“Komatsu technology is so much more advanced than any other brand”
Most people try to make a profession out of something they like doing. Brett Raflowitz is a great example. He combined a job he enjoyed with a sport he has a passion for, and he brought in the people he loves to work with him. The result is Equestrian Services International LLC (ESI) – based in Wellington, Florida – one of the predominant builders for equestrian arenas.
Raflowitz grew up operating machines in his father’s underground-pipe business. When he wasn’t on a machine, he was usually riding a horse. When it came time to choose a career, he decided to become a fireman, but his passion for horses and heavy equipment remained. He continued to ride and also started a landscaping company as a side business with his brother, David. The operation grew, and Raflowitz began taking on jobs tied to equestrian facilities. Eventually, the brothers focused exclusively on those projects and changed the company’s name to Equestrian Services International LLC.
“I’ve been riding horses and tractors all of my life,” said Brett Raflowitz. “The idea to get into this business came from competing in horse shows across the country. A lot of arenas needed work, and we had most of the equipment to do it. Once we started, we grew quickly.”
Family is an important part of the ESI equation as Raflowitz’s wife, Tracy, is the Chief Financial Officer. Their son, Garrett, performs jobs around his school schedule, and daughter, Brittni, manages the company’s social media presence. She also rides horses for ESI in national competitions. Raflowitz’s dad, Ed, is involved in the business, and David is now an Operations Manager.
“Riding is something that our family really enjoys,” he added. “It’s nice to have built a family business around the sport we love. Tracy’s my right hand. She continues to handle the accounts and has home-schooled the kids. She’s the reason we have been able to do this as a family.”
In just 10 years, ESI has earned a sterling reputation by completing projects around the globe, including Canada, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and Austria. An experienced and dedicated staff is crucial to coordinating and completing those jobs successfully.
“We travel a lot, but we have a great crew that enjoys it and loves this work,” said Raflowitz. “Our office managers – Megan Caballero and Dominic Shrader – keep everything organized, and Operations Manager Travis Gould tracks all of our equipment. Bart Poels is our counterpart abroad, based in Belgium. He’s very important to everything we do internationally.”
Passion leads to success
The equestrian world is close-knit, and word of ESI’s abilities spread quickly. The company built its reputation by creating custom footings, the material that comprises the riding surface in arenas. ESI makes nearly 50 varieties of footings for customers, each consisting of a unique mix of sands, polyesters, waxes and polymers.
“We have core ingredients, but just like Coca-Cola, we keep those secret,” joked Raflowitz. “We create a footing with the horses in mind, so that it’s not only firm enough for a 1,500-pound horse to jump from, but also has enough cushion to absorb 6,000 pounds of force. Each event also requires a specific surface. Knowing the sport and understanding horses is a significant advantage for us.”
Raflowitz says it’s a delicate balance when creating footings rather than a one-size-fits-all solution. “Every arena and region is different, so we take that into consideration. Our footings have a proven, 10- to 15-year life span. We’re proud to say that we’ve never installed a footing that’s experienced riding issues.”
The family’s dedication to the sport and a growing project list also help ESI build contacts with industry leaders such as Mark Bellissimo, a managing partner for several equestrian riding arenas. This relationship positioned ESI to land some large projects, such as the Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina.
“Bellissimo’s vision is to host the biggest and best show in the world,” explained Raflowitz. “He already had the biggest horse show – the Wellington Equestrian Festival held at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. His goal for Tryon is to build a facility that surpasses Palm Beach.”
Construction on Tryon began three years ago. When completed, it will include 10 riding arenas, the world’s largest derby field and a 9,000-foot cross-country course with a customized riding surface under the turf. Condos, private homes and three-acre farmettes – which include a barn, riding arena and paddocks for horses – will surround the Tryon complex.
Raflowitz coordinated with Bellissimo on the basic concept for the Tryon design and focused on riding-surface irrigation, drainage and landscaping during construction.
“We’ve been working 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week on this project. Our biggest challenge is there isn’t enough time in the day,” said Raflowitz. “Just like with the footings, our success stems from our understanding of the sport. We want to make sure the water drains to the correct places, the crown and surfaces are perfect and that the overall layout makes sense. We’re horse people, and that’s appreciated.”
Komatsu changes the game
Precision is key for Raflowitz. From the time he started in the business, he has believed in GPS equipment. ESI started with lasers on its tractors and dozers, then moved to aftermarket GPS systems and finally to integrated intelligent Machine Control equipment from Komatsu.
“Technology has allowed us to grow, while also becoming more efficient,” noted Raflowitz. “It is everything to our business. We go to a site, set up our base station and get to work. I am a stickler about being on-grade, and the technology allows us to do that. I couldn’t do this job without it.”
ESI owns a Komatsu D51PXi dozer and rents other intelligent Machine Control dozers regularly.
“On a recent project, we had our D51i and a rented D61i operating side-by-side on a riding field, and we were moving 80 loads of dirt a day – that’s unreal,” proclaimed Raflowitz. “I don’t know how we would do anything without them. Komatsu technology is so much more advanced than any other brand.”
“I’ve always been a fan of Komatsu,” Raflowitz professed. “It started with the wheel loaders, but quickly extended to other pieces. Komatsu makes a great machine. No matter what equipment it is, our operators want to drive a Komatsu.”
Linder Industrial Machinery Company Sales Rep Jason Heim is ESI’s link to Komatsu in its home territory, and he helps ESI work with other distributors when the company is at various jobsites around the country.
“Jason and Linder make our lives a lot easier,” said Raflowitz. “They are always there for us when we need something, and they never hesitate to connect us with Komatsu distributors when we are working somewhere else.
“When we are on the road, we can’t afford to wait on equipment,” he added. “The Komatsu distributors are great about getting us what we need, when we need it. The machines are always in excellent condition. Our customers have millions of dollars to spend on their properties, so it makes a terrific impression when we show up with equipment that looks brand new.”
Catching up with Raflowitz may be difficult in the coming months. In addition to traveling the world to look at prospective building sites and monitor current projects, he also plans a trip to Europe to watch Brittni represent the United States in three shows on the Developing Rider Tour. While it is a lot of travel, Raflowitz doesn’t see it as a burden.
“I enjoy this job, and I love the sport,” he said. “I am so lucky to be able to do something that I love, and do it with my family. We have a passion, and I am excited to see where it takes us next.”
Raflowitz says that he is confident in ESI’s future prospects, and he understands that growth will only happen if the company continues to deliver quality work. “It is amazing how many equine projects are available. Our goal is to keep all of our jobs and growth in check. This is a reputation-based industry, so upholding that is important. Delivering quality results will keep us in demand and successful, and it will help the sport, which is just as important to us.”