When it comes to horse arena footing, there is no shortage of options available. However, using the wrong footing can lead to health issues for both the rider and horse, so it is important to make an educated decision. Quality of the footing is one of the most important factors, and here the saying “you get what you pay for” could not be more true. To gain a better understanding of the various footing options available, riders must learn what options are available and what their benefits are. The following is a list of the most popular options along with some of their benefits and factors to consider when choosing the right footing for you.
- Sand: Sand is a beloved medium among equestrians. It’s relatively forgiving, allowing for riders to rake it out after each ride to avoid build up. Sand is good for horses’ joints and offers riders a soft landing if they fall. If properly cared for, sand absorbs water well, lowering the risk of slick conditions. Wind can be an issue however, which is something to keep in mind if an arena is located in a windy, dry area. Dusty conditions can cause discomfort for both the rider and horse by obstructing vision and inhaling sand. If used in an arena, sand can break down over time, leading to inevitable replacement. However, the higher the quality of sand, the longer the arena footing can go before needing to be replenished.
- Grass: Grass arenas are commonly found at specific horse shows, such as cross country and equitation classes. If an area needs grass to be grown, this process can be relatively time consuming and expensive. If an area is already grassed, upkeep can vary greatly based on rain. Grass does not offer much support, so it is not ideal for horses’ joints. Constant use may eventually lead to the grass being worn down, leaving only patches of raw earth. Grass also tends to become rather slick when wet, but does typically offer a bit of traction when frost hits.
- Dirt: Dirt is one of the more popular mediums for equestrians. Like sand, it is easy to move and not very expensive. Its water intake however is a bit less forgiving than sand. When dry, dirt can cause dust very quickly, but if the dirt becomes wet, the dirt turns into slick mud. It is important to keep dirt surfaces at a safe moisture level, which many arenas do by installing sprinkler systems for dust control. Dirt can be raked easily and provides decent joint support. Similar to sand, dirt breaks down overtime and will need to be replenished every so often.
- Stone Dust/ Gravel: Between the two, stone dust is preferred over gravel, as gravel tends to contain large stones. These larger stones can get stuck in horses’ shoes and cause discomfort while riding, which if left unattended, may lead to lameness. Stone dust can take water well, however on dry days stone dust can drift easily; it is very difficult to keep stone dust even. Just like dirt and sand, raking or pulling stone dust can help keep the arena even. As the name signifies, it is a dust. Both rider and horse can be affected by breathing this dust in.
- Wood Products: A product as simple as wood shavings is another arena footing option. Woodchips and wood shavings are the most common wood products used. Both are also typically found in horse stalls for bedding. The main drawback to wood products is that they do not give much support for riding and come at a rather expensive price. Wood products, especially shavings, are also not very forgiving when it comes to water. Once water is absorbed, the shavings stick and loose any support they once had. Also, like stone dust, it is difficult to keep shavings even for consistent coverage.
- Recycled Materials: Recycled footing consists of rubber material that has been up broken and can be used as a solid, crumble-like footing. Although recycled materials may sound cheap, for riding arena footing, they are one of the most expensive options. Along with being expensive, recycled materials also pose the risk of containing unwanted shards in the footing. Unlike other common materials, the recycled materials are less likely to break down over time, making replacement much less frequent.
- Additives: Some footing materials can be complimented with additives in order to improve conditions. A few examples are shredded cotton, cotton fibers, and waxes. Adding a sprinkler system to an arena with these footings is suggested, as it helps control dust, improve support and add traction.
With all of these options, it is difficult for riders to know what will work best for their setup. Factors such as climate, location (indoor or outdoor), the riders’ medical issues (if any), the horses’ medical issues (if any), budget, desired upkeep, current setup and personal preference can help determine what direction a rider should go in for new footing. One final factor to keep in mind when choosing footing is that many riders use layers or combinations of different materials along with additives in order to achieve the best footing. If no single medium fits the desired goals, combining materials is an excellent solution.
If you find you have had success with a specific type of footing, let us know in the comments below.