening, and there were definitely places with standing water and deep mud when I arrived Friday afternoon. However, the paths that were made held up, and things began to dry out as the weekend progressed. There was absolutely no grass, and we routinely walked right by construction equipment. Despite that, management did a good job ensuring workers fixed things that needed to be fixed to keep the show moving, and left everything else alone so horses weren’t spooked by ongoing projects.
Willow Way Equestrian Center Facility Layout
Currently, you drive by the existing barn and rings to get to the showgrounds. As you drive in, you pass all the rings to your left, after which you reach the barns (also on your left). At first, I thought it would be distracting to have traffic so close to the riding rings, but vehicles have a driveway completely separated from the walkways by a low fence. Once you’re in the ring, you honestly don’t notice traffic at all. The facility is nicely spread out, however nothing is too terribly far. We walked everywhere the whole weekend (we don’t have a golf cart and chose not to rent one), and it worked out just fine. The nice thing about this layout is that the barns stay pretty quiet and relaxing, since the showing is farther away. Our stalls never felt hectic, and all the horses settled in really well. My horse even laid down to sleep mid-morning, which he typically doesn’t do at horse shows.
While there wasn’t any landscaping done (actually, there was absolutely no grass anywhere), you easily can see how they plan to change that. There are a few big ponds, and once some of the construction equipment is out of the way, there will be areas for grass. I believe the entire layout is going to finish to be one big loop, which will be great for morning walks too.
Willow Way Equestrian Center Barns
There are a total of five barns, four of which were complete upon my arrival, which house 200 permanent stalls. The barns are gorgeous, built as shedrows with one main (wide) aisle down the center. The stalls are large (I would guess 10′ x 12′), with three solid wood walls, rubber mats, and bars on the front. The ceilings are probably 18′ high, with skylights, and outlets next to every other stall. All weekend, despite the sweltering heat, the barns stayed pretty cool with an occasional breeze. There is plenty of room for tack boxes and chairs, plus two horses can still easily pass by one another in the aisle.
The stalls that faced out had an extra long awning above them, providing shade all day long. The barns are spaced pretty far apart, enough for three lanes of traffic between them, to make loading and unloading super convenient. Overall, the barns were the most complete and finished aspect of Willow Way Equestrian Center in June. I think seeing how well-built and well-planned the barns were gave me a lot of hope for the rest of the facility. If they build everything as well as they built the barns, it’s going to be an incredible place to horse show.
Willow Way Equestrian Center Rings
Four rings were complete in June, and they added a small warm-up and a round pen for lunging. The completed rings are very nice — all large with tons of room, and the footing (SRS engineered) is to die for. It reminds a lot of the footing at the Kentucky Horse Park, with that soft white “sand” and the fabric pieces to help with drainage. Despite buckets of rain on Wednesday, when I arrived on Friday, the rings were perfect — and they stayed that way the entire weekend. It took our horses a few trips around the arenas and a few jumps to get their bearings in the footing, but once they did I think they really liked it. Miles is pretty particular about footing, and he seemed to enjoy it.
While the completed rings were very nice, there just wasn’t enough of them. Warm-up and schooling was …. tight. They split a majority of the rings in half so that there were more schooling areas, but that made the show rings smaller and sometimes an awkward size. This was definitely my biggest complaint of the facility, however I know they plan to build more rings, which will help tremendously.
Willow Way Equestrian Center Spectator Amenities
At the inaugural show, there really weren’t any spectator amenities. They had one food truck, which had a good menu selection, including healthy options such as salads and wraps, as well as pretty nice restroom trailers with air conditioning. Between two rings they put up a large tent, but the mud was so bad it actually seeped up through the rubber mats they put down for the floor. There were no bleachers up until Sunday, so that was a bit tough too. Plus, with no landscaping, there was no shade anywhere, making it pretty tough for spectators.
They did, however, include some renderings that will be awesome for spectators once the buildings are complete. Like this one:
Overall, Willow Way Equestrian Center remains very much under construction, but it’s definitely a diamond in the rough. What’s complete is amazing, and it sounds like they have solid plans to improve the areas that need to be improved. Considering how much they got done in the last few weeks leading up to the show, I’m excited to see the progress they’ve made when we return at the end of July!