Horse Arena Design and Management

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

Footing Part 1: Arena Design and Management

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Good footing is safe and can encourage a horse to move forward with energy and elasticity.  Poor footing is dangerous and can cause a horse to move timidly or with resistance.

There is no substitute for proper arena design and management.  Before footing the bill for a new arena surface, be sure you have considered all of the following design and management factors. 

Location  An arena should be located on dry, well-draining ground.  To improve drainage, a shallow ditch can be cut around the perimeter of the arena.  Depending on the terrain, the rainwater collected in the ditch can flow directly onto lower ground or can be drained via an underground tile system.

Levelness  The arena site should be level with a slight (1 to 2 degree) grade to allow rain water to pass through the surface soil and flow off the base.  The slight slope discourages puddling.  Be aware that a steeper grade could lead to erosion of the surface soil during downpours. 

Base  The layer of material between the "earth" and the surface material is called the base.  The functions of the base include acting as a protective layer between the earth and the surface material, giving stability to the arena floor, and carrying rainwater off the arena.  The base might be naturally occurring material (such as decomposed granite) or added material such as road base or fine gravel topped with stone dust and clay.  The base must contain no stones and it needs to be packed or tamped as hard as concrete.  To accomplish this, a contractor that has a 10 or 20 ton roller (such as seen on road crews) will have to be hired.  Some feel the surface of the base should be left absolutely flat while some say that after the base is set, narrow grooves or rills should be cut into the base to help hold the surface material in place.

The base must be a thick enough layer to prevent material from the "earth" layer (such as clay or stones) from working up through the base into the surface soil.  A 4-6" base is usually sufficient for an arena that is used primarily for flatwork.  However, the base layer might need to be as deep as 10" if an arena would be used primarily for jumping.  Some farms have experimented with laying special tough, non-biodegradable cloths between the earth and the base and even between the base and the surface footing to keep the layers from mixing.

The base must be protected from damage by erosion, deep discing, and penetration from hooves.  Regular maintenance should eliminate the potential for ruts forming along the rail. 

Surface Material  The layer over the base is called the cushion or the surface.  Often it is a mixture of materials.  Depending on the base and use of the arena, the surface layer could be from 2 to 6 inches deep.  The function of the surface material is to provide a cushioning effect.  3 inches of surface footing seems to work well in many arenas.

Surface recipes vary widely and include various mixtures of sand, silt, and clay, topsoil and sawdust, simply sand, and various artificial footings.

This series will continue with information on evaluating and caring for your soil, arena footings, additives, avoiding problems and footing management.

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

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