Horse Arena Design and Management

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

 Footing Part 3: Common Footing Problems

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Certain footing problems tend to occur time and time again.  Knowing about potential issues ahead of time can help you design an arena and choose footing and additives that will minimize problems.

TOO HARD  Hard footing is associated with joint and ligament problems.  Luckily, hard footing is one of the easiest problems to solve.  Often just a regular grooming (aeration with disc and harrow) and watering program will improve hard soil.  Another solution is to simply add new footing on top of the hard arena.  Also organic material (such as sawdust or ground up bark) or rubber products can be added to the hard soil and mixed in to give life and spring.

How hard is your arena footing?  Hardness readings are made by using a Clegg Impact Tester which is a drop hammer that measures the rate of deceleration when an object hits the ground.  The drop hammer measures the forces felt by the horse as its limbs contact and settle on the arena surface.  Hard surfaces, where the rate of deceleration occurs quickly, have "little give" and don't absorb energy.  Softer surfaces absorb more energy and have a more gradual impact to loading sequence, resulting in a less-abrupt deceleration and lower risk of injury to the horse's legs.

The deceleration number will be greater on a harder surface than a softer surface.  Values of over 125 are associated with athletic injuries.  Hard-packed or normal frozen soil have values of 175 and higher.  A good turf surface has values of approximately 75-100.  Soil testing labs can perform the Clegg test on your present arena and again after rejuvenation.

TOO DUSTY  Dust can be caused by many factors including the PSD (Particle Size Distribution  see Part 2), dirty sand, wood dust from decomposed wood footings, percent organic matter in the footing, type of minerals making up the sand fraction of the soil, watering practices, arena grooming techniques, overall climate as well as temporary effects from wind, humidity, precipitation, and temperature.  Water, possibly with the aid of an absorbing agent, is the best solution to dust problems.

TOO DEEP  Footing that is too deep can cause mis-steps, tendon strain, and other injuries.  Most footing that is too deep can be remedied somewhat by watering it regularly.  If necessary, some of the existing footing can be hauled away and/or stone dust (limestone) or clay can be added to the footing to firm it up.  Stone dust is thought to be most appropriate to add to saw dust or wood footings that are too deep and clay is appropriate for deep sand.  Bonding agents (fibers and polymers) are useful additives to help this problem.

TOO WET, MUDDY, OR SLIPPERY  This problem can be caused by anything from poor planning and design of an arena to an insufficient base or inappropriate surface material.  Working wet surfaces with a harrow usually speeds up the drying process.  Because wet footing usually points to poor arena design, there are no Band-Aids for this problem.  It's often back to the drawing board. 

FREEZES EASILY  In cold climates, footing can freeze into a lumpy mass or a hardpan.  Adding salt or an special footing anti-freeze product to the soil and working it in might be the only way to keep an arena usable in very cold weather.

INCONSISTENT  Footing that has varying depth and feel.  Some arenas are consistent on the rail but vary greatly in the center.  Unevenness is often a symptom of a faulty base.
This series will continue with information on footing products and arena additives.

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

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