SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert's trade mission to China this week is an effort to increase Utah's already growing exports to that country.
Utah products are sent all over the globe, and the state's exports have increased dramatically the past few years. A company in Sandy is a prime example.
Premier Equestrian LLC manufactures arena equipment for various equestrian disciplines such as dressage and jumping.
Dressage is a horse ballet of sorts, where rider and horse work together performing a series of movements. Judges award points.
There's also horse jumping, where the horse-rider team negotiates a course filled with various sized obstacles, such as high jumps, low jumps and jumps over water obstacles as well.
These activities take place in various sized arenas, bordered with various types of fencing and decorations. Premier Equestrian has been manufacturing these items, using mostly Utah materials for more than a decade. Premier is one of only a handful of companies in the world doing so.
"We ship all over the world," said Heidi Zorn, Premier Equestrian's president and CEO. "We actually have distributors in Australia, in Canada, England and the Netherlands. It's such a niche market, it's such a small group that are in this discipline. However, it's a very elite discipline."
In September, Premier supplied all the equipment in the arenas at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky — the world's largest equestrian competition. Several hundred thousand spectators and competitors attended the weeklong event.
The company's handling of such high profile events recently caught the attention of the royal family of the United Arab Emirates. Equestrian sports are huge in the Middle East, and United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed wanted three new arenas.
Mark Neihart, co-owner of Premier Equestrian, supervised the five-week project.
"They have a riding program there that locals come and use, and in the royal family, most of the daughters are riding now," Neihart said. "And they've expanded into breeding and dressage and jumping, so they needed to build some arenas for their jumping operation and dressage training."
That meant shipping all the necessary equipment from Sandy to the United Arab Emirates and then building the arenas in the middle of the desert. Even special sand had to be hauled in, because equestrian arenas require special footing for the horses.
As far as arena projects go, Neihart said on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most difficult, the royal family project was definitely a 10.
"We had nine languages spoken at the job site, none of which I speak. I don't speak Urdu or Arabic," he said. "So the cultural parts of that were a challenge!"
A crew of about 25 worked on the various aspects of the project. But when it was completed, the royal family was pleased.
The popularity of equestrian sports in the United States is small compared to the rest of the world, but there's still a loyal following. And, large project or small, Premier Equestrian takes care of them.Comment on this story
"Universities are a market," Zorn said, "because they may have a degree in equestrian arts, so they'll need a jump course or a dressage arena. County parks and facilities are a market also. Many professional training barns would be our customers."
Zorn adds the company is installing equipment on residential horse properties more often as well.
Premier Equestrian is also standing by on another huge project. It has put in a bid to be the official arena equipment supplier for the 2012 Olympics in London. A decision on that is expected within a few weeks.