Constructing a Riding Arena
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:
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:
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.
” ARENAS FOR DRESSAGE COMPETITIONS
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.”
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.
4. AVAILABLE RESOURCES:
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 LAYERS OF THE ARENA AND THE CONSTRUCTION THEREOF:
OPTION A: SURFACE ARENA (SUNKEN) WITH DRAINAGE:
OPTION B: RAISED ARENA WITHOUT ADDITIONAL SUB-SURFACE DRAINAGE:
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!
1. BASE AND SUB-BASE:
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!
2. GEOTEXTILE MEMBRANE:
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!)
3. SURFACE LAYER:
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.
TYPES OF SURFACE MATERIALS:
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!
2. WOOD PRODUCTS
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.
3. RUBBER CHIPS
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!
3. STALL MANURE / SHAVINGS
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 “
MAINTENANCE OF THE ARENA:
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!
APPENDIX A – EXTRACTS:
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
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.
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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