Horse Arena Design and Management

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 Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 

 Footing Part 2: Soil Evaluation and Care

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  Before you even think about adding new footing to your arena site or enhancing what is already there, you need to know the type of soil that you are starting with.  In order to learn the soil's characteristics, you need to have the soil tested.  When you sample, be sure you get a cross sample from the entire arena.  Don't dig down to the base because the soil character will be different.  Have the soil evaluated by a state university soil lab or a private soil lab rather than by the manufacturer of one type of footing that might have a specific interest in sales.  Be wary of home-style test kits because you must know what you are doing or you could get the wrong results and costly decisions could be made incorrectly.

     A soil sample will show the organic content of the soil.  Organic material is necessary because it will provide the medium for beneficial soil microbes to grow.  Bacterial activities (including secretions) help the footing absorb moisture and keep the soil resilient and "alive".

     You'll also receive a PSD report  - Particle Size Distribution.  Using a series of sieves, an analysis is made to determine the percentage of very coarse, coarse, medium, fine, and very fine soil particles in the sample.  Soils with varying particle sizes result in more air pockets and a more resilient effect.  Fine and very fine soils either tend to pack or to be dusty or blow away.  A mixture of medium to coarse size particles is most desirable for the surface soil of arenas.

     Also in your soil analysis, you'll learn the mineral make-up of the soil: what percent is sand, silt, clay and what type of sand the sample contained.

Surface Soil Care

Moisture  You’ll need to develop and practice watering techniques so that the footing maintains a moisture level of 8 to 12 percent.  A moisture meter like the kind you use to test hay bales can give you an idea how close you are to maintaining this ideal.

     How much water?  To determine the amount of water needed to control dust and provide uniform texture, multiply the square footage of the arena by .07.  The resulting number indicates the approximate number of gallons of water needed.  To estimate how long this will take to distribute on the arena, divide the number of gallons by 5 and the resulting number gives the number of minutes of pumping required.  The number 5 assumes an average water pressure of 40 pounds using a 3/4 inch hose.  If you have lower water pressure, decrease the number to 4.  If you have higher water pressure,  use the number 6.

     Example:  In a 60 x 120 foot arena, there are 7,200 square feet.  7200 x .07 = 504 gallons. 
Divide 504 by 5 - At a rate of 5 gallons per minute coming out of the hose, you'd have to water for 100.8 minutes (1 hour and 40 minutes).

     As you plan your watering schedule, you need to take into consideration your water pressure, the output of your sprinklers, and the need of your particular footing.  A common watering problem is too much moisture in the arena center and not enough on the rail.  One way you can see how much water each part of your arena is receiving is to place tuna cans at various locations and compare their contents after 10 minutes of sprinkling.

     You also must learn the water-holding capacity of your soil.  Some of this can be determined via soil testing and some must be learned using trial and error.  For example, if you water for 10 minutes, you might find it accomplishes absolutely nothing.  20 minutes might just settle the dust....temporarily.  30 minutes might be perfect while 40 minutes might be too much and result in slippery spots.  Too much watering also results in soaking the base which results in loss of stability.

     One of the best ways to determine how well your watering program is working is to simply use a finger test.  Water should penetrate through all of the surface material before the arena is used.

Grooming  Discing and harrowing are necessary to maintain the resiliency of most arenas.  However, discing too deep can destroy the base and result in undulations in the footing.  These furrow are more stressful to a horse's legs than footing that is even but slightly hard.  Also discing can cause surface material (such as wood products, rubber products etc.) to be worked in too deep where they aren't useful.  With some footings, discing requirements are minimal or not recommended.  Harrowing might be all that is necessary.

     Daily arena maintenance should include picking up any rocks that have surfaced, removing weeds, and hand raking trouble spots.  Often it is necessary to hand rake back into the arena the footing that gets pushed outside the track when a rail rut is formed.

    Why would additional footing or additives be needed?

     Footings are not the answer to all problems.  However, the correct footing or additive might solve a problem you are having.  Some footings might solve one problem but introduce another.  No footing can do it all.  At this point, there is not a footing that is 100% dust free.  All footings will break down over time, some in a matter of months, some last for years.

This series will continue with information on arena footings, additives, avoiding problems and footing management.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

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