Imagine inhaling all the dust and debris from your horse arena as you and your horse work hard in the horse arena. On average, a resting horse inhales 150 liters of air per minute. Add in strenuous exercise and your horse could realistically suck in 10 times that volume of arena dust. If your horse is older or has a history of respiratory infections or heaves, he could be even more susceptible to airway problems when breathing in airborne arena dust and dirt.
Arena dust is bad. But, maybe you feel a little helpless to control the micro-climate that is your own personal arena dust storm. How exactly can you keep all that arena dust and dirt from rising? Here are some ideas to help you control arena dust, from economical strategies to more expensive ones:
Dust to Dust
It's possible your arena is actually a flat spot in your pasture, or that your arena footing is made up of the existing soil or sod. Not a bad place to start in terms of dust control. If you have plans for adding footing, either all at once or over time, you're a step ahead in terms of choosing a low-dust footing, rather than dealing with a dusty footing already in place. If you're dealing with existing dusty footing, you have choices to help that situation, too.
Before you can start to control dust, you have to understand where it comes from. Basically, dust is made up of small particles that float or fly through the air, because they aren't heavy enough to stay grounded.
Sand is a traditional footing in many regions, especially since it's usually a naturally abundant product. However, depending on where you live, the word "sand" can mean different things. For example, sand derived from the beach is very different in texture and content than glacial sand. What's contained in that sand also plays a role in how much dust a footing will produce.
Wayne Gregory, general manager of Footing Unlimited in Chicago, points to four causes of dust:
1. Footing containing lightweight particles, such as unwashed sand that contains bits of clay, silt or broken-down organic (naturally occurring) materials. "Imagine the particles of sand are the size of a basketball," says Gregory. "In comparison, particles of clay are the size of a pinhead." So, the small bits float into the air, causing dust.
2. Sand pulverized by use. Over time, the weight and concussion of the horse's hooves on the sand will break individual grains into smaller particles, which then become dust. 3. The arena base, usually made of clay or stone dust, begins to rise through the footing, becoming dust.
4. Manure, a fragile organic material left in the arena, gets broken down into small particles that easily go airborne. To protect you and your horse, keep a manure fork and wheelbarrow close by, and scoop any poop left in the arena after your ride. Then roll it off to your compost bin.
Based on what makes up dust, the basic way we control it is by adding weight to small particles, which then keeps them from floating into the air.