Your dream finally came true. After saving up your pennies and spending time and money working with a contractor to clear an area and lay a foundation, you’ve built a riding arena of your own. Now comes the part that is so frequently overlooked, yet is the single most important factor if you want the footing to ride to its optimum performance level, that is the maintenance of it.
Without ongoing upkeep, which includes an investment in the correct equipment, your arena will have a shortened lifespan. A footing that is inconsistently maintained can lead to expensive veterinary bills. Taking time to maintain your arena will cost significantly less in the long run and will ensure that the arena footing lasts the duration.
The amount and type of arena grooming often depends on what type of surface you have. Some surfaces require more water or grooming than others, while weather, daily use, type of riding and number of horses, all factor into the equation.
These days, as mentioned above, we use arena groomers rather than “drags”. Latter day maintenance equipment should keep a surface groomed and level.
Waxed-coated riding surfaces are dust free (providing correct equipment is used and maintenance guidelines adhered to) and have a good climactic tolerance and so will not require an irrigation system. It is worth noting that Martin Collins synthetic horse riding surfaces are NOT coated with oils or petroleum jellies, as are most others, for two important reasons.
Some oils can wash through the surface and block up the underlying base.
Neither oils nor petroleum jellies have the same lifespan as a wax coated surface and will therefore require re-coating much sooner.
Non-coated riding surfaces require significantly more maintenance than those with a waxed coating. For optimum performance, an irrigation system is essential. Once a surface has dried out it will ride “deep” and can quickly become un-level. However, it can be rectified with specialist machinery.
Care Advice for All Synthetic Riding Surfaces
We recommend that arena footing should average a compacted depth of approximately 4” when laid to provide proper stability and cushioning. This applies to fiber/sand and also coated footings. Be aware that some footing companies might try to sell you on a uncompacted depth, but when compacted, the footing could be reduced by as much as 2″ during the process.
It is important that your new surface is kept both level and evenly compacted. If any hollows, dips or tracking appear, these should be corrected by hand raking, prior to grooming the surface. (Grooming tools such as the Arena Master Supreme Plus are designed to keep the surface level and groomed.)
Your arena should be maintained according to use. We advise clients to maintain on a daily basis for the first three months and then as use and common sense directs.
Special attention should be paid to high traffic areas, including entry-ways and tracks that have seen heavy use, as these will tend to compact down. Traffic wear is much more easily dealt with when tackled early, and the footing is redistributed appropriately using specialist equipment by a professional installer.
Horses must have clean feet and legs prior to being worked in the school, likewise when grooming the surface, it is very important that the tractor has clean tires so contamination is not bought in to the arena.
Horses should have their feet picked out prior to leaving the arena.
Carry out regular depth checks, these will immediately flag “danger” inconsistencies in overall depth i.e., 2″–6”. We recommend on a three monthly basis by taking a probe and measuring the depth around the track, quarter, center and three-quarter lines. Record the depth checks on a grid and this will show up inconsistencies at an early stage.
Fences should be moved frequently, and take off and landing pads hand raked before the stands are put away.
It is important that any organic matter (droppings, leaves, etc.) are not allowed to remain on the surface. It will cause the wax to dry out prematurely if waxed; if allowed to remain manure will dry out, break down and both contaminate the surface and assist in prematurely drying out the wax coating.
If you have to lunge on the surface, we suggest that you “walk lunge”, as this helps to prevent a “doughnut” appearing on the surface. Lunging or liberty work is likely to require additional surface maintenance.
Ideally build a dedicated lunge ring to save your treasured new surface.
We do not recommend using the school as a turn out area. Should this be necessary all feedstuffs must be fed off the ground and droppings, hay and spilt feed must be removed as often as possible.
Care should be taken when using a maintenance machine so as not to drop the tines in too deeply and damage the underlying base.. Should the base layer be damaged, it will be necessary to employ the services of a professional installer to rectify the problem.
Making Your Riding Surface Last
The life span of a correctly installed and high performance riding surface will be determined by a range of factors, which include:
Follow the manufacturers recommended maintenance guidelines.
Lift all debris, horse droppings, leaf fall etc.
Carry out regular depth checks, these will immediately flag “danger” inconsistencies in overall depth i.e 2” – 6”. We recommend on a three monthly basis.
Construct an access track to the arena to keep horses feet and maintenance equipment clean when entering the arena.
The size of the school
If you have a very small school, you may find the surface wears a little more quickly, as the horses are working “on the turn”.
There is more pressure on the footing on turns, so lay an additional 1” (increase install to 5”) for safety.
Caring For Your Riding Surface in the Snow
When maintaining your riding arena, it is always important to keep an eye on the weather forecast; and, if snow or frost is expected then your riding surface will require slightly different care and maintenance:
Do not work snow into your surface because if the temperature should plummet this will freeze and create an ice block and you will have to wait until the complete depth thaws.
The snow “blankets” the footing much like your garden, so ride on it and leave to thaw. Obviously common sense prevails as none of us would be riding on 6” of snow.
Ideally you should maintain the surface with the tines of the maintenance machine - inch deeper than usual. This will help any excess water disperse. It is more beneficial if this additional maintenance can be carried out at the time when the frost is catching.
The following morning, start by checking the surface. It may well be ready for a gentle maintenance pass to ease any ice crystals that may be in the surface.
If there is a heavy cover of snow over the riding arena, then remove as much as you can carefully with a blade. If your equestrian surface was installed by Martin Collins, you might like to contact us when the weather has improved, and if required, arrange to get your arena inspected by a member of our team.
Do not use your maintenance equipment to break up any snow or ice in or on the surface. This will cause your surface to become uneven in depth and compaction as well as increasing the likelihood of future freezing. It may also be detrimental to the components in the surface.
With appropriate maintenance, your arena should provide you with many years of use and be a joy upon which to ride.
If you are planning on building an equestrian arena and would like to obtain a complimentary 25-page Footing Guide packed with useful advice on arena material selection and construction, please email [email protected]. For a no obligation quote, please call Glynnie Walford of Martin Collins USA at 859-321-3751.