Arena Footing - Types of Arena Footing

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Footing Part 4: Types of Arena Footing

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Various materials can be used for arena footing.  Each has its attributes and drawbacks.

GRASS or turf arenas have great aesthetic appeal but they are not the ideal surface in all instances.  First of all, depending on the locale, resilient, tough turf can be difficult to establish.  And with hard use, especially jumping, grass arenas can end up with bare spots, mud holes, and dust tracks.  Grass can become very slippery when wet, can become hard pan during dry spells, and dangerously hard when frozen.  For an arena that would only get light use, a grass ring might be perfect because it offers a great natural footing: good traction and spring.  Grass maintenance can be time consuming  however because grass must be weeded, fertilized, watered, and mowed.

DIRT is a general term that encompasses soils with many characteristics: sand, loam, and clay to name a few.  Loam is a rich soil composed of clay, sand, and organic matter.  Clay is hydrophilic which means it has the ability to absorb water, dissolve, and combine with water to become a very plastic substance.  Clay particles tend to be flat and oval, slippery when wet so slide into position with each other and hold their shape when they dry. 

SAND  The word sand is a very vague term which is used to represent a wide variety of materials.  Sand particles vary greatly in shape, from ball-bearing round to very angular.  Round sand particles interact like a zillion tiny balls so do not provide the stability required for a horse's landing, loading, and push-off.  Beach and riverbed sand is often too spherical for arenas.  Glacial sand, with its irregular angular surfaces, results in a more interlocking particle interaction and therefore better stability and traction. 

Sand also varies in mineral content.  Sand containing quartz resists breakdown so is long lasting.  Sand containing feldspar and mica breaks down relatively quickly.

Cheap sand has a high silt and clay content which is referred to as fines.  Fines are just that, fine particles or dust just waiting for a place to cause a problem.  Much construction grade sand contains 50% or more fines.  Fines create dust and tend to pack which inhibits drainage.  Sand can also contain small gravel or stones.
Washed concrete sand and mason's sand are terms usually associated with medium-coarse, very clean sand (less than 2% fines) that usually costs $1-3 per ton more than construction grade sand.

Unlike clay, sand has more strength when it is wet, in fact, it often becomes too hard.  When it is too dry, it loses its binding forces and collapses.

STONE DUST is also called screenings or limestone.  If the existing surface footing is too deep (i.e. too much sand), some can be hauled away and/or stone dust (limestone) can be added to the footing to firm it up.  However, as the name implies, this introduces a dust problem.

WOOD PRODUCTS  National manufacturers use local sources of wood to produce various shredded and shaved wood footings.  Wood products add organic materials to the footing which keeps footing alive, springy.  Wood products tend to break down quickly when they are dry as they shatter and easily become wood dust.  However wood footing that is constantly wet might decompose via rotting.  Wood footings made of smaller particles tend to break down much more quickly than those of larger particles.
If kept regularly damp, wood footings last longer.  However, wood footings can become slick if they are more than damp especially when a large constituent of the wood footing has been pulverized to wood dust.  If the base is intact, wood products may be a way to improve the surface, particularly of indoor arenas.

RUBBER PRODUCTS  Ground, crumb, and shredded rubber seem to be a great way to combat arena hardness.  At one stable, the hardness of footing in two 40 foot round pens were compared.  Both round pens had 12 inches of construction grade sand over old road base.  The control pen was left as is.  The second pen had 10% ground rubber product added.  Hardness measurements were made using the Clegg Impact Tester.  The control pen readings ranged from 89 to 247 on the circumference path (most heavily traveled area) of the pen.  The improved pen readings ranged from 44 to 80.

Rubber products, of themselves, are not good for improving dust because they won't absorb water.  But they will increase soil porosity so water can get into the soil.  Rubber is lighter than soil:  30 pounds per cubic foot vs 80-110 pounds per square foot for soil.  This means the footing is lighter and more porous but it also means that during a downpour, the rubber fraction might float away and in some instances during wind storms, might blow away. 

Rubber footings are usually a recycled material from the tire industry generally without the steel-belt portion of the tires.  However, metal and other debris have been noticed in some rubber footings.
Most rubber footings are black which reduces the glare of straight sand but can make it hotter for the horse's feet.  Colored rubber products (for example, blue and green) are also available.

COATED SAND  Polymer coated sand offers good cushion, good traction, and no dust if organic matter (manure, leaves, bedding) is removed from the footing regularly.


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