Riding in a freshly groomed arena is more fun than climbing on a tractor to drag, but having the correct footing for your discipline and maintaining it properly enhances your horse’s performance and helps reduce the risk of injury and lameness.
“When your footing gets hard, there is increased concussion on your horse’s legs, which can impact soundness,” said Mike Isles, farrier and co-owner of Equine Sit Solutions LLC, in Greenfield Center, New York. “Many times, unmaintained footing can also become a tripping hazard because of undulations and hard or soft spots. If a horse trips on that, you or your horse could get hurt.”
Setting aside time to maintain the arena footing also extends the longevity of your investment. Here, Isles offers tips for maintaining your arena footing.
According to Isles, the best thing you can do to maintain your arena footing is to drag regularly. Dragging keeps the footing uniform by filling in the hoofprints and loosening compacted areas—especially the perimeter where people ride most often.
“It is important to have a drag that is appropriate for the type of footing you have,” he added.
Change how you drag the arena periodically, so the equipment doesn’t compact some areas more than others. Alternate between circular, square, and rectangular patterns for the best results.
Provide Moisture Control
Watering an arena can be a challenging task. Mother Nature is unreliable, and an automatic sprinkler system can be expensive. However, Isles says moisture control should be on your to-do list.
A heavy-duty garden hose is a budget-friendly alternative but requires time and labor. Adding magnesium chloride flakes is another alternative for providing your arena with proper moisture.
“When we talk about appropriate moisture in an arena, especially for sand/fiber footings, we use the analogy of walking on a beach,” he said. “The ideal moisture level is borderline saturated like when you are walking down a beach at the water’s edge compared to walking in loose, dry sand 100 yards up the beach.”
Clean Up Manure
Without fail, horses will poop in the arena. Removing manure after each ride is a low-cost maintenance strategy. Keep a bucket and fork ringside for easy accessibility, and make it a team effort by asking others who use the arena to clean up after their horses.
“As manure breaks down it can degrade the footing and contribute to dust,” Isles said. “It’s especially important to pick up manure if you have specialized footing.”
Plan for Professional Maintenance
Even with good routine maintenance, an arena will likely need periodic professional maintenance. The frequency depends on the arena’s use and amount of traffic.
“Everything we do, including riding in circles and dragging, pushes footing to the outside of the ring,” he explained. “A regular drag is not designed to fix that.”
Hiring a professional to pull the material back into the center and regrade the surface prolongs the footing and the base beneath it.
“How often you need this depends on your use,” he said. “For some barns, it could be every few years, for others more often. Variations in your footing, such as a lot of high spots or low spots, indicate it’s time to regrade the surface.”
Buying and installing high-quality footing is an investment for any horse property. Although the footing’s specific needs will vary based on type and use, implementing daily maintenance will help prolong the life of this investment and reduce the risk of injury to horses and rides.