Horse Arena Design and Management

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Footing Part 5: Footing Additives

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Additives for arena footing can range from rainfall to chemical agents and should be carefully selected to solve a specific footing problem.

MANURE AND USED BEDDING  Adding fresh manure to arenas usually results in a slick footing that takes a long time to dry.  Manure is unsanitary and breeds flies.  Horse manure that has been thoroughly composted into humus might be OK but commercial compost often contains heavy metals which can be a health hazard to horses and humans.

WASTE OIL  Using old motor oil on arena footing is now regulated by the EPA since it is harmful to the environment.  Besides potential harm to the soils and groundwaters, spreading old tractor or car oil on an arena is very messy for horse, tack, and rider and can cause respiratory problems. 

OIL PRODUCTS that are environmentally safe have recently been developed especially for dust control.

SALT is used to prevent footing from freezing.  Salt lowers the freezing temperature of water by a few degrees.  Salt is corrosive and drying to horse's hooves and can create problems with tack (especially leg boots).

CALCIUM CHLORIDE is applied to pull moisture from the air into the soil to combat dustiness.  However, since it is caustic, it causes problems with hooves, metal, leather and lungs.  There are other products available today that do not have these drawbacks.

WATER ADDITIVES that are applied every time the arena is watered are designed to slow down evaporation by encouraging microbial populations to flourish.  Microbes produce binding fluids which hold footing particles together and prevent them from drying out.

FIBERS  The addition of natural or plastic fibers to existing soil can both aerate the soil and bind it as well.

POLYMERS serve as a moisture retention aid but were designed for use with turf, not arena footings.  Their success in arenas vary.  They are made of starch or rubber.  These water absorbing products are crystals when dry but turn into a jell when moist and release their moisture gradually.  Two teaspoons of crystals can absorb a quart of water.  This makes the swollen jell balls very slick when they are fully engorged with water and can result in an arena full of frozen balls in cold climates.  Exposure to sunlight results in degradation.

Experts advise to start application conservatively and increase until desired results are obtained.   Usually the polymers are added to the soil at a starting rate of 5-10 pounds per 1000 square feet.  In some situations, 12 pounds per 1000 square feet might do nothing but 17-18 pounds might do the trick.  If a soil is water repellent (either naturally or because of prior addition of oil or other substance), it might interfere with the polymer being able to work.  Polymers are also rendered useless by most types of hard water and all salts. 

It pays to thoroughly evaluate your arena footing before designing a plan for its enhancement and maintenance.  Each climate, type of soil, level of management, and type of performance event will have different footing requirements.

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

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