Rider Position


Renee Swanepoel
N Dip Equine Studies, SANEF 1

Being able to sit correctly on a horse and positively influence it with our own bodies and minds is one of the most important goals of every rider, no matter what discipline they practice. Hundreds of Rands are spent every month in the pursuit of this and really, that is what the game is all about. Not only to achieve the desired results in the show ring, but more importantly, for the good of the horse and the enjoyment of rider. In this short article I will attempt to give a better understanding of the desired rider position across the board, as well as the slight differences that are found between the various disciplines.

Whatever the discipline, there are a few basics that have been tested over time, and do not change. In riding, there are two basic straight lines that run through the rider and horse and should be mastered in order to facilitate a solid, well-balanced seat.

While it true that having a basically correct position will improve a horse’s way of going vastly, there is a very strong element of a combination of elements that make up a good rider. Body shape, coordination of aids, ‘feel’ and many other factors all work together to influence the final product.



When looked at from the side, there should be a straight line running from the ear, through the shoulder and hip and touching the heel. This has the effect of balancing the rider over his center of gravity, and places him in the best possible position to absorb the horse’s movement and enable the horse to maintain his own balance and center of gravity under the rider. It allows the rider’s body and hands to function independently of one another and one will not hinder or impede the use of the other.

The second line we look for is the line that runs from the rider’s elbow, through the hand, to the bit. This line is important because it allows the rein aid, via the hand and arm to be applied correctly and effectively. When this line is interrupted, the pressure applied to the bit and mouth is changed, and the horse’s acceptance of the bit and rein aids will be influenced.

When looking at position, there is another line that I like to consider because if it is not correct, the influence on the horse is highly detrimental.


When looking at the rider from behind, there should be a straight line running down the spine, bisecting another line running from one hip to the other. The line running from hip to hip should be parallel to the ground. In this position, there is equal weight bearing by the horse on both sides and the seat aids can be used most efficiently. It also means that the horse is balanced across his body and is not trying to compensate for a crooked rider. A very common rider fault is to drop one hip or twist to one side. When that happens, this line is interrupted.

Body Specifics


The riders head should be set centrally on relaxed shoulders and looking up at all times. The head is incredibly heavy and should it move forwards or backwards, it will not only have a great influence on the rider’s upper body position and balance, but also on the horse’s. The rider should learn to only ever look down (if he must) with the eyes, and not by moving the head. Another problem that rider’s have is the inability to look away from the direction the horse is moving. This is particularly important in show jumping, eventing and some western classes, where the rider will have to quickly change the direction they are looking in so that the horse will follow.


The shoulders are held evenly, relaxed and drawn back slightly. This will allow the breastbone to rise slightly, making the rider ‘look proud’ and more importantly, encouraging the rider to breathe deeply and relaxed. Tension in the shoulders will be transferred to the arms and hands, as well as the neck and will severely reduce the shock absorbing capability of the rider.


The back is held straight and upright, and the chest is drawn up slightly so that the upper body resembles a ‘D’. There is no arching back of the spine, which will impede with the suppleness of the hips and the absorption of the horse’s movement. An important function of the chest is that of deep breathing – riders often hold their breaths when nervous or concentrating, which causes the upper body to collapse and tires the rider.


The arms hang relaxed next to the sides, with the elbows bent and relaxed. Stiffness in the elbows will result in hands that travel up and down with the rider’s body. The elbow rests softly next to the body and the hands are carried with the thumb on top. The rein is carried between thumb and finger as well as the ring finger and small finger. When viewed from the side, there should be a row of knuckles, with the fingers closed firmly but not gripping. The wrist is relaxed, with a straight line through the thumb into the arm. A slight inward rotation in the wrist is allowed in some disciplines, but no more than 35°, keeping the wrist and arm straight. The height of the hands depends very much on the height of the horse’s mouth – if the straight line is maintained, a soft, supple contact can be maintained. Hands are spaced either side of the horse’s neck.


The foundation of any good seat is the pelvis and seat. (Also referred to as your core) The rider sits balanced on his seat bones and pubic bone forming a stable triangle. Equal weight should be borne on both seat bones and the hips should be kept centered at all times. There should be no clenching of the inner thighs or buttocks, which has the effect of lifting the seat out of the saddle. The stomach muscles are vital in keeping the hips positioned properly and absorbing movement, as well as giving aids with the seat. Relaxed, supple hip joints and lower back are vital for the absorption of the horse’s movement. The buttocks are kept in close contact with the saddle at all times (except in rising trot and when going over fences!)


The legs hang from the relaxed hip joints with the thighs turned slightly inwards and the inner thigh muscles relaxed. The knee is turned into the saddle slightly but does not grip. The gripping of the knee will cause the leg to creep up and tense and will bring the rider’s seat out of the saddle, making it very insecure. The thigh is stretched down and the knee lowered to secure the leg and deepen the seat. The lower leg hangs relaxed but not moving next to the horse’s sides. A common way of describing the leg is hanging next to the horse like a piece of spaghetti or a wet cloth. The foot is rested on the stirrup at the ball of the foot to allow flexion of the heel. It is sometimes advised that the foot be brought slightly back so that the stirrup rests at the base of the toes. This can result in the more inexperienced rider or a rider with a poor leg position losing the stirrup. By bringing the stirrup slightly forward on the foot, the heel is able to flex a little more and the rider can use a spur without moving the entire lower leg too much. The ankle should be very supple to absorb weight and movement. The toe is kept parallel to the horse, or very slightly outward. A toe pointing outward cannot be corrected by simply telling the rider to bring in the toe. It is most often caused by an incorrect angle of the thigh and the rider sitting on the back of the thigh. Teaching the rider to correct the angle of the thigh will often correct the toe without any further effort. The weight of the rider flows down into the supple leg, causing the heel to be the lowest point. Should the rider have a stiff foot or ankle, it often helps to spread the toes inside the boots when riding.

The ‘w’ and It’s Influence

When viewed from the side, the rider’s body can be divided into the arms of a “W".

The angles found in this shape influence the weight bearing properties of the seat. In Dressage and Western Riding, where great emphasis is placed on the seat in contact with the saddle and minimal body movement, the stirrups are carried in such as way that the angles are opened up. This allows the maximum amount of weight to be carried in the seat. The weight/seat aid becomes vital in imparting cues and aids to the horse. In Western riding, where the rein is held very loosely and a neck rein aid is used more than a cue in the mouth and where the seat is just as vitally important, a longer leg is also encouraged.

In a forward seat, the stirrup is shortened so that most of the weight bearing surface is now the thigh and knee. The weight of the seat is then transferred slightly off the horse’s back, but note that the rider does not stand in the saddle – that would open the angles of the ‘W’ instead of close them, causing the rider to become most unstable in the saddle. More weight is simply borne in the leg. This position is useful when schooling young horses, to encourage them to lift and round their backs and to allow them more freedom of movement under the saddle. In the forward seat, the ear-shoulder-hip-heel line now becomes an ear-shoulder-knee-toe line, as the shoulder is brought slightly forward and more weight is placed on the pelvic bones in front, not the fleshy part of the buttock. The forward seat becomes even more so when the horse moves over a jump, where the rider wishes to allow him freedom of the spine and back and must not impede the horse by being behind the movement. Important in the forward seat is the independence of the lower leg – it should be able to maintain its position regardless of the position of the upper body and seat. The most extreme version of the forward seat is that adopted by the jockey. Stirrups shortened to maintain only a two point contact with the horse in order to free up his movement and enable the horse to move underneath the rider, using the back and extending himself fully.

In Saddle Seat riding, the position takes the “W” to its most open angled form. Because the horse’s head is so raised, the hand raises to maintain the line through the arm to the bit. The rider is literally hovering over the horse’s back. Because of the cut of the saddle, the leg often turns out slightly so that the rider is better able to grip with the calf, as the saddle is very flat and there is no support for the leg by way of a knee roll. (The knee roll acts as an anchor to the leg, stabilizing it and aiding in correct leg position with the leg bent at the knee. It also increases rider comfort in the saddle.) Unfortunately, this often leads to a very insecure seat in the saddle, legs pushed forwards and in order to maintain the position, the rider either use more effort than is normally necessary with his back or he must keep himself up by using his hands. Maintaining the straight line through the body is very difficult, and because of the leg often pushing forwards, the rider falls into a chair seat.

The Art of Showing

The Art of Showing
Renee Swanepoel
SANEF Level 1, N Dip Equine Studies

“Is that it?” her mother asked. “All that effort, and that’s it. Ten minutes in the ring?” I smiled to myself. The playground of perfectionists. The sport field of show masters. Welcome to the world of showing…

Showing originally evolved as a chance for breeders to show off stock in their pursuit for near-perfect specimens of each individual breed. It has evolved into a very competitive craft, where the showman (or woman!) must produce an animal of high quality and substance with impeccable training. Horses and ponies are judged on conformation, soundness, type, quality, movement, turnout and of course training and manners. In some classes, horses are also judged on jumping ability and technique, as well as their boldness and uniqueness. The ideal show horse should also have that something extra – that bit of sparkle that says “Look at me!” and makes him stand out in the crowd.


There are several types of showing classes, depending not only on the breed of horse, but also the age of the handler. They include:

· Show Hack
The Show Hack is a delicate animal, like fine bone china, with exceptional movement and poise. The ideal Show Hack is of Thoroughbred type and should be capable of carrying an average adult. A Hack should be responsive, light and balanced to ride, with exceptional manners and elegance. When moving, there should be a pronounced pointing of the toe and all movement should be very smooth. Emphasis is also placed on correct conformation.

· Show Hunter
The Show Hunter is capable of carrying more weight, and is thus heavier, stronger and more powerfully built. There is much more depth of bone, movement is flatter than the Show Hack and the horse should have sound conformation with clean, well-defined joints. The horse is also judged on the quality of the gallop and obedience when coming back down to a slower pace. The Show Hunter should look as though he would be able to tackle a day out hunting across country, without fatigue or ill manners. He should have a big bold eye and muscular stance.

· Show Riding Horse
The Show Riding horse is something between the Show Hack and Hunter. Again, quality and substance are important, as are schooling and manners. Most emphasis is placed on the horse’s schooling, in fact. The Show Riding horse should have presence in the ring, superb movement and impeccable behavior. This horse should appeal to anyone watching as the type of horse one would love to get aboard. They look comfortable and easy to ride.

· Working Hunter
The Working Hunter has all the attributes of the Show Hunter, and is also required to jump a course of Hunting-Type fences. He should be bold, have excellent technique and be able to gallop easily with good wind and superb manners. Jumps are rustic in nature and the horse should jump them from a strong canter. Obstacles that may be encountered include: rustic rails over straw bales, gates, white or rustic stiles, walls of stone colour, rustic planks, bullfinches with spare filling, rustic rails, single oxers (brush with rail behind), double oxers (parallel rails with brush in centre), walls with rails behind, parallel rails over straw bales, rustic triple rails, banks, dykes and ditches. Water trays are often included, but not water jumps.

· Working Riding Horse
The Working Riding horse should show all of the attributes of the Show Riding horse, but should also be capable of tackling a course of obstacles built to test obedience and training. The course should be designed to demonstrate that the horse is obedient, well schooled, and able to jump, extend their paces, stand still and show a steady temperament. The types of obstacles often include drums, picking up objects, bending poles, trotting poles, a small jump, riding lanes, bridges, and so forth. Course designers can get very creative in their endeavor to test manners and courage.

Other classes include:

· Lead Rein Classes
These classes are generally used for novice pony riders. The rider and pony should be well suited to each other, and they are judged on performance as well as capability. Handlers must be over 14 years of age and should be neatly dressed. The lead rein attaches to the cavesson noseband. Lead rein Classes may take the form of a simple showing class to judge type, conformation and rider, or may take the form of a utility class (similar to working riding classes) where a number of obstacles must be negotiated to test obedience and skill.

· Showing In-Hand
In-Hand classes are used to judge horses purely on conformation and movement as well as breed type and soundness. Riders are required to lead their horses to and away from the judge in a set pattern and pace, so that they can be judged on these criteria. The usual method is to lead in a triangle – walk away from the judge, trot across and trot back and past the judge.

· Compleat Horse
This type of competition tests all aspects of the horse and riders ability. It is divided into six smaller tests, namely:

1. Conformation, Soundness and Turnout
2. Utility Test
3. Ride by the Judge
4. Dressage Test
5. Show Jumping (10 fences)
6. Free Test (top 4-7 competitors given 2 minutes to show off horse to its best advantage)


The preparation of the Show Horse is not something that just happens. Nor is it something that can be kept to the last minute and simply slapped on out of a jar. The real preparation happens months before the event and is a continuous process.

Not only must the horse look perfectly happy and healthy, but schooling should be up to high standards and manners perfect.

A glossy coat, long tail and shiny mane are products of correct feeding and grooming technique. Oil supplementation is vital, as is vitamin, mineral and other supplementation to promote healthy hair and hoof growth. Correct shoeing and feet care are also important, as Show Horses must have correctly conformed hooves. The horse should be kept as injury –free as possible, to prevent scars and blemishes that will be detrimental in the ring. (Thus, if you want to show your horse seriously you might have to reconsider turning him out with the resident bully!)

Maintaining your horse by regularly trimming ears, whiskers and other hairy bits is a must, as it not only keeps him maintained but also keeps him used to the sound and feel of the clipper. The horse should stand quietly while being handled, as preparation before an event can take hours. Baths are a must and the horse should be comfortable with the process. Clipping is also required in the winter to improve looks in the show ring, as long, hairy coats can look dull and the horse will sweat easily which will in turn cause him not only to look bad, but excess sweating when working will cause him to lose condition. Bad clip jobs are usually as a result of poor equipment – dull blades, unserviced motors and poor technique.

Depending on the class being ridden, the horse should be well schooled, balanced and should be able to perform the following movement with ease:
§ Walk, trot and canter on both reins
§ Extension of the trot and canter
§ Halt square and stand still for an extended period
§ Rein back
§ Canter with a simple or flying change of lead
§ Gallop
§ Jump fences and negotiate obstacles with ease if required
Importantly, the horse should carry himself well, with the hindquarter well-engaged, the neck rounded out of a raised shoulder and the poll being the highest point. The mouth should remain soft and yielding to the rider and the jaw relaxed at all times. The hocks should be supple, flexing with each stride and weight should be carried by the rounded back and hindquarter. The rider should be very correct, quiet and ride in a way that his or her aids are barely noticed. The rider should sit proudly and look relaxed and show enjoyment!

To keep tails in top shape, it is recommended that they be ‘put up’. This is done by washing the tail thoroughly, applying conditioner to the tail (don’t rinse out) and plaiting the hair below the physical part of the tail to the very bottom. Then the tail is then folded up and sewn into an old sock, a tail bag or can even be plaited into strips of old sheets. This prevents breakage and if maintained, tails will often grow to reach the ground in a few months. The horse will still be able to use his tail normally to swat at flies, but the damage to the tail will be considerably reduced. The tail is undone, washed, conditioned and replaited every second week or so. Never comb or brush out a tail without applying conditioner first, as you will also cause breakage and thinning of the tail. Using your fingers is the best way to get tangles out.


Preparation before a show is a methodical, timeous process and should never be skimped on. Practise makes perfect, and if there is something you are not familiar with, try asking someone to show you or keep practicing until you get it right. Each horse is different, and what works well on one horse, may not work well on another. You will need to practice plaiting your horse before the event so that you know exactly what to expect.

When turning out a horse for Showing, I like to follow the following process:

1. The mane should be pulled neatly to a length of approximately 10cm. Be aware not to make the common mistake of pulling more hair out at the ends, and less in the middle, or your plaits will be uneven. If the horse objects to pulling, invest in a blade-type comb (like a ‘Solo Comb’) that cuts the hairs instead of pulling them out. It is a lot quicker and not at all uncomfortable for the horse, but the re-growth can be messy if not done right.

To pull the mane, take a small section of hair, back comb it until the longest pieces remain, wind those around the comb and pluck. The hair should come out rather easily and if you do it quickly, it is less painful.

2. Using a small, cordless clipper (I find human bikini trimmers to be absolutely perfect for this!) trim the inside of the ears as well as any fuzzy bits sticking out. Also trim the beard and hairs in the nostrils as well as those under the chin. If there is a bit of fuzzy hair in the throatlatch and neck, I trim those too. If your horse is clipped, then these areas would have been done already; you may just need to touch up. The muzzle can also be shaved with a razor blade to smooth it out even more; however, I would only recommend this on a horse that stands perfectly still! Clipping the upper eyelids makes the eyes appear bigger and can be also done. (if you know what you are doing!)

3. Next, the hairy heels and fetlock must be neatly trimmed (with a pair of scissors or your trusty bikini trimmer) as well as the hair growing over the hoof. Care should be taken when trimming the hair around the hoof, as a crooked line will make the feet appear skew and could count against the horse in the ring. (Conversely, crooked feet can be ‘fixed’ by some clever trimming of the hair!)

4. The horse is ready to be bathed. Pay special attention to the mane and tail, taking care to wash right down to the skin. Dirt and crusts have a tendency to work their way up into plaits, looking very bad. I always use colour enhancing shampoo when prepping for showing, as it really enhances the colour and brings up a fantastic shine. Look for a shampoo that actually will colour your skin, as some brands don’t really have much effect. Leave it on the coat for at least 15 minutes to have a full effect. I also apply conditioner to the entire coat and leave it in for 10 min before rinsing thoroughly.

5. Once the horse is dry, the mane should be plaited and sewn in – no elastics showing. Match the colour thread to the mane and work tightly and neatly. Each horse differs in the amount of hair that should be plaited into each plait, however they should be very neat and uniform regardless. Plaits always lie to the right. (We used to always say right for the guys and left for the girls, but I do all my plaits to the right by default!) Use hair gel but be careful that it does not turn white when dry! I find that combing the hair with a nail or shoe brush gives a neater plait.

6. The tail may be plaited next. The plait is done like a French plait, and there are two types – under and over. By taking the strands under, a raised plait is created which looks very smart. The end of the tail is taken up and sewn into place. Again, use gel and comb the tail top with a nail brush. After plaiting, I always wrap the tail in a soft felt tail bandage (NEVER an elastic bandage - you will lose the tail!) and leave it for the show. The best ‘gel’ for hair is in fact, sugar-water – it works like a charm and will not budge. There is no specific amount of sugar to water – I use about ¼ cup of sugar to 1 cup of water and stir. It does attract flies though, so fly spray on the day is a must.

7. The hooves are next. Here I use a technique that I have adapted from one I learned when turning out Arabian horses in the US. It is a bit controversial; however I have used it for years and have never had any problems with feet! Firstly, the feet are sanded down well with a fine to medium grit sandpaper. In the States, we had a lovely machine that did it in half the time, but when doing it by hand, take your time. This evens out the hoof surface and prepares it for the varnish. Next, a coat of hoof varnish is applied carefully. When I have a horse with white hooves, I may varnish the hoof black or clear depending on the hoof. If the hoof is mixed, I will blacken the whole thing. It tends to look neater. If you are using shoe polish on a white hoof, the white will come through, so it is best to leave it clear. I prefer varnish, as it is thicker and covers the hoof well. Once the varnish is dry, apply a second coat, and even a third if desired. My next tip I am going to part with very unwillingly, as it means the end of any advantage I may hold when it comes to hooves! Inevitably, by the time the horses get into the arena, they have scuffed off some of the varnish or polish, and it is no longer shiny. To prevent this from happening, I spray the hoof with a layer of clear-lac. This seals the colour and gives it a lasting shine. All that needs doing before going into the ring is a quick wipe and hey presto. Two coats of clear-lac will do the trick. I also never use varnish remover after the show – it usually contains acetone, which dries out the feet terribly. It is best to leave them be, and the varnish is usually off in a week or two anyway.

8. At the show, quarter marks or shark’s teeth can be applied (best with sugar water – they stay in for days!), baby oil under the tail, in the ears and to the muzzle, Vaseline around the eyes, (some people use mascara on the eyes if the horse is a light bay colour) and a spray of coat shine to bring up the gloss. Once the rider is on, a quick wipe of the boots (be careful to clean under the boots as well!) and the bit and the rider is ready to go in!

9. As a last note, tack should be immaculate. I use liquid shoe polish with wax to bring up a shine. A numnuh should preferably not be used (and no, it will not hurt the horse!) or if you must use one, keep it the same colour as your saddle and as inconspicuous as possible. Bits should shine. The girth should match the colour of the horse and preferably be leather, unless the horse is a grey. Use coloured browbands for all classes except Hunter classes, where plain leather is always preferred. Always use leather gloves that match the colour of your tack. Tweed always looks smart and very traditional and can be bought in a shade to match any colour horse. Bowler hats look great on men.

So you are in the ring – now what? To become a master showman (or woman!) there are a number of techniques and nuances one should learn and practise. Ultimately, these can only be learned in the show ring, and a good rider will know how to show off his or her horse to its maximum potential. However, there are a few guidelines that may be followed to give you the best chance at success.

Try to do a quick assessment of the horses in the class as you enter. You will notice that some look better than others. Try to position yourself in a group of horses that you feel make yours look better. Beware of horses that misbehave though – they can make your horse excitable and ruin your class. There are riders who will deliberately try to use foul play to show you up or upset you or your horse. If you identify such a rider in the class, try to steer clear of that person. Do not resort to foul play yourself or make harsh retorts, as this gives you a poor name and taints the sport. If you find yourself boxed in, simply cut into the area and slot yourself in a better spot. Try not to do it in front of the judges!

Try to develop a sense of when the judges are looking at you and when not. In that way you can plan your ride in the group to your best advantage. When the judge is not looking, you can move your horse along, slow him down or make other corrections, so that when they are looking at you, your ride appears smooth and planned.

When doing an individual show, keep it neat and short. Make sure you know what you want to do and stick to your plan.

Always be polite to the judges and other competitors. Should a judge critisise you or make comments, take them to heart and make improvements for your next event. Also, if you are unsure of something, ask the judge for advice. They are mostly keen to be of help wherever possible. Be gracious in defeat and humble in success.

Observe the winners and try to see what they did differently to you that may have helped them win.

Above all enjoy yourself and be proud of your horse!

(For showing information, rules and regulations, visit http://www.horsesport.org.za/index.aspx?Action=Rules&DiscID=5 )

Q & A: Hot in Canter

Question: Hot When Cantering
By Mandyels

Hi there
I have a 5 year old TB gelding, who is the sweetest horse ever.
In the walk and in the trot he is relaxed and steady, but as soon as you ask him to cater (especially on the left side) he gets hot and after that refuses to settle down.
I presume it maybe that he is still a bit unbalanced, but not 100% sure of that.
I would like to know what I can do in order to get him to settle in the Canter?

Answer: Hot when cantering (Training)
By Renee - 4 days ago


At 5 years old, your young horse is still developing a sense of balance and is probably still developing physically too. Becoming unsettled and running on in the canter is a sure sign of balance problems, you are quite right. In order for the horse to maintain balance and a degree of self-carriage in the canter, the muscles of the back especially must be fully developed and strong enough, in order to lift the back up and become round under the rider. The hindlegs should be absorbing movement and weight, however in the case of the horse that runs, weight is tipped onto the forehand, the hindlegs simply propel the horse forward with little or no flexion and there is very little rounding of the back. Think of running down a hill at full speed - you get faster and faster without meaning to, feel like you are going to fall over your nose at any point and you can't stop. I think that is what the unbalanced horse feels like sometimes!
The biggest mistake people tend to make in this situation, is to simply decide that in order to fix the canter, one simply spends as much time as possible cantering round in circles. That should make the horse stronger, right? WRONG! All that happens is that the horse practices a lot of unbalanced work and the rushing becomes established! It will not fix the problem. The thing to do is to take a step back and firstly, introduce work to strengthen and supple the back, then improve the canter transition, and finally, the canter work should fall into place all on its own! When I work with riders and their horses that have canter problems, I often do no canter work with them at all for at least one or two months, until we have worked on the balance issue first. Most times, when we do canter again, the problem that was there vanishes as if by magic and the riders are gobsmacked at the change in their horses!
Lungeing plays a vital role in allowing the back muscles to develop. Using a De Gogue or Chambon CORRECTLY, will encourage the back to round, lift and the muscles will develop. When riding, concentrate on your walk and trot work and pay lots of attention to transitions - trot to walk, walk to halt and so on, in order to engage the hindquarter more and supple up your horse. Lateral work, like leg yielding, will help develop the balance and suppleness. When practicing the transition, walk to canter is an excellent way of encouraging the hindlimbs to step in far underneath the horse and will strengthen the horse. The best exercise I have used to really get the horse listening and bearing weight on the hind end, is to ride walk to canter to walk transitions with as close to only one or two strides of the pace before changing. In other words, walk- walk- canter - canter - walk - walk - canter- canter- and so on. It works beautifully on a straight line or a 20m circle. Using a spiral on a 20m circle (spiral in, spiral out) is also a great way to get the horse carrying himself and thinking about his body at work. Remember to use the seat and leg to bring him in or out, not the hand. Raised trotting poles will encourage flexion and again, develop balance. Hillwork is vital - remeber when working downhill to not let the horse run down, but sit on his bum and use his back!
Once your horse is cantering in a more relaxed fashion, canter poles will help relax his rhythm and flex those hocks. Introduce them slowly (1 at a time) and go right back to the basics if he rushes. Voltes, serpentines and circles will help tremendously as well!
I really would enlist the help of a qualified instructor to assist you and make sure your training is progressing in the right direction. It always helps to have someone on the ground, giving feedback and ideas and making sure that you are doing things correctly!
Good luck, and remember to take it slowly - there is no shortcut to proper schooling!

Q & A: Canter Young Horse

Question: Canter? (Behaviour)
By Cherrie

My 3 year old mare has just started to be schooled to canter. When i ask for a canter she becomes very disagreeable and throws her head around as well as her backside. Often she just roots herself to the ground and doesn't move at all . Do you have any suggestions as to why she does this and how i can stop it.
Thanx (",)

Answer: Canter? (Behaviour)

By Renee

Eeben, I agree with you completely! At 3, this horse is not nearly physically ready to engage enough to be cantering comfortably. You should be going right back down to the basics - walk, trot, transitions and excercises to develop suppleness. When your horse is able to carry herself more correctly, and is balanced and obedient at all paces and in transitions, then you are only on your way to start canter work. I would wait at least another 6 months before commencing canter work if everything falls into place by then.
As per my previous canter post:
Lungeing well plays a vital role in allowing the back muscles to develop. Using a De Gogue or Chambon CORRECTLY, will encourage the back to round, lift and the muscles will develop. Please do not chase your horse in circles for 20 mins and call it lungeing!!! When riding, concentrate on your walk and trot work and pay lots of attention to transitions - trot to walk, walk to halt and so on, in order to engage the hindquarter more and supple up your horse. Lateral work, like leg yielding, will help develop the balance and suppleness. (Then only when eventually cantering -) When practicing the transition, walk to canter is an excellent way of encouraging the hindlimbs to step in far underneath the horse and will strengthen the horse. The best exercise I have used to really get the horse listening and bearing weight on the hind end, is to ride walk to canter to walk transitions with as close to only one or two strides of the pace before changing. In other words, walk- walk- canter - canter - walk - walk - canter- canter- and so on. It works beautifully on a straight line or a 20m circle. Using a spiral on a 20m circle (spiral in, spiral out) is also a great way to get the horse carrying herself and thinking about her body at work. Remember to use the seat and leg to bring him in or out, not the hand.
Once your horse is cantering in a more relaxed fashion, canter poles will help relax her rhythm and flex those hocks. Introduce them slowly (1 at a time) and go right back to the basics if she rushes. Voltes, serpentines and circles will help tremendously as well!
I really would enlist the help of a qualified instructor to assist you and make sure your training is progressing in the right direction. It always helps to have someone on the ground, giving feedback and ideas and making sure that you are doing things correctly!
Training is a long, slow process and should never be rushed! Your horse is trying to tell you that she is very uncomfortable with what you are asking! Go back to basics, have fun with her and develop your relationship - the rest will fall into place at the right time!

Q & A: Tails

Question: Horses Tail (Grooming)

Hi Guys
What to use on a horses tail to promote growth?
Thank you

Answer: Horses Tail (Grooming)
By Renee

Hi Debz,
Horse's tails can be very tricky to maintain and grow out, but here are a few ideas that might help. Firstly, remember that hair growth and type is largely controlled by genetics, and while you can help your horse's tail grow to the best of that genetic blueprint, you are not going to get more that what the blueprint allows. That said, you will be able to improve things vastly by trying the following tips:
Like with hooves, good tail growth happens from inside out! Thus, to improve the quality of growth, you should be feeding a hoof supplement that contains the following ingredients- (all of which are important in healthy hoof and hair growth) biotin, methionine, zinc, B group vitamins,copper, silica, MSM. These ingredients will ensure that your horse has all he needs to create new healthy hair. (the bonus will be that his hooves will say thank you too!)
Next, your horse should be on some type of oil supplementation to ensure Enough Omega 3 and lysine which is vital in maintaining a healthy coat. Of course, there are numerous other benefits to oil supplementation which you will notice too! I would recommend a half cup of sunflower oil given in feed twice daily.
To prevent breakage and damage to the tail, it is recommended that you braid up his tail. This involves, washing the tail well, leaving in conditioner and then plaiting the hair only part of his tail tot he end, folding it up and sewing it into a tail bag or even old sock. You can plait it into strips of old sheets, like the Arabian ownerslike to do. An old sock works just as well. Your horse will still be able to have use of his tail, but the reduced breakage menas that after a few months, his tail will probably hanging on the ground! Re-wash and tie up every 2 to 4 weeks. The showing fraternity in the States and Britain often use this method to grow out their horse's tails.
Another remedy that I have tried is a substance called Bay Rum. You can get it at your local pharmacy. It is supposed to stimulate hair growth. After washing the tail, massage the Bay Rum into the skin. It does have a slight heating effect on your hands, so I suspect it works by increasing circulation to the skin, encouraging hair growth. (that or the massage!) It seems to work.
Never comb or brush the tail - only ever use your fingers to untangle it. I use a very broad toothed comb to gently untangle only when there is conditioner on the tail.
I have been told by a human hairdresse that silicon, also often found in horse sheen products and mane and tail detanglers, actually seals and dries out the hair from the inside, causing breakage. So be careful with silicon based products.
I trust this information is helpful - your bascic principles are : improve the quality of hair from the inside, prevent breakage and maintain!

Q & A: Bucking at Speed

Question: Bucking at speed (Behaviour)

I have a 7-year old thoroughbred, who had some serious issues when I started working with him. I've been training him for polo, for the last year, and he's now perfect on the ball, turns well, very responsive. And even stops well! But he bucks in a fast canter - and not just up and down, but with big twists.
I tried him in chukkas for the first time 2 weeks ago and nearly had heart failure - 7 minutes left me a gibbering wreck.
What makes it worse is it's not really predictable - and he doesn't get it out of his system. The faster we go/longer we practice the more excited he becomes and the more likely he is to do something truly spectacular. I'm not really worried about coming off (so far I've had loads of practice at handling it), but I'm really concerned that he'll trip as he really gets his hindquarters far out to the left when he bucks.
When he bucks - it's like something just sparks in his head - he somethimes even makes a sort of MMHHHH!! grunt noise just before the first 1.
I've done the obvious - checked that there's no pain etc
And I've cut out 1 of his supplements (Iron Excel) and am now trotting/slow cantering him for about 4kms every morning before we actually start training. But he still gets in the odd buck, anyway.
I believe that he does it from shear excitement - so the logical thing is to give him more work. There are, however, only so many hours in a day and this is not how I earn a living.
Do I just carry on and hope he gets over it before he injures 1 or both of us or does anyone have any other suggestions.

Answer: Bucking at speed (Behaviour)

Hi Bruce,
Oh boy - sounds like you have yourself a lively one there! First off I must tell you that you are very brave to endure an entire chukka of bucking, twisting and general excitement! Most mere mortals would have been off or back home before the first grunt!
Firstly, I can tell you that this type of behavior - although perhaps not caused by pain at first - will lead to some type of strain and injury in your horse. Bucking like that will hurt him eventually. My first suggestion to you is to get an equine physiotherapist or Specialist Vet or even a Vet who specializes in acupuncture to give your horse a thorough checking over. His hips, sacroiliac joint and lower back will be especially important. You may be surprised what they discover when examining him. Have the physio give you excercises to do regularly to keep his joints and muscles soft and supple. If he continues the behavior you will be looking at regular checks and treatments every couple of months. Also, do have his teeth and feet checked by a specialist. Saddle fit is also important, as is your riding technique.
Once you have done this, it is time to start work on the behavior. I would check the food your horse is getting and modify it to lower his excitement levels. If he is getting Lucerne for example, I would cut that immediately. Nothing like a bit of Lucerne to get a TB all hot and bothered! Try a calming or maize free feed, but add oil supplementation to add caloric and energy value to the feed without the excitement factor. (see ' Feeding fats to Horses' ) Once you have sorted out the diet factor, time to concentrate on his training.
The biggest challenge with your horse is the fact that, being a TB, he will actually tend to get worse the fitter he gets... That is a vital clue to whether his bucking is in fact caused by excitement or something else. The trick will be to keep him fit enough for polo without an ounce of extra breath for bucking! Be aware of doing too much work out as you are making your problem worse!
When training your horse, I would take things down a notch and focus on suppling excercises, quiet walks out, slow trots and very little canter for now. You want to "clutch his mind down a notch". Desensitizing work, like rubbing him all over with feedbags, showing him all sorts of objects and so forth will not only clam him but more importantly, will bond the two of you. He needs to learn that when tense or excited, you are his ally. Have one or two flatwork lessons with a qualified instructor to identify your weak spots and give you something to work on.
Many times when on the field, polo horses get excited by the other horses galloping up to them or past them or they actually get nervous because of a previous experience like another horse bumping into them or the ball whizzing past them and giving them a scare. This can cause nervous tension and they explode in a bucking fit. To help, practice riding out with other horses, incorporate other horses into your training routine. For example, with your horse at halt, have a friend first trot past you from behind, then back again, and praise him if he stands still and relaxed, progress to canters and when he is happy to have a horse canter past him, try a full out gallop. You can vary this by having him walk, or even trot, but the key is that he must remain calm. Get creative and try to recreate moments in the game where he gets too excited, but take the speed down a notch and get him to relax. You need to start way back at the basics and take the excitement levels slowly up from there.
When he bucks, brace your lower leg, lean back slightly and bring his head up by straightening your arm out, and up. (literally lifting his head) You could try a gag type bit if you are not already doing so. This will help to lift his head if it goes down to buck. (Remember, a horse with his head up cannot buck!)
You could also try a product such as Equifox's Pharmacalm Paste, designed for use prior to competition - it relaxes the horse without taking away the 'edge' required for performance. A Devil's Claw supplement will alleviate any pain or stiffness he may have and reduce inflammation.
You have a lot of work to do, and at the end he may not ever completely stop bucking, but if he does you need to decide whether he is worth the effort and potential injury!
As a word of caution - always wear protective clothing when working with him, and I would definitely invest in a body protector if I were you - no horse is worth you getting seriously hurt!
Good luck and remember - the short way round is always the long one!

Feeding Fats to Horses

Feeding Fats to Horses
Renee Swanepoel N Dip Equine Studies, SANEF Level 1

I was first introduced to the idea of feeding fats to horses a couple of years ago by a friend of mine whose horse looked like something that had stepped out of a showing manual. She was turned out to veld all day long and brought in at night. I was so disappointed to find the same horse feed in her store as I had in mine. Only upon further investigation I discovered that she was feeding her mare a cup of oil every night with the evening feed. Armed with my new-found secret, I immediately ran out to buy a bottle of Black Cat Sunflower Oil, and I have never looked back.

Fats and oils seem to have become taboo in this very health-conscious society we live in. The thought of feeding fat (or oils) to their horses will drive some owners to near hysteria. Thoughts of blocked arteries, heart attacks, and overactive, nutty horses is what goes through many people’s minds when they imagine giving oils to their horses.

Research on the feeding of fats and oils has been slow in past years, but there is now more and more interest in the subject, and more research is being done with great findings. More research has been done regarding the use of oils and their effects on the equine body, and research is currently focusing on the importance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids. This will give us even more insight into the potential uses of a fat supplement to the equine diet.

Fat is basically structured as follows:

The Triglyceride molecule looks almost like an “E” – the backbone of the “E” is a molecule of Glycerol which can be converted to a sugar (glucose) if the arms are separated. The arms of the “E” consist of long chains of Carbon atoms and they are called ‘Fatty Acids’. The shorter the fatty acid chain, the more likely that the fat is a liquid at room temperature, and those are commonly referred to as ‘oils’.

The horse’s digestive system is actually very well adapted to the utilization of fats and oils. In humans, bile is excreted to help break down and digest fats, and is stored in the gall bladder. The horse also excretes bile, but it does not have a gall bladder, so bile is continuously excreted into the small intestine, where it can work on fats. This means that fats and oils that are added to the diet are actually 80% - 90% digestible. With a typical grain and hay diet, the horse is only able to utilize about 50% - 60 % of the energy provided by those feedstuffs.

People are often worried about the effects of feeding a higher fat diet to their horses because they are very aware of the dangers of a high fat diet in humans. A high fat diet in humans is defined as a diet containing over 30% of calories from fat. A typical high fat diet in the horse contains about 10% of calories from fat. Studies have not been conducted over a long term to assess the effects of a high fat diet in the horse, (the longest study to date was done by the Kentucky Equine Research Centre in Australia, and lasted 18 months) but current evidence would suggest that there are very few, if any, ill effects related to feeding oils.

Benefits of Feeding Fats and Oils:

1. Source of Concentrated Energy

One of the great characteristics of oils and fats is that it is very energy dense. This means that a given quantity of vegetable oil has about 3 times the caloric value of the same amount of oats, and approximately 2,5 times more calories than maize. (Corn) A horse’s digestive system can only handle a certain volume of food per day. Introducing oils to the diet means that you can increase the number of calories being taken in, without increasing the volume of the ration beyond what the horse can handle.

Oils are very useful when dealing with animals that have a higher caloric requirement, or are unable to ingest large quantities of food. Lactating mares, underweight animals and older animals respond very well to this type of supplementation. Older horses very often have poor teeth and cannot chew their food properly. Supplementing with fats and oils means that the caloric intake can be maintained without having to feed large amounts of food. Horses that are ill can also have their concentrates cut while maintaining the calories with oils.

2. Source of Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids have come under the spotlight recently with regards to their effects in humans, and there are definitely more studies that need to be done regarding the positive effects in horses. The horse is able to make its own fatty acids, but will never be able to make as much as he requires, so the rest of the requirement is filled by his diet. The essential fatty acids that are of most importance are linoleic acid (Omega 6) and alpha-linoleic acid (Omega-3).

Various oils contain different ratios of Omega 6: Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids have recently come under the spotlight in human nutrition, as they have been found to be useful in the prevention and/or treatment of heart disease, thrombosis, hypertension, renal disease, arthritis, inflammatory disorders and possibly even cancer. More research needs to be done regarding its possible effects in horses. The fatty acids have a profound effect on the coat and skin, as well as an improvement in the condition of the hooves. After 3 to 5 weeks after commencing with oil supplementation, the coat will appear shiny, sleek and beautiful. Horses with dry, itchy skin are also often improved when supplementing oil.

3. Assists in Absorption of Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Vitamins A, D, E and K are absorbed in the body with fat, so the addition of fat to the diet will assist in that absorption. The horse is able to make its own Vitamin D from exposure to the sun, and Vitamin K can also be made by the microbes in the hindgut. (Microbes are very important in the fermentation process and fiber digestion in the hindgut.) Supplementation with oil will have a positive effect on the absorption of these vitamins.

4. Benefits Athletic Performance

The benefits to athletic performance are muti-factoral, and include the following:
- Reduction in thermal load
The process of fermentation, which the horse uses to digest his feed produces heat as a by-product. The most heat is produced by the digestion of fiber, then protein, starch and then lastly, fats and oils. The total body heat production is reduced by about 14% when the horse is fed a high fat diet. This means that less energy is lost as heat, and more is available for exercise. Horses are also able to handle hot, humid weather better, and fat supplementation has become a major part of the management of horses competing in hot weather, such as the Atlanta Olympics. Because horses sweat less, they also lose less electrolytes and water.
- Greater muscle glycogen utilization and delayed fatigue
The horse has two sources of energy to call upon when exercising – glucose and fatty acids. Glucose is stored in the body as glycogen in the muscle and liver. Fatty acids are stored in body fat and around muscles. The longer the duration of the exercise and the more fit the horse, the more he will use stored fat as energy to fuel the workout. Some glucose is always needed during exercise, but the reserves in the muscle and liver are often quite limited. The onset of fatigue is sped up when these reserves are used up. When the horse is fed a high fat diet, his body learns to use the fatty acids as fuel during exercise and the onset of fatigue is delayed.

Horses fed on a 10% added fat diet were able to trot for 35 minutes before their heart rates reached 160 beats per minute. This heart rate was reached in 20 minutes by the group not being supplemented with fats.

It takes about 11 weeks for the horse to adapt to the change in glucose utilization.

5. Minimises Digestive Upsets

Horses evolved to take in a large amount of fiber, and very little starch. Some people would say that the horse’s digestive tract was very poorly designed! When the horse is asked to perform at higher levels, starches have traditionally been added to the diet to compensate for the increased caloric requirements. The problem arises when high amounts of starch are added to the diet – the more grain fed, the more starches pass through to the hindgut, where they can disrupt the normal levels of microbes present. The higher levels of starch in the hindgut change the pH, and as a result the microbes that are responsible for digestion cannot survive. This causes many different problems, like diarrhea, colic, laminitis, etc.

Studies have shown that up to 10% of the starch (concentrate) portion of the diet can be substituted for oil. This means the horse is able to consume less hard feed but maintain the same condition. Less concentrates can lessen the chances of digestive upsets.

A study has shown that up to 16% of racing horses on high grain diets have a faecal pH level below 6,4 and show symptoms of low grade laminitis – with foot soreness, reduced stride and less than optimum performance. The race times of 14 out of 15 TB’s racing over 1600m was improved after consuming a diet containing 12% of its energy from oils, as opposed to a grain diet with only 2% energy from fat.

6. Favorable Effect on Temperament

After being fed a large amount of carbohydrates, the blood glucose levels rise and insulin is secreted to bring the blood glucose levels down to normal levels. The insulin also has an effect on the metabolism of thyroid hormones. This has an effect on the horse very similar to a ‘sugar high’ in humans. Horsemen talk about ‘fizzy’, excitable horses, and are referring to this effect that starch has on the behaviour of the horse. With a high fat diet, the rise in blood glucose levels is lower, thus the effect on behaviour is less. Horses appear much calmer and energy levels are more constant, not the ups and downs that is seen with high starch diets.

7. Benefits Horses with Recurring Tying Up

Tying up, or Azoturia, is a muscle condition that causes cramping and muscle damage commonly to the muscles of the gluteal and lumbar region. It varies in severity – from poor performance to severe pain with sweating, cramping and immobility. The exact cause of the disease is not exactly understood, but there are various factors that have been identified as triggers. Traditionally, the disease was seen in the draught horse in work that was rested or the weekend on full feed, and returned to work. (Hence the name Monday Morning Disease) It is thought that muscle glycogen accumulates during the rest period and when used during exercise it produces excessive lactic acid. This causes local tissue damage and constriction of the blood vessels, resulting in decreased blood flow to the tissues and further reduction in lactic acid removal. Other predisposing factors include: Thiamine and vitamin deficiencies, hormonal influences, electrolyte imbalances and viral causes.

Using oil in the diet reduces the amounts of starch being fed, and thus reduces the extra glucose used for the synthesis of glycogen in muscle.

Introducing fats and oils to the horse’s diet is a relatively easy process and the following guidelines should be taken into account:

- Type of Oil

When deciding on the type of fat to supplement with, the decision will be influenced by the palatability and availability of the oil. It is no good spending thousands of Rands on a product that your horse will not eat. Fish Oils have been shown to be the best oil supplements, but most horses will not eat it. Corn oil is a very popular fat supplement, although there is research that shows that it is rather low in Omega 3 fatty acids, and very high in Omega 6 fatty acids. Linseed also has a high fat content, but it must be boiled thoroughly before use, as raw linseed contains cyanide.

I would recommend the following fat supplements for use in the horse:

1. OILS:
Corn Oil
Sunflower Oil
Canola Oil
Flax Oil
Soybean Oil
Peanut Oil

There is great debate whether corn oil or sunflower oil is better for the horse. I have been using both, and have found no difference in the effect on the horse. Sunflower oil can be cheaper and more readily available than corn oil, but it very much depends on owner preference. Sunflower oil is slightly higher in Omega 6 fatty acids, but this difference is so small that I do not feel it has any bearing when deciding which oil to feed. Corn oil has been found to be more palatable than sunflower oil, but I have yet to find a horse that turned his nose up at sunflower oil. If it is introduced slowly, there is no reason why he will not take to it.

Boiled Linseed
Rice Bran*
Full Fat Soya meal
Sunflower Seeds

Commercial Horse Feed with added oil content (ask your feed merchant – they are not very common in SA, but I do know of one or two)

* Rice Bran contains approximately 22% fat, and Flaxseed about 40%. It must therefore be remembered that a much larger amount of these products must be fed to achieve the same results as feeding oils, which are 100% fat. Another problem with feeding Bran is the high phosphorous content, which presents a whole new set of health problems. If you are feeding any type of bran regularly, you should be supplementing the diet with calcium to correct the imbalance.

- Amount Fed

Adding an amount of oil to every feed is the easiest way to supplement the diet with extra fat. Generally speaking, add 100g of oil per 100kg bodyweight per day. (That means, a 500kg horse will be able to tolerate two cups of oil per day) If you are feeding more than that recommended amount, you should also be giving a multivitamin containing Vit E, as a very high fat diet requires more anti-oxidants. A balanced, high fat commercial feed will have the additional vitamins added already, so you need not worry about supplementing it.

For oils to work effectively in the body, they need to be taken in with some carbohydrates, thus it is unwise to cut down on all starches and feed only oils!

Like all feed changes, oils should be added very slowly to the diet, to give the digestive system a chance to adapt. The daily amount should also be split into two to three smaller feedings. If you are feeding oils, add approximately 50ml extra every second day for ten days (or until you reach your recommended amount) to give your horse a chance to adapt to the changes.

If oil is added slowly to the ration, most horses will take to it well. If your horse is very fussy and will not eat it, experiment with different types of oil until you find something that he will eat. It is normal for the stool to become loose for a few days whilst adapting to the diet, but this should clear up.

It will take approximately 3 to 4 weeks for the body to adapt to the oils and for you to begin to see results. You will notice the change in coat condition quickly – after 2 weeks. For the body to adapt to using fats to enhance athletic performance takes 2 to 3 months, so it is best to start your horse off as early as possible – especially if you are doing endurance riding.

Also remember that once you are supplementing with oils, you may have to cut down on your concentrate feed to prevent obesity! Keep a watchful eye on your horse, and if you notice him / her putting on weight, cut your concentrates by up to 10%.

- Storage of Oils

Oils need to be stored correctly to prevent rancidity. Rancidity is caused by the decomposition of fats and other lipids by hydrolysis and/or oxidation. The harm caused by rancid oils are brought about by the destruction of vitamins E, F, and A, both in the oil itself and in the horse’s body. Anti-Oxidants (like Vit E) are often added to oils to slow down this process. Horses will generally speaking not eat rancid fats.

It is thus very important to store oils in a cool, dark place. Try to purchase oils that are in solid coloured containers and do not keep stock for longer than a few weeks. Keep bottles tightly closed, and add oils to the feed right before feeding the horse – do not let your bucket of oil and concentrate feed stand in the sun for ages before offering it to your horse. Well stored vegetable oil can be kept for two months.

In conclusion, I would like to encourage all horse owners to try supplementation with oils. You will be amazed at the glossy coat, weight gain and improved performance of your best friend!

A bit of fun

Constructing a Riding Arena


Renee Swanepoel (N Dip Equine Studies; SANEF Level One)

Setting up a purpose-built riding surface can be a very costly business, and there is not too much information out there for the average person who probably would not know where to begin. In this article, I will try to explain the importance of providing the horse with a proper work surface and will also attempt to give a basic understanding of the process of building an arena.

A riding arena might be one of the most expensive items to lay down when setting up your equine facility, often costing well into the tens of thousands of Rands. Many people try to take shortcuts when planning and laying out their arenas and riding surfaces, often to the detriment of the horse, or to their own when a few years or even months down the line, the entire surface must be re-done because it is unusable. People often ask how important it really is to be very fussy with the surface their horse is working on, and often settle for the cheapest option, or don’t work their horses on any purpose-built surface at all.

There are three main reasons for working the horse on a suitable surface – shock absorption, slippage and balance. The horse will spend many hours of his working life under saddle and performing at a pace and skill much higher than his wild counterparts ever had to. The effects of concussion on the limbs are well documented and there are a host of lamenesses and other problems brought on by the constant pounding of the horses’ hooves on a hard surface.

An interesting scenario that I have noticed, although I have never found documentation to prove this, is how many Police and Metro Police horses, used to patrol the inner city and suburbs develop lameness problems relatively early on in their careers. Many of them develop navicular syndrome, and in my experience, I would attribute this to the many hours per day they spend walking on very hard tar and cement surfaces every day. Many of those horses retire at the age of between 8 or 9 years old, and to find a horse on active patrol older than 15 is almost unheard of. This has shown me how important working surface is. Any endurance rider will tell you how important it is to condition the legs very slowly by riding long, slow distance; and the terrain of any event can make or break the horse if his joint structures and bones are not well conditioned to it.

Providing the horse with a near level surface to work on is also vital to correctly developing balance and suppleness under the rider. On an unlevel surface, the horse will be pushing harder on the up-hills and braking harder on the down-hills. The effect of this up and down scenario means that the horse is not left with much option when it comes to concentrating on carrying the rider effectively and in balance. It also means much harder work for the horse, and especially in young horses starting their training, this can be very destructive to their progress. A surface that is hard then soft then hard will also cause damage to the horse, as he may injure a tendon as a result.

Horses being worked at speed or when jumping, need to be able to rely on a non-slip surface to prevent slips, falls and tendon injury. There is nothing that will break a horse’s confidence in the showjumping arena as much as slipping and sliding into and after every jump. Imagine barrel-racing on mud – you would not get far around the course before slipping and falling badly. A proper riding surface also means that the horse can be ridden in adverse conditions, like rain or snow, without endangering the horse or rider. In countries where snowy winters are a problem, wet arenas are not as much a problem as icy arenas, which go mushy then rock hard and slippery then mushy again and are not useable if not built and surfaced correctly.

Summarized, the following are possible effects on your horse of an incorrect riding surface:
• If it's hard, the horse will shorten stride to minimize jarring (and modify his jumping form to avoid the sting of landing). Hard footing will also stress his joints and ligaments and may cause stress fractures.
• If it's too deep, it will strain his soft tissues - tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Additionally, it can make moving him forward in front of your leg more difficult. It is much harder work for the horse and may make him sour and unwilling.
• If it's slippery, the horse will feel insecure, so he will move cautiously.
• If it has an uneven base, at the least it will interfere with a consistent ride by forcing the horse and rider to compensate for its hills and hollows; at worst, the horse may step into a hole and injure himself.

In South Africa we are very fortunate to have weather and terrain that is relatively more forgiving when it comes to riding surfaces and the type of structures we would need to get by with – a yard in Canada would not get very far with an outdoor arena in the middle of winter at temperatures below freezing and snow and sleet! Arenas in Europe are usually custom-built by professionals who will even do soil analysis to determine the exact mix of surface needed. There are also new ideas and products available that are revolutionizing arenas and arena use.

Example left – mats are being used as arena bases in conjunction with the usual compacted material and instead of membranes. The manufacturer claims that the rubber base is more forgiving on the joints and legs and that it provides superb drainage and non-slip properties. (For More info, see http://www.comfortstall.com/CS_Products_OttoSport.html )

These mats could very likely also be used successfully to create indoor arenas for special occasions (where a temporary arena is required) or where top quality arenas must be built quickly and for large Equestrian events. Unfortunately, it will probably be a while before we see this technology here in South Africa as routine.

When planning your arena, which you will need to do carefully, you will be limited to the resources available to you and this should always be taken into account. Develop a good relationship with your subcontractor/builder and take leadership to get exactly what you need. (Most of these gentleman mean well but do not understand exactly what building arenas is all about, and might not appreciate the importance of size, surface or evenness as much as you do!) Imagine your disappointment when your brand new Dressage arena is found to be 5 m too short either side, or crooked! Measure your surfaces, keep checking at every stage and make sure that the job is being done to your specifications. Alternatively, there are companies out there offering arena building as a specialty service, and they will have more experience and be able to guide you well.

When planning your arena, the following topics should be considered, and should help you plan well and prevent any nasty surprises later:

1. SITE:

The site of an arena is very important, not only from a drainage point of view, but also in terms of the comfort of use by riders and instructors and the aesthetics of the yard.

Drainage of the arena is an important factor – no matter how well you plan the drainage of the actual surface, if the arena is at the bottom of a down hill slope, it will not take much rain to fill it with more water than the drainage system can handle. Building it too high on a hill can also mean more wind, which makes teaching difficult and will also mean that more surface will be blown away when horses are worked. To solve a drainage problem, the arena should be lifted (in other words, building the arena below ground surface would not make good sense) or drainage mechanisms like drains etc should be built around the arena to drain away excess water before it runs onto the surface. Too much water running over the surface will also wash away the surface material.

If maintenance and dust is a problem, building it too close to the stable facility could mean that horses and humans are constantly enveloped in clouds of dust, and built too far, riders may have to make long trips to and from the arena and supervision, especially of young riders, could become an issue.

The site should be accessible to trucks and builders and once built, should allow easy access for maintenance and up-keep.


The purpose of the arena will greatly influence its size and surface. As a general guide, I would suggest the following in term of size:

Dressage Arena:

There are two acceptable sizes when it comes to Dressage arenas. The accepted size when building for competition or for any level above Prelim and Children’s is 20m X 60m. It is important to remember that the arena surface should measure as above, not the boundary. (ie: don’t measure to the outside of your wall or your fencing – your arena will be too small!) Some people even like to add an extra meter either way to ensure that they have enough space to work in. For competition use, the measurements should be exact!

For Children and Prelim use, or if you are building an arena at home and space and cost price is a factor, a 20m x 40m arena will work as well. Just remember that should you be riding for example, a Novice test in a 20m x 60m arena at a show, the movements might not work out exactly or you may end up confusing yourself if you are working in a smaller arena at home. You will need to stay sharp!

Generally, Dressage arenas are also slightly deeper than Showjumping and Reining arenas, which tend to be firmer.

SANEF’s rules have the following to say about competition arenas, which you might take into consideration before choosing the site of the arena as well as the design.


1 The arena must be flat and level.

2 The arena must be laid out and marked as per the above
diagrams. The measurements given are for the interior of the
arena surround. The arena surround itself should be a minimum
of 25cm high, completely enclosed with a movable section at A.
(See Section 32.2.0 and 32.9.6).

3 Spectators or other objects, other than the arena markers, should
as far as possible be at least 10 metres away from the arena
surround and under no circumstances shall they be less than 5
metres from the arena surround. (For indoor arenas See Rule

4 At all major events and at National Championships it is obligatory
that the centre line throughout the length and the five points D, L,
X, I and G be clearly marked, without, however of a nature to
frighten the horse. With grass arenas, it is recommended that the
centre line be mown shorter than the grass in the arena and with
sand arena to roll or rake the centre line in a suitable way.
Similarly the points D, X and G should be mown, rolled or raked
about 2m straight across the centre line.

5 The arena markers or letters should be placed approximately
0,50 to 1,0 metre outside the arena surround and should be
clearly visible to competitors irrespective of the direction in which
they are approached. It is recommended that the points D, L, X, I
and G (large arena) or D. X and G (small arena) are marked on
the markers F and K, P and V, B and E, R and S and M and H
respectively (large arena) or on the markers F and K, B and E,
and M and H respectively (small arena) to be written beneath the
main marker in question and in smaller lettering.

6 The jury should, if possible, be provided with a platform to raise
them above ground level and also provided with protection from
the sun or weather. They should not be closer than 5m from the
arena surround and should be so separated as to be invisible to
each other. In the case of three judges, the judges at M and H
should be sitting 2,5m in from the long sides. Where only two
judges are used, the President of the Ground Jury sits at C and
where possible, the second judge sits at E or B.”

Showjumping Arena:

The showjumping arena should be as level as possible level and large enough to ride a course comfortably and safely. Although people do use their Dressage arenas to jump in as well, the size of the arena can limit the amount and type of exercises that can be performed in such an arena. A comfortable size for a jumping arena is approximately 60m x 60m, although one could probably go a little smaller. I prefer a 60m x 80m arena, as this can be used for shows, showing plus two large Dressage arenas can comfortably be constructed inside such an arena to be used for shows. Other considerations to take would be Derby obstacles like banks, Dykes and table jumps, all of which will need careful planning and construction. These types of jumps work well on a grass arena setup.

Generally, the surface that showjumpers prefer is not as deep as that of the Dressage arena, as they do not wish to place additional strain on the tendons with the takeoff.


Other types of arenas include gallops, (very large circular tracks, usually at least over 1km long, used to train young Thoroughbreds, Eventers and to improve the general fitness of any working horse) which should be springy but not thick, lunge arenas, (arena used to work horse on a lunge line on a circular track, which should be a minimum of 20m diameter, preferably slightly more to minimize stress to the joints placed on them by making too small circles, especially if starting youngsters.) double lunge arenas, (a lunge arena enclosed by an additional circular track, also used to allow the horse to lunge free, teach novice riders or disabled riders, do polework, or simply allows the rider to lunge himself without the need for someone in the centre controlling the horse) free jumping tracks, ( circular type lanes built to free jump horses or free lunge them) and a host of other types. All of these arenas are shaped differently, according to their purpose, however the basic principles for building them still applies. When researching your specialised arena, make a point of going to other yards to see what they have, what works and what does not.


The amount of traffic expected on the arena will greatly influence its surface and base. High traffic arenas need to withstand much more compaction, will need to be more dust aware and will need a surface material that will stand up to the great demands placed on it. It will also need to be surfaced slightly thicker, as it will compact quickly and more surface will be lost in a quicker time. An arena that is not used as frequently will not compact as quickly and will retain more surface for longer.


The resources available in the area will play a role in the type of base and surface selected, as well as the eventual cost of the arena. It makes good sense to use what is available locally, but do shop around and always take a look at samples before deciding on a product.


The maintenance of the arena is vital to its longevity and usability. Maintenance should be planned carefully and once will affect the surface chosen. Dust control plays an important part of maintenance and once again, will affect the type of surface chosen.


Extras to be considered when planning your arena include lighting, markers, storage for equipment like jump uprights etc, fencing and gates, seating, and even landscaping around the arena. Watering should also be planned carefully.




The above illustrations are of the two most typical forms of arena construction, and illustrate the various layers that are usually included and important.

Generally speaking, a raised arena provides a better drainage option for areas receiving high rainfall and where drainage is a problem. It eliminates the need for additional trenches and other drainage around the arena. A sunken arena will need additional drainage in order to avoid turning into a bog!


The area between the earth, or natural surface and the surface material is known as the base, or/and sub-base. This layer is one of the most important of the arena, because it determines the ultimate spring, levelness and drainage of the arena. Most arena problems are related to an incorrect base. "Building a base is expensive but there is a reason why," says Jennifer Buchanan, (an arena footing specialist with American Rubber Technologies) "There is no cushion out there that will help a poorly draining base. If you have a poorly draining arena, there is something wrong with the base."

The ground is prepared by removal of the top layer of soil and plant growth and compacting the earth until the site is the correct size and as level as possible. A layer of base material is then added to the top, which is commonly referred to as the base or sub-base. A thick layer of coarse salt can be added to the raw earth site before the base is added, as this will kill any plant material that may still come up again.
The base might be naturally occurring material (such as decomposed granite) or added material such as road base or fine gravel topped with stone dust and clay. The base must contain no stones and it needs to be packed or compacted as hard as concrete. To accomplish this, you will need a large vibrating roller (such as seen on road crews) or compacting machine.
There is some debate as to whether it is better to leave the surface of the base absolutely flat while some experts say that after the base is set, narrow grooves should be cut into the base to help hold the surface material in place.
The base will need a slope of about 1 to 2 degrees to allow for good drainage and to prevent puddles from forming, however if the slope is more than that, the surface material will wash away during downpours of rain. The base needs to be thick enough to prevent the bottom earth layer from coming up and mixing with the base layer. The average thickness for a good compacted base is approximately 15 cm, although showjumpers prefer a thicker base of up to 25cm.
Watering the base well and then compacting with a heavy duty vibrating roller is the best way to do this.

After being well watered and compacted, the base will need to be left for a few weeks to ‘set’, or harden. In wet conditions, this time period may last even longer, but patience is key at this point to allow the base to settle and harden so as to perfect the riding surface eventually!


A geotextile membrane is a fabric that has been designed for use in a variety of civil engineering applications, from road works and drainage systems to erosion control. They have been found to be ideal in areas where poor ground conditions prevail and weak sub soil is evident, by stabilising the subsoil, bearing capacity is greatly improved. When used as a separator, in equestrian arenas, they stop the intermixing of surface and sub base material whilst allowing water to pass through into the drains.

There are two main types of membrane - woven & non-woven polypropylene.
Woven Membranes are tapes of polypropylene multi woven together.
Non-Woven Membranes are spun bonded fibres of polypropylene needle-punched to allow free passage of water. Certain types are thermally bonded for added strength.
The manufacturer’s assistance will be invaluable when choosing the right type of membrane for the arena being built. Commonly, a membrane is laid between the earth and base, and another may be added above the base, underneath the surface layer. This layer will prevent the surface and base from mixing and improves the longevity of the arena as well as improving drainage. Some manufacturers do not advise the additional layer on top of the base. The layer between the soil and base, however, I would accept as a definite requirement.
(If adding a membrane layer between the surface and base, care should be taken that harrowing and other maintenance does not damage the membrane!)


The surface layer is the part of the arena that is visible to the rider. It is the layer that the horse is ridden on, and often the part that is focused on too much, when in fact, it is the base that determines the success or failure of the arena!

Once again, there is not one single method or material that is the ‘perfect’ one – it is going to depend very much on cost, availability of materials in the area and discipline preference. There are basic principles that can be followed to ensure the eventual success of the working surface and arena as a whole.

The arena surface should be deep enough to minimize the concussion to the horse’s legs, but should not be so deep that it causes muscle and tendon strains. As a general guide, it is claimed that if the horse leaves a print deeper than approximately 4cm, the surface is too deep.

Sand, rubber, wood products and a variety of combinations are commonly used as riding surface materials. Each material has its own set of benefits and problems, and the planning of your arena should ALWAYS include looking at samples and if possibly, riding on, the type of surface being considered.

There are three very important functions and aspects to the cushioning surface layer of the arena, namely impact resistance (shock absorbing) and resistance to shear (caused by the rotation of the hoof on the surface itself) and the frictional properties of the surface in relation to the hoof or shoe (in other words, how slippery the surface is).

There is an excellent article on the effects of surfaces on the horse’s body, and the properties of a good riding surface written by Hilary M. Clayton, BVMS, PhD, MRCVS
and Mary Anne McPhail from the Equine Performance Center at Michigan State University. (to request a copy, please do so via the Horsejunction site) The article goes into great detail as to how the different types of surface (too hard, too soft, correct, etc) affect the horse and what to look out for.


Sand is one of the most popular types of surfacing used in arenas. There are a host of types of sand available, however the most important characteristic that sand should have is that it should be coarse, angulated sand. Fine sand with smooth edges (like beach sand) do not provide enough traction, as the particles simply slide past each other when the horse’s hoof lands on it. Another problem with a sand that is too fine or smooth, is that dust levels will be very high, and the sand particles will break down to a fine powder very quickly. One way of improving the quality of the surface if using a sand that is a bit too fine, is to add another material, like a wood product, which will improve the surface properties. A wood product will lessen the dust problem, as it retains moisture longer, and will improve traction and lessen the rate at which compaction of the surface takes place. Sand ‘particle thickness’ is measured in ‘sieve thickness’ or is allocated a ‘pass number’. Experts recommend sand with a "sieve analysis" of 33, or a "100 Pass" number, which should be less than 5 percent.) Coarse, washed river sand is the most commonly used and best type of sand surface easily found in South Africa.
The sand layer should be about 10cm – 20cm deep, depending on the base, traffic and discipline. It is always best to start with a 10cm layer, as more sand can always be added, however to remove sand on a too thick surface is a little more tricky!

In some areas, wood products are readily available at a reasonable price. Wood products used on arenas and tracks include bark, wood chips and shavings (note that there is a difference between clean wood shavings and stall waste!). Wood products are often mixed with sand to give it more resilience, but sometimes they are used alone. Generally, wood surfaces offer a good cushion, but they can become slippery if the footing is too deep and damp. Another benefit of wood products is that they help to hold moisture in the surface, which reduces the frequency of watering.

Shavings break down relatively quickly and are more suitable for arenas that don’t have a lot of traffic. Shavings also blow away when used outdoors. A layer of woodchips beneath the overlying layer of coarse sand can decrease hardness of a surface due to the shock absorbency of the woodchips. There may however be some mixing of the layers when the arena is harrowed.

Crumb rubber is also another surface material that is becoming very popular. The rubber is usually made by shredding tyres, so great care should be taken to ensure that there are no steel or other metal fragments in the rubber 9found in some tyres), that could damage the horse’s hoof or injure the rider, should he or she fall. Rubber increases sand's cushioning quality and counteracts its tendency to pack down. A good ratio to start with is 1 part rubber to 1.5 parts sand and to add rubber as required after that. Rubber will not influence the moisture retention of the surface, so it will perhaps still be very dusty. Also, the rubber tends to blow away with strong winds and will also rise to the surface in heavy downpours, and if drainage is not optimal, may even wash off the surface with the runoff.
It is not recommended to be used on its own and proper mixing with the sand layer will improve its longevity!


Stall waste is often used as a surface because it is cheap, readily available and easy to get onto the surface. It is not, however an ideal surface because it breaks down very quickly, is very dusty, (plus the fact that the horse and rider will be breathing in a fine dust composed of manure and ammonia – not very healthy!) attracts flies and when wet, it is dangerously slippery. If the surface is dampened to control dust, it will be too slippery to work on. The surface breaks down very quickly, and will need to be replaced in its entirety at least every year.


Dirt (or using the natural soil in the area) is not an ideal surface, as it compacts too quickly, is very dusty and is very slippery when damp. Some people try to combine dirt with other surface products, like wood or rubber, however it will not provide a good surface and will not last very long. Daily harrowing is required to keep the surface from compacting.

5. STONEDUST (as pictured above with base material)

Stonedust (also called potash) can be used as a surface material as it is coarse, provides good traction and drains well. It can compact very quickly and will become very hard indeed, so proper maintenance is a must. If not too fine, it will also be lower in dust than other surfaces. Falling on stonedust can be very painful – something like falling on a tar road – as the stones will remove your skin quite easily! The surface can also get very hot because the dark colour will absorb the heat of the sun – great of you are thawing out a frozen arena, but not always great in the heat of the African sun!

The following table has been extracted from a document issued by the Pennsylvania State University, and provides a wonderful summary of the properties of the different surface types.

Produced by Information and Communication Technologies in the College of Agricultural Sciences
Prepared by Eileen Wheeler and Jennifer Smith Zajackowski “


After spending a sizeable fortune on constructing your new arena, it is of course vital that it be well-maintained in order to preserve it and keep it useable for as long as possible.

The first aspect to be considered is dust control. The most popular way to control dust is still by watering the arena regularly. The best and most efficient way of watering is to install a sprinkler system around the arena, carefully checking that there are no dry spots, and watering can happen quickly and without too much human intervention. Other means of dust control include salting the surface (the salt absorbs moisture and thus keeps dust levels down) adding an oil to the surface or magnesium chloride (retains water), will lower dust levels too. It is important to remember that if riding on a salted arena, the horse’s legs should be hosed down well after every workout to prevent irritation and burning of the skin.
Watering is most effective if carried out in the early morning or later afternoon, when it will not evaporate as quickly. It is also important to water right down into the surface of the arena – a light sprinkle on the top will have almost no effect and is a waste of time.

Harrowing the arena is the next step in keeping the arena well maintained. This involves dragging the surface with a tool designed to dig into the surface, lift and aerate it and level it out. Interestingly, the hardest spot in any arena has been found to be the spot where the instructor likes to stand!

Care should be taken that the tines (or teeth) of the harrow are not too deep, otherwise they will dig into the base, damaging it and making the arena unusable.

Harrowing should take place from the outside of the arena inwards, then change direction and begin again. Always harrowing in one direction will cause unevenness and soft spots. Never harrow an arena that is soaked and has a lot of water on the surface, as you will damage the surface. Wait for water to drain, then harrow. (It causes holes in the surface and churns up the base.

Harrowing should take place every week, and on a very heavily used arena, should take place twice per week or more.

Below are examples of harrows that may be used – as long as it does its job well and does not damage the arena, it is up to the manager’s creativity what to use!

I trust that this article has been of help to those people out there who are planning a riding arena but do not know where to begin! For additional information, please get hold of me via the horsejunction site and I will be happy to be of assistance wherever possible!


The Optimal Surface for Training and Competing
Hilary M. Clayton, BVMS, PhD, MRCVS
Mary Anne McPhail Equine Performance Center
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
Common Problems
Some of the common problems with footing include dust, compaction, slipperiness, shifting of the material and breakdown of the components.
Dust is unpleasant for both horses and rider, especially those with respiratory sensitivities. Dust is a consequence of having fine particles, usually very fine sand and clay, in the surface material. These small particles become airborne when disturbed by the action of the hooves or even the wind.
Addition of bonding agents, such as water and polymers, reduce dust. The frequency of watering is decreased by addition of a hygroscopic agent, such as calcium chloride or the less corrosive magnesium chloride, that retains water.
A surface becomes hard when the material is compacted. Surfaces with a high content of clay are particularly susceptible to compaction, especially when the surface gets wet and then dries. Harrowing the surface loosens the material and introduces air, which makes it more fluffy.
Amendments, such as rubber, wood chips, leather or fibres, are often added to reduce compaction and give more resilience to a surface. The presence of fibres or shredded materials has the added benefit of stabilizing the surface.
Some materials are more prone to disintegrate than others, and the more traffic there is in the arena, the less time it takes for breakdown to occur. For example, wood products break down over time and soft sand disintegrates leading to dust formation. The best prevention is to select surface materials that are not prone to break down, especially for arenas that are used by large numbers of horses. When the footing does break down it may be possible to control the effects for a while using bonding agents, but eventually the surface will need to be replaced.
Surface materials that shift when horses work on them soon develop a ‘track’ around the outside of the arena and other frequently-travelled paths. The fault usually lies with the footing material; round sand shifts a lot more than an angulated sand. The remedy is to harrow the surface frequently paying special attention to high traffic areas and, perhaps, to add a suitable amendment, such as a fibrous material, as a stabilizer.
Sport Specific Requirements
The requirements for stability versus sliding, and security versus resilience vary in different sports. Consequently, it is particularly difficult to provide footing in a multi-use arena. Dressage horses need resilience in order to move expressively, combined with sufficient stability to move confidently, especially in the extensions. Jumpers apply high shear forces, so stability is the over-riding concern. Reining, cutting and rodeo sports generally favour deeper footing, and reiners like a surface that maximizes sliding. Racehorses achieve faster times on a firm surface, and this is characteristic of harness racing tracks, though long-term soundness may be compromised. Thoroughbred tracks tend to be a little softer, which reduces the risk of injury, but if the surface is too deep it becomes insecure. Events that are typically run on turf are likely to encounter problems due to heavy wear, for example the take off and landing areas of fences. These areas may be reinforced by coarse sand or gravel. However, round gravel tends to roll, making it insecure, whereas angled gravel is more likely to cause abrasions. The addition of rubber chips to the soil is useful for stabilizing turf and reducing wear.

Every Step He Takes
Practical Horseman July, 2002 By Sandra Cooke
Improving What's There
Suppose you already have an arena. Here are the problems you might be seeing and the strategies to correct them.
Cushion-layer problem: a "dead," dusty, and/or compacted sand cushion layer. Even with good maintenance, traffic breaks down sand particles; as they become smaller, they pack together instead of trapping air, and the tiniest grains billow up as dust. Loss of cushioning effect means concussion for your horse's joints; dust affects his respiratory tract (and yours). Adding crumb rubber won't improve matters; the worn-out sand grains are too small to mix properly with the rubber, and the added material can make the cushion layer too deep. Watering temporarily quells dust but contributes to packing down.
Solution: Remove the old sand and replace with top-quality new sand. (Stripping out old footing also gives you an opportunity to check the base for problems and repair as needed; see below.) If you want to mix crumb rubber or some other product into the new sand, adjust the amount accordingly. As when installing footing in a new arena, start with less than you think you'll need; add more a little at a time.
Base-layer problems include irregularities of several sorts. To fix them, you can repair the base, add new stone dust, and then water and compact as if starting from scratch. As you repair, check for and correct pitch or crown as needed. Here are the specifics.
• Highs and lows or ruts: Scrape away the base until it's level. Remove at least an inch of base to get down beyond where any sand has mixed with it - because screenings mixed with sand won't compact. Now water and re-compact; then measure. If the base is now less than 4 inches deep, add new screenings and water and compact again until it's 4 inches. Things to watch out for: Builders recommend using a bulldozer, rather than a tractor or front-end loader, to scrape away old base smoothly and accurately.
• Soft spots may first show up as areas that are slow to dry out after rain or watering. To correct, dig out the spot to a depth where you encounter firm material. Fill the bottom of the hole with 2B modified stone; water and compact it; then cover with a layer of geotextile. Fill the remainder of the hole with stone dust; water and compact until the spot is flush with the surrounding base. This technique creates a bridge over the soft spot to surrounding areas of solid sub-base and base.
• Potholes are hollows where the base has subsided or broken up. Dig at least a foot beyond the sides of the pothole and deep enough to reach solid material; fill and compact as for soft spots.
Whatever you do to improve your existing arena, you can save money simply by using old materials (such as worn-out sand footing or stone-dust scrapings) as fill on your property, instead of having them trucked away.
Planning Checklist
Tailor the specifics of your arena to what will be happening there.
• Your sport(s): Primarily hunter/jumper, dressage, or both? Hunter/jumper sports require both a thicker base and a "grabbier" cushion than work on the flat Because of the traction required for turns, takeoffs, and landings.
• Intensity of use: Just yourself? Two or three people daily? All-day group lessons? Heavier use increases maintenance needs; for advice, see page 81.
• Size: For dressage, you'll probably want at least 80 by 160 feet; that's slightly larger than the 65 by 131 feet or 20 by 40 meters, required for the official 'small' arena. For multipurpose use or for over-fences sports, go for at least 100 by 200 feet. For either, you'll want additional space if more than two riders will be in the arena at one time.
• Budget: Add up what you'll have to spend for what you want; prior research (including getting estimates from a couple of experienced arena builders) helps you plan. Variables affecting the cost of a new arena include your terrain and soil type, your site options, whether construction materials will have to be shipped from a distance, and whether you can do some of the work yourself. Raise your projected-cost total a little to allow for unexpected problems, not covered by your contract, that require extra work. Then compare your projected costs with what you think you can/should spend - and if the two don't match, look for where you can trim costs without cutting quality.
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