Dust is a concern—a potential health hazard—for both horse and human, as it makes both more prone to respiratory issues. That makes dust control a priority for stable owners.
There is no one solution for dust control that fits all equine arenas and barns. Watering the arena is one step, whether with a handy garden hose or a sophisticated sprinkler system. Proper preparation of the footing is another step. That can take the form of adding rubber footing materials or coatings or utilizing rubber bricks or mats. There are many options available for the stable and arena manager.
A Colorado State University research report found that whatever control method is used, reducing dust by increasing particle size through aggregation is critical. This is accomplished by uses of an adhesive force that binds to particulates larger than soil particles. That adhesive force can come from water, salts, methyl esters of vegetable oil, and petroleum or mineral-based motor oils.
Watering Systems and Misters
Alf Caldwell of The Rubberman says the simplest measure for dust control in an indoor arena is “having the ability to maintain what moisture that is already in the footing,” as well as efficiently replacing lost moisture.
“I have a lot of people call me to discuss their footing and nine times out of 10, they really do not need our rubber footing. As crazy as it seems, I will tell them that,” Caldwell says.
Sprinkler systems are legion. Jaime Gleba with FarmTek says the company introduced several new dust control options in January, including the 3-Zone Sprinkling System, the Brute Sprinkler Stand and the Rapid Rain Sprinkler System. The 3-Zone system controls dust with frequent watering. To install the overhead sprinkler system, a filter and a supply line need to be set up along with the installation of FarmTek’s RotorMaxim Inverted Sprinkler Assembly. Each sprinkler assembly waters a 30 foot to 35 foot area.
The Brute Sprinkler Stand with a heavy-duty riser is for the arena where an overhead system isn’t feasible. The sprinkler stand can be used in conjunction with FarmTek’s Senninger Impact Sprinklers.
The new automatic Rapid Rain Sprinkler System is portable and capable of watering a large area in a single pass through automatic rewinding of the hose and sprinkler. The system is easier to move than traditional sprinklers and is more cost effective than a permanent one. It attaches directly to a standard garden hose and is completely powered by water.
Kifco offers a watering system that operates unattended and shuts off automatically. The company says it operates with less time and labor than water trucks. The mobile sprinkler actually travels across the arena and has an adjustable travel speed, so the owner can control the run time and the amount of water applied. The water reels can be used in the arena or pasture.
To help remove dust already in the air, the Turbo XE fans made by Jaybird Manufacturing are ideal for humidifying large air spaces, says spokesman Darren Figart. “They have a great deal of fogging output, are dependable and they can simply attach up to an ordinary water supply line without filtration or nozzles,” he notes. “When the humidity rises in the air, the dust will quickly absorb the moisture and fall out of the atmosphere. During the atomization process, there is also some evaporative cooling that will occur as well, which in many cases is an added benefit.” In most cases, good dust control can be achieved by raising the relative humidity to 40 to 50 percent.
The Turbo XE fans make about as much noise as a household vacuum cleaner, but in a large arena that is usually not an issue, especially if the units are mounted up high, Figart says. The foggers can also double for secondary applications—for instance, if the arena needed to be fumigated for sterilization.
When Rubber Meets the Arena
Todd Opacinch with Surfacing Resources, LLC, recommends use of a non-biodegradable material as the footing to control dust. That material can be sand or rubber or a mixture of the two. There are different sizes of rubber “grains,” from smaller rubber chunks and crumbs to larger shredded rubber pieces sometimes used in breeding sheds.
Rubber has unique advantages. “Any sort of wood or natural fiber product will by nature break down over time, thus causing dust, and it can become a breeding ground for molds and fungus. The inhalation of molds can be an irritant to a horse as much, if not more, than ‘basic’ dust,” Opacinch says.The mixture of rubber and sand helps to reduce dust somewhat, but the primary purpose of the rubber is to suspend the sand mixture and to help reduce compaction, which in turn reduces the breakdown of the sand, reducing the dust.
Opacinch says it’s important to realize that “not all rubber is created equally. The rubber we use is what we refer to as ‘industrial pure.’ This rubber is recycled, but it is not post-consumer. Our rubber has not been exposed to road pollutants like some rubber that is basically used tires that have been ground up and thrown in a bag for your arena. Our rubber is purchased directly from automobile tire manufacturers or manufacturers of rubber products used primarily in the automotive industry.”
Adding rubber will not reduce dust in all situations. “If someone has a stone dust arena with one inch of sand, then adding a couple of inches of rubber footing will really help them with dust control and give them a better surface,” says Caldwell. But adding rubber to an arena that has too-deep sand will not help, he adds.
Tim Fisher Sr. with EquiTurf says the EquiTurf arena footing and flooring products can help with dust control in the arena and stable. He said the footing product should be put over a torpedo sand base and watered in the morning, and as needed depending on traffic throughout the day. The footing is made from recycled industrial rubber, free of contaminant and insured to be 100 percent free of wire, metal or other foreign material.
Starting with a Clean Slate
Pam Jorgenson with Equi-tread says that when possible, “it is always best to build the arena right the first time.” The sub base should be as close to 100 percent compacted as possible. When that step is completed, seek out sand that is slightly coarse and free of fines (the small particles of clay and sand that create dust.)
Jorgenson recommends visiting a local quarry and checking out all the manufactured aggregates available. “As a horse person, you will know what feels right under your feet. When you find the right sand for your arena, throw it up in the air. Is it dusty? Ask if you can have it washed,” she says. Quarries will usually wash it for a small charge or direct you to a cleaner product.
Once clean sand has been applied to an arena, Jorgenson recommends adding Equi-tread, a crumb rubber comprising small, irregularly shaped pieces of clean, granulated rubber. The crumb migrates to the top in an ongoing cycle, acting as a mulch to reduce dust.
Jorgenson adds that rubber absorbs more shock than any other standard surface material, so it helps prevent stress-related injuries to horses, and can cushion the fall for a rider.
Stephanie Cornell with Midwest Equestrian says that before anything is done in an arena or stable, the existing footing should be examined. Midwest Equestrian does footing analysis to determine particle size distribution and the application rate of Arena RX, a synthetic, organic fluid, to treat the arena. Arena RX can be used in indoor or outdoor arenas and does not freeze in cold weather climates. “It is colorless, odorless and environmentally safe,” Cornell says. It can also be used on tracks, round pens, horse walkers and stable aisle ways.
Arena RX improves dust control by coating the footing material and helping to deter particle breakdown. It generally needs to be maintained with an application of about 25 percent of the initial application each year, but that can vary on the use of the arena. A public-use arena may need maintenance after eight to 10 months, while a private-use arena may not need it for two years.
“Not one solution fits all,” Cornell says of the need to find out just what the footing is all about. Once that is determined, Arena RX is easy for a person to apply, and it ultimately eliminates the need to use water. Watering an arena adds compaction and aids in the breakdown of the materials, she says, which changes the footing because it is holding in different amounts of water.
Barb Dienhart with West Coast Footings recommends adding a product called Pos-A-Trac to control dust. “It is a ground up geo-textile fabric imported from Germany, known as Vlieshaecksel, and very widely used there. It does retain moisture, but only to a certain extent. In other words, in rain or overwatering, it will only hold a limited amount of water before shedding the excess,” she says.
Pos-A-Trac also gives the footing a slight springiness, “enhancing traction and extending sand life,” she adds. “By controlling the moisture, you create an even consistency throughout the ring, which means your horse is paying attention to you and not his feet.”
A further option is Arena Moist from Absolute Innovations (ABI). According to manufacturers, Arena Moist is a moisture management product that doesn’t just eliminate dust, but attacks the problem before it even starts by maintaining proper moisture levels in the footing. ABI’s Jim Catalano says, “Arena Moist conserves the moisture to an arena at all depths of the footing, resolving most dust issues and even improving the quality of the footing material.”
Whatever option you choose, both your clients and your horses will be happier with a dust-free arena.