A well-prepared arena is all about the footing. Its resiliency absorbs the shock caused by concussive hoof force, making the difference between a safe or unsafe landing. “The dynamics are such that the foot remains in motion, pushing out and down, as it comes to rest on the ground,” said John Dienhart of West Coast Footings. “A good surface will allow it to decelerate gradually, thereby providing protection from harmful impact. But it’s what’s underneath that really counts.”
The All-Important Base Layer
Even the most expensive top layers will be compromised if the underpinning is faulty. Base layers are typically dependent on your location. According to Dienhart, crushed limestone, blue stone, decomposed granite, sure-pack or clay all will do the job. However, their depths, strengths and abilities to retain moisture will have a direct impact on the surface.
There are multiple factors that go into making a good footing for horses to work on. Some of these are man-made, and some are dependent on where you are and what your ground is made of. All of these factors go into making a good arena that will promote soundness and safety in the horses training over it.
Soil strength refers to the qualities a ground surface will exhibit under pressure. “A hard, brittle surface, such as concrete or sun-baked clay, has a high-impact resistance [high strength], absorbing little if any of the impact energy," explained Dienhart. "On the other hand, an overly soft surface, such as dry sand, has a low-impact resistance [low strength] that absorbs most of the footfall energy, requiring the foot to exert a disproportionate amount of force to recover and travel forward.”
Moisture content for both indoor and outdoor arenas is important to help maintain a dust-free environment and pliant footing. The challenge is in maintaining the right amount of moisture. Too much, as in the case of a mostly sandy surface, will make it too hard. However, a mainly dirt surface--depending on the amount of silt, clay and organic matter present--will make the footing too slippery.
“Conversely, too little moisture, and you’ll be riding in a dust bowl or on rock-solid ground,” Dienhart noted.
Adequate drainage is necessary for both indoor and outdoor arenas, which means that creating or finding the right location is critical. Water needs to be channeled in such a way that it disperses evenly to keep puddles or rivers from forming. While an outdoor arena is subject to weather conditions, Dienhart said that even indoor arenas can develop drainage problems caused by “rupturing pipes or malfunctioning sprinkler systems, to name two.”
Before you build an arena, make sure your ground is suitable. That means it must drain well and be able to support the footing used. If you have an area that is not as safe or suitable for your horses as you would like, then consult with an expert in order to improve the arena. That might mean digging out all that you have and starting from scratch, or it could be as simple as moisture and/or drainage.