All riders know dusty arenas are unpleasant to ride in. Dust can also contribute to respiratory problems for horses and can indicate that the footing is not providing proper support to the horses using it. And that’s where arena watering comes in. “Water is the secret ingredient to footing,” David Steffe, owner of Steffe Surfaces says, “controlling the amount of water applied is critical.”
Wayne Gregory, general manager of Footings Unlimited, agrees: “Proper watering can go a long way to getting an arena the way you like it,” The key is selecting equipment that matches a barn owner’s finances, labor availability and training goals for its horses/boarder’s horses.
Is Budget Better?
A garden hose with a spray nozzle sounds like a low-budget solution, and most barns already have this equipment on hand. However, this option can be costly—using a garden hose requires an individual to walk the entire surface area of the arena, and that person’s time, whether it is the barn owner’s or a paid laborer’s, is money. Additionally, the amount of water applied to one area can differ from that of another depending on how long the hose is held in one spot.
An alternative to a garden hose is a tripod stand with a sprinkler mounted on top, which can be found at most home improvement stores. Each sprinkler head rotates a set distance and throws water a specific radius from its center. With this method, the length of time required to water the arena is dramatically reduced. Still, this option does require an employee to monitor the amount of water applied. In addition, the tripod setup will only cover portions of an arena at a time and must be moved from one area to the next to cover the entire area and to be consistent.
A third alternative is a drag-behind watering tool. Several manufacturers have tanks with water release systems that can be pulled behind a tractor/UTV or truck, allowing a barn owner to control the amount of water applied. Some manufacturers sell an all-in-one pull-behind tool that waters and drags the arena surface at the same time. These handy tools, coupled with a rainwater containment system (see “Nature’s Way” in this article) can be a very economical solution, though moderate labor is required.
A Bigger Investment
Investing in an automated watering system increases efficiency and provides consistent application. Watering systems can be programmed with a clock to run at specific times of the day, which can save a lot of time and money. For example, running a system at night, when evaporation is lowest, will be the most effective way to water your arena. And electricity may be cheaper during certain hours as well. Furthermore, a correctly designed and installed system will ensure even water distribution across the entire arena eliminating pooling and waste.
Barn owners can choose between pop-up spray heads, those that simply pop-up and spray water, or rotary heads that turn once the water activates them. Sprinkler heads can be installed in the ground around the perimeter of an outdoor arena, and strategically placed on support structures for indoor arenas. In either situation, the sprinkler heads should be positioned close enough to the edge to adequately cover the arena, but far enough outside the rail to avoid passing horse hooves and legs. The size of the arena and the available water supply will determine how many sprinklers are needed to do the job.
For indoor facilities, overhead sprinklers originally designed for greenhouses can be another option. In greenhouses, thin water lines are strung along the roof structure to carry water from one end to another. Small sprinklers with a spinner dangle from the roof. When the system is turned on the spinners create an even mist that covers the entire arena. The equine world has taken this concept even further. Overhead sprinkler systems now come with hard lines along the ceiling and rafters with multi-sprinkler valves. These sprinkler heads, in many cases, can be moved along a track for optimal watering. These systems can also come with a device that stops water from dripping onto riders below the sprinkler once the flow is shut off.
Barn owners planning a new arena or renovating an existing arena can consider subsurface irrigation (irrigation that is installed beneath the riding arena’s surface). These systems tend to save a lot of water by maintaining a consistent moisture level.
Based on the “ebb and flow” theory similar to the edge of a beach, Steffe recommends a watering system installed beneath the riding surface. “Mimicking the sand at the edge of the ocean and controlling the water level in the system below the riding surface takes advantage of the capillary effect of sand to keep it moist,” he explains.
A valve, installed with the system, allows the stable owner to adjust the amount of water held underneath the footing. When comparing the subsurface irrigation system Steffe uses, the water savings are remarkable. “One show ring in Ohio is 60,000 square feet and only requires 2,000 gallons of water every day to maintain it (using the subsurface system),” he says. “An neighboring arena that is smaller in size uses nearly 50,000 gallons of water every day.”
Barn owners looking to drastically reduce the amount of water used can consider rain water harvesting systems that trap rainwater and store it for later use. “The roof on a 200-foot by 100-foot barn is equivalent to almost a half an acre,” Joe Martinolich, principle and director of Equine Facilities Designs at CMW, Inc., says. “If you catch and use that water (for purposes other than drinking) that is a sizeable amount of water.” With the water in hand, then it becomes a decision about how to distribute it with some of the methods above. It is important to note that before installing any type of rain water capturing system, be sure to check your state and/or town’s regulations.
With any watering system, keep in mind that a barn’s water source (well or public waterline) and water availability will play a major role in the decision. For that reason, consulting with a professional (or your local extension agent) before purchasing or installing any supplies is always a good idea.
There is no disputing that a well-maintained riding surface is key to a good barn operation. And watering is a big priority in achieving a great arena. Do-it-yourselfers can find ways to keep riding surfaces dust-free, but the luxury of automated systems can eliminate guess work and reduce labor costs.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
EQ Barns — www.eqbarns.com/sprinkler-system/
Kiser — www.abiequine.com/products/
Q Line Equestrian — www.q-line.com/en/products/arena-irrigation