All riders know dusty arenas are unpleasant. Dust can also contribute to respiratory problems for you and your horses and can indicate that the footing is not providing proper support to the horses using it. That’s where arena watering comes in.
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Water is one of the most important ingredients to arena footing. Each type of footing needs moisture to keep it at its peak and help it remain dust-free.
Wayne Gregory, general manager of Footings Unlimited, said, “Proper watering can go a long way to getting an arena the way you like it.”
The key is selecting equipment that matches an equine facility owner’s budget, labor availability and training goals for its horses and/or its boarder’s horses.
A heavy-duty garden hose with a high-velocity spray nozzle is probably the lowest-budget solution to putting water on an arena surface. Most barns already have this equipment on hand. However, this option can be costly due to labor. Using a garden hose requires an individual to walk the entire surface area of the arena, and that person’s time is money.
Additionally, the amount of water applied to one area can differ from that applied to another depending on how long the hose is held in one spot—especially if the person gets distracted.
An alternative to a human with a garden hose is a tripod stand with a sprinkler mounted on top. This option can be ordered online or found at most home improvement stores or big box 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 someone to monitor the amount of water applied.
In addition, the tripod setup will only cover a portion of an arena at one time unless you use multiple tripods. And whether you use one or several sprinklers, they must be moved into and out of the arena before work can commence.
A third alternative is a drag-behind watering tool. Several manufacturers have tanks with water release systems that can be pulled behind a tractor, ATV or truck, allowing a human 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 there is still moderate labor required.
You also can combine the sprinkling with a self-moving irrigation system that moves itself across an area based on your settings. These come in various sizes and prices depending on the system.
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 might be cheaper during certain hours. Furthermore, a correctly designed and installed system will ensure even water distribution across the entire arena, eliminating water pooling and waste.
Barn owners can choose between pop-up spray heads—those that simply pop-up and spray water much like you see on golf courses—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 rider 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 sprinklers 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.
“The roof on a 200-foot by 100-foot barn is equivalent to almost a half an acre,” said Joe Martinolich, now owner of J. Martinolich Architect PLLC. “If you catch and use that water (for irrigation), that is a sizable 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, you must make 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. 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 guesswork and reduce labor costs.