Horse Arena Footing Considerations
Horse Arena Footing Considerations When You Build a Riding Ring
Getting the horse arena footing just right is both a science and an art. Too deep can cause a horse to strain a tendon, not deep enough won't provide enough cushion for hard work. Different riding disciplines require different depths. It can get confusing really quick for a horse owner considering adding a riding arena in their back yard.
The main items to consider when building were:
Covered or outdoor arena
Dust control and arena maintenance requirements
There are probably other considerations, but starting out, these were some of the first big decisions.
Indoor covered arena versus outdoor riding ring:
First choice would be to have an indoor arena or a covered arena. In the Southern states simply having a covered arena is actually preferable to an enclosed arena which block air flow and holds in heat. This is especially true in the Southwest where if you can get out of direct sunlight, it is almost tolerable.
Due to the cost most people decide on a nice outdoor riding arena. Indoor arenas, even ones without bells and whistles, start around $60K and that's just for a small empty shell of a building, no footing, no lights, etc. A finished arena was frequently over $100K for a pretty basic model. High end professional quality indoor arenas can easily pass $200K. The prices will vary depending on who builds it, the guarantee, the size, the material, the brand, and all the finishing touches you can add.
Arena Lights or no lights:
Having arena lights is an attractive option. Having lights would increase riding opportunities. You could ride at night after work during the winter months when it was dark by 5 PM, or riding on summer nights when daylight hours made riding miserable.
Adding lights would mean higher costs since you would have to run electricity to the site and buy poles and out door lightning which is pricey. However, when weighing the cost to the benefits, mose go ahead and include lights.
Riding arena size:
Depending on your acreage and budget decides what size of area is best for you. Something else to keep in mind is that the bigger the arena the bigger the costs. After weighing different things and testing out riding in different sized arenas, most people opt for at least 60 meters long by 40 meters wide - the dimensions of a small dressage arena. You could make large circles and serpentines across the arena as well as jump or run barrels with that size.
Sand arena footing:
Sand is the most common footing and is relatively inexpensive. Many arena owners get sand and then till it into the ground to mix it with the top soil. It works pretty well.
Sand with additives:
Many people start with sand and then add agents to it to improve it for riding. Rubber may be added to improve cushioning and reduce dust. Wood and peat moss sometimes are used to improve cushion, but since they break down they eventually contribute to dust.
There are also a number of fabrics you can add to the footing to help it retain moisture and improve cushioning. More of these enter the market all the time, but one common fabric additive is felt. You can also purchase special coated sand that can be added to regular sand to help stabilize it and reduce dust. These options vary in price depending on how much you add to the sand and the size of your arena.
Rubber Mulch, rubber chips, shredded rubber arena footing:
Another option is rubber footing. There are many on the market.
The rubber footing option is good because it might help extend the horses riding years. It is virtually dust free, and improves drainage and requires little maintenance. Giving more time riding than maintaining the ring.
Recycling old tires and giving them a new purpose also makes rubber footing attractive. Not having to water the rubber arena as often as a plain sand arena is also a plus.
Black rubber could be hot on your horse's feet on a hot summer day. If you have a outdoor ring, you may prefer to ride in the morning or after dark in the summer because the footing gets hot. Also if you are using the rubber as an additive to sand (not just rubber by itself) you can greatly reduce the heat buildup. Additionally since they now make rubber products in different colors, opting for a color other than black may be preferable and reduce the heat buildup.
When rubber footings first were marketed there were issues with steel wire from the tires being left in the rubber. This problem has mostly gone away as most manufacturers of rubber arena footings now use magnets to remove the wire during the manufacturing process. Most rubber arena manufacturers have guarantees to be 99.9% steel-free.
The cost of the rubber footing is definitely higher than sand, but because it doesn't break down or wash away; you don't have to replenish it every year. So, long term it isn't appreciably higher. For an arena about 60 to 100 it would cost about $1500 for a 1 inch covering and about $3000 for a 2 inch covering.
After weighing all the factors, Many people decide for budget sake, that they want to go with a combination of sand with rubber mulch additive. The rubber additive gives the cushion, and the sand mixture helped keep the cost down.
Avoid anything that might catch a riders foot if the horse was traveling close to the side.
Dust and arena maintenance:
Nothing associated with horses doesn't involve maintenance of some kind. Maintenance is just part of the deal. Most do not want an arena that requires an hour of maintenance for every hour of riding. The type of footing would dictate a lot of the maintenance requirements, so keep that in the forefront of your brain when you're reviewing footing options.
Watering and dragging are the two main arena maintenance chores. Water keeps the dust down and dragging levels out the ruts and trails created by riding. If the ring gets heavy use you may need to drag it frequently. You can tell when your ring needs dragging because you'll have trails with no cushioning footing left in them.
Dragging will redistribute the uneven footing and make for a nice level riding area. The horse notices the difference right away and seems to have a little extra spring in their gait. The usual device use to drag an arena is a tine harrow - it looks like a chain link fence with little spikes on it. Many people actually use a chain link fence and say it works fine. You can also pull a landscaper's box on the back of your tractor to smooth out the footing.
Cost of an arena and drainage:
Two of the big costs associated with an arena are the getting the proper base developed and the footing. You can't skimp on the base.
A good base is critically important and can make a difference in how usable your arena is - especially after wet weather. A good arena base will have 4-6 inches of crushed stone that has been compacted down and leveled. This will allow for proper drainage. The footing is placed on top of the compacted base. For the sand - rubber mixture plan to put down 1 inch of rubber chips and 1.5 inches of sand.