Every trainer and barn manager has a unique way of doing things, but almost everyone can agree on what an arena surface should look (and feel) like: It should be level, more-or-less dust free, and offer soft, forgiving and consistent footing.
But “soft” means different things to different disciplines. Hans Kallenberger of Elite Equestrian Products?suggests that, in general, race horses want a firm surface that doesn’t soak up energy. Jumpers like it a bit softer: firm enough for a good launch, springy enough for a comfortable landing. For dressage, the surface can be softer still. Western riding, with a lot of cutting and pivoting, takes the softest footing.
How do you establish and maintain the desired consistency? With arena rakes. And just as there are different preferences in surface feel, there are rakes designed to suit each taste. Rakes come in dozens of styles and sizes, and should be matched to the tractor and to the surface the trainer wants to achieve. In general, a rake or tiller that goes deeper, and turns the sand mechanically, produces softer, more cushiony footing.
If you’re raking a race track, you already know what you need: You’re pulling a 14-foot-wide harrow behind a big diesel tractor. If you’re conditioning an arena, you need something lighter and more agile, but not so small that you’ll spend all day in the tractor saddle. Try dragging a 120’ x 300’arena with a four-foot rake—you’ll pull it for over two miles.
Matching Tractor and Rake
The critical dimension is width. The rake must be sufficiently wider than the tractor’s wheel track to erase the tire tread depressions in a smooth turn. To pull the rake, Dave Goosens of Country Manufacturing suggests that you’ll need at least two tractor horsepower for each foot of rake width. You may need more pulling power for a rotary implement that turns and spreads sand.
Tractor horsepower is a bit different from automobile horsepower, because it puts a premium on engine torque—low speed lugging power—rather than on high rpm. Lawn and garden tractors typically pull about 10 horsepower; at 40 horsepower, you enter the range of traditional full-size farm tractors.
Raking produces dust. The best way to control it is with a rake-mounted spray system. This produces more even water distribution—and more economical use of water—than any sort of irrigation system rigged around the edge of the arena. And since a spray system operates at the same time you’re raking, you take care of two tasks at the same time.
TR3 Rake, designed for use behind a tractor, features adjustable-depth scarifiers and floating drag bar for easy leveling. Drag’n’spray watering version available. Six widths, from 3.5 to 12 feet.
Arena Rascal is a simpler drag rake for use behind a 4WD, truck or ATV. It uses adjustable scarifiers and a finish rake for soft footing. Available in five-, six- and seven-foot widths.
Kiser Dragmaster is a heavy-duty one-pass grooming system available with a flex-harrow attachment and in 50- and 100-gallon watering versions. Requires a full-size farm tractor. Six feet wide.
The company makes specialized attachments for its Bobcat line of loaders.
Landscape Rake aerates soil and filters out clods and rocks down to about 3/4 of an inch. Side skis control rake depth. For 700- and 800-series Bobcats.
Power Rake uses a hydraulically driven 72-inch roller to pulverize clumps. For 700- and 800-series Bobcats.
Eliminator Rake works as a backdrag finishing rake or, when mounted in front, as a grader.
Adjusta-Flex Harrow is adjustable for width, length and aggressiveness. Two models: AF-5 has a maximum width of five feet, and the AF-10 goes to ten feet. Prices: $185 to $550.
Flexible Tine Harrow features adjustable depth, giving three modes of aggressiveness. It’s available in widths from four to 12 feet. Prices: $440 to $1,295.
Spider Rotary Conditioner is a self-driven rotary harrow. The rotors, two feet in diameter, are driven by the unit’s wheels, and require no power take-off. They spin at high rpm to distribute soil quickly. Available in widths from four to eight feet. Prices: $480 to $705.
4-n-1 is a hydraulically-controlled unit designed for arena leveling. Depth is controlled from the tractor seat. The rear teeth and roller break up clods for smooth footing. Widths: six to 14 feet.
Track & Riding Leveler harrows and levels simultaneously. It’s built in six-, seven- and nine-foot widths and is available with a 125-gallon watering system.
Trolley Groomer is a smaller version, available in a four-foot width for use behind an ATV, or 5.5-foot width for use with a Gator. An optional 55-gallon watering system is available.
Elite Equestrian Products
Leveler levels and aerates the surface. Designed for use behind a tractor, it’s also available in a trailer-hitch version. Six- and nine-foot widths. Prices: $1,690 and $1,790.
Harrow smooths and scarifies. Width, six feet. Price: $487.
Arena Groomer uses vibrating
S-shaped tines, followed by a leveling bar and finish roller, to prepare a base and top surface in one pass. Depth of tines is adjustable. Available in five-, six- and eight-foot widths.
West Coast Footings
Red Master uses adjustable
S-tines to control working depth, and a float bar for consistent leveling. It’s available with optional roller system in six-, eight- and 10-foot widths. Prices: $2,495 to $4,545.
Red Master II is meant for dirt rings and Western riding. Optional paddle bar, in six-, eight- and 10-foot widths. Prices: $2,745 to $4,795.
Red Master Pulverizer uses a massive toothed roller to condition clay and sand arenas and race tracks. Eight-foot width. Price: $3,345.
Mini Red is a smaller unit designed to tow behind an ATV. Four-, five- and six-foot widths. Prices: $2,195 to $2,495.
FOH-5 Harrow uses 42 spike teeth, adjustable with a single lever. It’s designed to be towed behind an ATV or garden tractor. Five-foot width.
Landscape Rake is a simple heavy-duty rake, without scarifiers or leveling bar. It comes in three styles for use behind ATVs, tractors and heavy equipment. Widths are four, five, six, seven and eight feet.