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Get Control of Horse Arena Dust

Dust isn't just caused by hot, dry days. As horses pound  the footing, they break it down into smaller particles. The smaller the particles, the easier it is for them to become suspended in the air, causing dust.

Have you ever entered a horse arena and felt like you were riding headlong into a sandstorm? A dusty horse arena is unpleasant for riders, trainers and spectators alike, and it's not great for neighbor relations, either. Not only that, but frequent exposure to dust may pose significant health risks for you and your horse, as well as compromise his performance.

But unless you can afford a high-tech polymer-fused sand footing - such as Terra 2000 or Equation, which guarantee a dust-free arena - you're going to have to accept some dust as a fact of life. How much dust do you have to put up with? Not that much, if you find the right prevention and control strategies.

Let's start with a look at some of the factors that are responsible for creating dust. Then, we'll consider various dust-suppression options.

Not Just Dry Weather
Dust consists of fine particles that become airborne. The particles can be clay, silt, pulverized sand or organics - any substance that's small enough for air to suspend it. Of course, knowing what dust is doesn't necessary tell you where it's coming from, and a lot of misconceptions exist about what actually creates it.

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Base issues. The first thing to look at is your base. A properly compacted base is essential to combating dust problems because it prevents the native soil from working its way to the surface. Native soil is full of "fines," and if they get through the base and mix with your footing, your dust woes will escalate in a hurry.

A sufficiently compacted base will contribute a small amount of dust through the action of the footing material grinding against it, but it generally won't wear down more than one-eighth inch in a year. In low-traffic situations, dust from the base won't even be measurable.

Dust Management

  • If a base isn't properly compacted, it will create dust problems.
  • Make sure the tines of your harrow are set high enough to avoid tearing up the base.
  • Additives such as crumb rubber can help prevent footing breakdown, but only add it to fresh footing, not worn, already-dusty material.
  • Be conservative when treating your arena with a dust-control agent. Apply a little and see how it works before adding more.
  • Water is an effective dust suppressant - but only if you water deeply, at least two inches into the footing.

By contrast, a base that wasn't well compacted can be a huge dust producer. If the base fails and begins to break apart, it's going to wind up as dust. And if it loses its effectiveness as a barrier, it will allow the soil fines to come up to the surface and compound the problem.

It's important to address any issues with your base before you tackle other potential sources of dust. Otherwise, you're always going to be battling dust, no matter what additional measures you take.

Footing issues. Let's assume you have a sound base, but you still have dust. Now it's time to evaluate your arena footing to see how it might be contributing to the dust situation.

To turn into dust, footing materials need to become suspended in the air. That's why fresh, clean sand isn't dusty: The particles are too large and heavy to become airborne. Unfortunately, sand breaks down with use, and when it becomes fine enough, it will become a problem.

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