Poor arena footing can take the fun out of riding. Even worse, poor arena footing can create untold hardships for your horse, compromising performance, stealing confidence and putting him at risk for injury and degenerative problems such as osteoarthritis. Yet installing and maintaining safe, effective arena footing can be difficult, in part because of the many variables involved.
To help you sort out your arena footing options, we're going to look at some factors to consider when deciding what type of arena footing makes sense for your situation. If you understand the benefits and limitations of different types of footings and how they're likely to behave under particular conditions, you'll be able to make smart, realistic choices and arrive at what works best for you.
Before we discuss what types of footing materials are available, it's important to know what to look for in an ideal footing.
Basically, you want a surface that makes it easy for your horse to do his job, whatever that happens to be. He should be confident that his footing is even and consistent - no dips, holes, sudden shifts in texture or "give" to distract him or make him wary or reluctant to move out or meet fences. The footing should offer enough resistance to allow him to push off without sinking too deeply, yet it should help absorb some of the concussion when his feet hit the ground.
If he needs traction for tight maneuvers, the footing shouldn't shift out from under him. If he needs to slide, the footing shouldn't be too thin or compacted.
Once you determine the best type of surface for the work you'll be doing, you can begin to look at the materials that will allow you to achieve it.
The questions you'll want to ask yourself include:
- Does this footing provide the right amount of resistance, cushioning and traction for the kind of riding I do?
- Will this footing work in my environment (indoors, outdoors, low impact, high traffic)?
- How much maintenance will this footing need?
- Do the downsides of this material (dust potential, cost, short lifespan) overshadow the benefits?
- Can this material be combined with other materials or additives to produce the desired surface?
New footing formulations and products are being developed all the time, but the selection of materials for arena footing generally fall into either primary footing media (sand, dirt made up of clay and silt, stone dust, wood products and polymer-fused/wax-coated sand) or additive materials (rubber, natural fibers or synthetic fibers).
In many cases, footing materials are mixed to offset shortcomings of individual materials and to produce better results. For instance, stone dust is sometimes added to sand to give it a bit more firmness and grip.
We'll look first at the characteristics of the primary footing materials, which if well maintained may be all you need to achieve the surface you want. Then we'll consider ways that the various additives can help you fine-tune your footing when necessary.
If it's carefully selected and well-maintained, sand can provide an affordable, effective arena surface. Many types of sand are available. How it's described and categorized will differ by region, the supplier and even the person telling you about it. Still, certain characteristics are consistent, and it's better to understand those characteristics than to get locked into specific terminology that others may not interpret the same way.