Arena Maintenance: What to Remember

Here’s how to prolong your arena footing’s lifespan and maintain a safe and functional riding surface.
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Your dream finally came true. After saving up your pennies and spending time and money working with a contractor to clear an area and lay a foundation, you’ve built a riding arena of your own. Now comes the part that is so frequently overlooked, yet is the single most important factor if you want the footing to ride to its optimum performance level: maintaining it.

Without ongoing upkeep, which includes an investment in the correct equipment, your arena will have a shortened lifespan. A footing that is inconsistently maintained can lead to expensive veterinary bills. Taking time to maintain your arena will cost significantly less in the long run and will ensure that the arena footing lasts the duration.

The amount and type of arena grooming required often depends on what type of surface you have. Some surfaces require more water or grooming than others, while weather, daily use, type of riding, and number of horses, all factor into the equation.

Waxed-Coated Surfaces

Waxed-coated riding surfaces are dust free (providing correct equipment is used and maintenance guidelines adhered to) and have a good climactic tolerance and so will not require an irrigation system.

While some synthetic surfaces are coated with oils or petroleum jellies, others, including Martin Collins footing, are not. Some oils can wash through the surface and block up the underlying base. Further, oils and petroleum jellies can have a shorter lifespan than wax-coated surface, meaning they could require recoating more frequently.

Non-Coated Surfaces

Non-coated riding surfaces require significantly more maintenance than those with a waxed coating. For optimum performance, an irrigation system is essential. Once a surface has dried out it will ride “deep” and can quickly become unlevel. This can be rectified with special machinery.

Care Tips for Synthetic Riding Surfaces

  • Arena footing should average a compacted depth of approximately 4 inches when laid to provide proper stability and cushioning. This applies to both fiber/sand and coated footings. Be aware that some footing companies might try to sell you on an uncompacted depth. But it’s important to remember that the footing depth could be reduced by as much as 2 inches when compacted.
  • It is important to keep your new surface both level and evenly compacted. If any hollows, dips, or tracking appear, these should be corrected by hand raking prior to grooming the surface.
  • Maintain your arena according to use. Consider maintaining it on a daily basis for the first three months and then as use and common sense directs.
  • Pay special attention to high-traffic areas, including entryways and tracks that see heavy use that tend to compact down. Traffic wear is much more easily dealt with when tackled early and regularly and the footing is redistributed appropriately.
  • Ensure horses have clean feet and legs prior to being worked in the school. Likewise, ensure your tractor’s tires are clean before grooming so the footing isn’t contaminated by outside materials. Also, pick horses’ feet prior to leaving the arena.
  • Carry out regular depth checks to check for inconsistencies in overall depth (i.e., 2 inches to 6 inches). Consider checking your arena every three months by taking a probe and measuring the depth around the track and on the quarter, center, and three-quarter lines. Record the depth checks on a grid to help identify inconsistencies at an early stage.
  • Move jumps frequently and hand-rake take-off and landing areas before replacing the standards.
  • Remove organic matter (such as droppings, leaves, etc.) from the surface. Such substances can cause waxed surfaces to dry out prematurely.
  • If you longe on the surface, consider “walk-longeing” (or moving up and down the arena as your horse circles around you), which can help prevent a “doughnut” from appearing on the surface.
  • Take care when grooming the arena not to drop the tines in too deeply and damage the underlying base. Should the base layer be damaged, it will need to be fixed by a professional installer.

Making Your Riding Surface Last

The life span of a correctly installed, high-performance riding surface will be determined by a range of factors. But there are steps you can take to prolong your surface’s lifespan:

  • Follow your surface manufacturer’s recommended maintenance guidelines;
  • Remove all debris, including horse droppings, leaf fall, hay, etc.;
  • Carry out regular depth checks to identify depth inconsistencies; and
  • Construct an access track to the arena to keep horses’ feet and maintenance equipment clean when before the arena.

The Size of the School

If you have a very small school, you might find the surface wears a little more quickly, as the horses are working “on the turn,” which results in more pressure on the footing on turns. Consider laying an additional inch of footing (so about 5 inches total) for safety.

Caring For Your Riding Surface in the Snow

If you live in an area that gets snow or frost, your riding surface will require slightly different care and maintenance during those months of the year:

  • Do not work snow into your surface. If the temperature should plummet this will cause your surface to freeze and create an ice block.
  • If possible and when not snow-covered, maintain the surface with the tines of the maintenance machine ¼-½ inch deeper than usual. This will help any excess water disperse. It is more beneficial if this additional maintenance can be carried out at the time when the frost is catching. The following morning, check the surface as it might be ready for a gentle maintenance pass to ease any ice crystals in the surface.
  • If there is a heavy cover of snow over the riding arena, then remove as much as you can carefully with a blade. Then, ride on the small amount of snow left, provided it’s not too deep or icy to do so safely.

With appropriate maintenance, your arena should provide you with many years of use and be a joy upon which to ride.

Reprinted with permission from Martin Collins Equine Surfaces

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