When it comes to installing an all-weather arena, it’s best to remember not all horse arena surfaces are created equal. But what makes a perfect surface “perfect”?
1. While there can be no standard one-size-fits-all recipe for a perfect surface, the surface should provide the following:
• Cushion – it distributes the impact or shock of the impact of the horse’s hooves throughout all the layers of the footing.
• Traction and Grip – provides a consistent surface so that the horse can push off the surface easily with very little slipping (movement).
• Consistency – retains enough moisture with your watering program that the footing stays intact, not breaking down becoming dusty and inconsistent.
• Not Abrasive – because most arena surfaces are some form of sand blend, you want to choose a sand that gives you all of the above but is not overly abrasive to horses’ hooves.
• Easy Maintenance – the most perfect footing should be easy to maintain, without endless watering and dragging. Pick up the manure in the arena!
2. How much riding are you going to do greatly affects your choice of riding surface.
Believe it or not, arena footing does have a shelf life. Footing is actually a rather potent material that undergoes compositional and property changes with time and use. Eventually, even sand will break down.
When you invest in footing for your facility, take into account how many horses per day will be on it and how they will be using it throughout the year. Five horses a day versus fifty or more, jumping cross rails or grand prix sized grids, teaching up down lessons or schooling Prix St. George movements makes a difference to the life of the footing. Your footing should be engineered to meet the demands of your equestrian life.
3. Where you are located matters a great deal.
Is your arena in a particularly humid area, rainy or subject to long freezing spells? Think about the conditions your footing will have to hold up in, inside or outside, in order to be called “perfect”. A footing that is perfect in the Kentucky sunshine may well be a big disappointment in the heat of the Charleston summer.
This would be the best time to call a footing professional, especially one well versed in the science of what makes good footing good. If you call the local quarry to ask for sand recommendations, do you think that you will be getting advice from an avid equestrian? The best sand for your arena is not always the most expensive. It’s the one that will handle the weather, the amount of use and the type of use the best over a period of up to twenty years.
4. Zen and the art of arena maintenance. How much watering and dragging do you want to do?
If you live in an arid part of the country where water resources are precious, installing footing that needs constant watering may not be the best choice. Luckily there are state of the art blends available that require no watering and are dust free. These footings tend to be more expensive than traditional sand blends.
If your budget dictates a sand and textile blend, you will still need an active watering program. While most people do think about the per-square-foot price being lower, they sometimes forget to add in the costs of a watering system and down time for the ring getting it prepped. From sprinkler systems to garden hoses, no matter how elaborate or not, it requires effort and water to maintain a sand blend arena.
Same goes for dragging. If you are a busy professional with a string of horses and only so many hours in the day, choose a footing that will deliver without a lot of maintenance is important.
For example, an elite dressage trainer with a busy training program and an active clinic schedule chose a polymer-coated sand blend for her Wellington arena because she could ride on it all day without having to stop to drag or water. It was consistent throughout the day, needing little to no maintenance until it was dragged the next morning. This meant she could be on a horse instead of a tractor. There was very little down time for the arena, meaning it was income producing every rideable hour of the day.
5. Never base your decision on a square foot price.
Most of the time when people are estimating how much building an arena will cost, they mostly think about the start up costs and not the costs that span the lifetime of the footing. An ad for “affordable” footing with a super low per-square-foot price seems appealing, but you need to factor in the overall costs including the hours the ring is not in use because it has to be maintained. Then add in the cost of installing a watering system and the costs of the water itself depending where the ring is located. Multiply that by five years, then ten. And the last quantifier is when your arena surface fails after only three years and you have to fix it. Suddenly or maybe not so suddenly, the bargain wasn’t the bargain after all.
Research what footing best suits your riding needs and consult a professional. Remember good footing is an investment in the long-term health and soundness of your horse. For further information, please visit www.equestriansurfaces.com.