Improving Horse Arena Surfaces

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improving horse arena surfaces
The science of building an arena is well-studied, and you can use the available research results to design one that is appropriate for your horse’s needs. An excellent foundation, good drainage, and a consistent surface are just some of the essential components that make up a safe, durable arena design. | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse
There’s far more to building a good riding arena than meets the eye. It’s not just a matter of erecting fences to create a perimeter and filling the interior with dirt or sand; a complicated science goes into making a safe, durable, and consistent surface. But why go to all that trouble, which can amount to many hours of labor and thousands of dollars? Because this training and competition environment can greatly influence a sport horse’s soundness and resultant career longevity.

Arena surfaces are subject to compaction, drainage issues, surface irregularities, and influences of climate and temperature. A surface that is too hard can lead to bone, joint, and hoof injuries. A surface that is too soft and yielding can lead to soft tissue injuries. An irregular surface can not only interfere with a horse’s performance due to tentativeness about the footing but also cause injury due to unexpected transition between hard and soft, lumpy and firm. The best way to ameliorate some of these concerns is to build a well-engineered arena.

From the Foundation Up

A research team at the Animal Health Trust (AHT) in Newmarket, U.K., has been studying the elements that make a riding arena durable and safe. The starting point for developing any arena is the foundation. “The main purpose of the foundation underneath the surface footing is to provide a stable base for the arena,” says Carolyne Tranquille, BSc, a research assistant at the AHT who has collaborated on this topic with senior orthopaedic advisor Rachel Murray, MA, VetMB, MS, PhD, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, ECVS, and others.

Tranquille notes that it is important to use the same foundation material beneath the entire arena for consistency; she cautions against using unstable bases such as crushed concrete, suggesting limestone or asphalt instead. Additionally, she recommends leveling the base or grading it to have a slight incline toward the center to assist with drainage. “These three factors—the material used, consistency of foundation material, and the effectiveness of drainage—affect how the top layers behave,” she says

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Written by:

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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