One the most important factors in a horse arena is the footing. Arena footing is a term used for the ground or surface that you and your horse will train and ride on. Although the condition and footing material that you lay in your arena can easily slip to the back of your mind after initially placed, it has a great impact on the horse, rider, and the arena itself. Having secure footing helps a horse to maintain fluid movement as it walks, trots, or canters. The freshly-kept material cushions a horse’s hooves by absorbing part of the ground’s stiff impact. This absorption reduces a horse’s risk of injury as well as reducing the effect an unexpected fall may have on the rider. Once you understand the need for reliable footing, you’ll want to learn how to regularly check the status of your current surface, revive it, and even how to strip it down and start again fresh.
Checking Your Current Arena Footing
The daily grind of horses’ hooves break down the footing material in any arena. As it breaks down, the material shrinks and then gets packed in as more hooves trample across it. If this happens the ground in an arena can become too hard and risky for riding. Your horse’s joints will pay the price for this because hard surfaces cause them to shift their body weight an unnatural amount over their legs, thus straining their joint angles.
To test if your footing has become too hard, pay attention to the sound of hoof beats on it. The quieter the beat the better! However, your footing can also be too soft. If it is too soft your horse will have to work harder than usual. Every now and then, a workout like sugar sand is good to tone your horse’s muscles, but for common use, squishy arena footing can fatigue your horse early into a session. Another test for correct footing is to look for a slight hoof imprint. If the hoof print is too deep, the footing may be too soft. If there is no print at all, the footing is most likely too hard.
If you’re still unsure, get out there and measure it. You should have 2.5 to 3 inches of sand and fibers, spread consistently over your entire arena.
How to Revive Tired Arena Footing
Before learning how to rescue your old, tired footing you will need to make sure it is not already too far gone to save. To do this arena-sand test, find a clump of sand and see if you can easily press your thumb through it, breaking it up. If this works for you, there is hope for your arena footing! If not, continue down to the next part of the article that deals with starting fresh.
For arena footing to be reliable it needs the perfect balance between moisture and air. If footing is too hard, it needs more air, but if it feels too soft then it requires some extra watering. The best method for giving your surface more of an airy feel is to drag it regularly. We recommend using a drag with good teeth and a float bar because it functions best. All arenas should be lightly watered every now and then but this calls for careful attention to avoid overwatering. Make sure you have a watering system that evenly disperses so that no parts of the arena are uneven.
How to Start Your Footing Anew
The first step in starting fresh with your arena footing is to make sure you have a dependable base. The base of an arena is the foundation on which the footing will lay so it impacts the lifespan and reliability of the footing itself. Check to assure that your base is as compacted as possible so that it can best support the footing. If at any point in your arena’s lifespan the base develops a hole or need repairs in any way all you need to do is move back the footing and fill the base’s blemish with the same material as the base itself. Then just add some water and really pack it in tight before putting the footing back over it.
While there is no universal footing that works for everyone, if supplies and finances are available, we recommend using a combination of sand and fibers for your arena footing. Start by layering half of your sand evenly over the arena. Then add a layer of fiber or rubber and finally, top it all off with the rest of the sand. It is much easier to mix the two mediums when done this way. Bulk sand prices usually run at around thirty to sixty dollars per ton while other options such as rubber mulch can go up to three-hundred dollars per ton. Another important factor is the depth of the arena footing you need. While we recommend adjusting the depth depending on your specific riding discipline, a good 2.5 to 3 inches is the best arena footing depth.
The importance of having sturdy footing in an arena is not to be overlooked. It can impact both you and your horse’s condition in a significant way. You should do regular routine arena checks and an in depth check at least once a year to keep your arena safe. By dragging your arena’s surface with a competent drag and adding just even moisture to keep it dense enough, your footing can remain in ridable condition. When you are choosing your material, sand and fiber are your best bet for consistency. The depth for the footing of each arena can differ depending on what style of riding is done there most often, but around three inches is typically the rule of thumb. So go enjoy your time in the arena, now that you know how to maintain secure arena footing for both you and your horse!