Taking care of your riding arena!
- There’s a lot to think about here, and not all of these suggestions will work for the type of footing that you have. Not all footing needs water, not all footing is waxed, not all footing can get harrowed in the same pattern.
- Know what you have and work accordingly. Also, your barn’s primary discipline, location, and budget may determine the type of footing used and how it’s taken care of.
- An excellent (and long) article about footing materials for riding arenas can be found here. This gives you an idea of how footing is organized and how it might apply to your needs.
Generally speaking – here are some basic guidelines for riding arena care, assuming the arena’s base is level, complete, and hasn’t been raked by the drag.
Things to regularly check:
- Check the depth of the footing in different areas around the arena. Note if the footing is fluffed up after a drag when you do this, or if it’s been stepped on and compacted by everyone riding. Ideally, the depth for most arenas should be 4” deep when compacted. Some disciplines may go with more.
- Measure the depth along the rail, the second track which is just off the rail, the gate area, and any other high traffic areas. Then measure the low traffic areas and see what you have. If you like charts and graphs as I do, you can even mark up a drawing to keep track of things over time.
Daily habits to get into for proper arena maintenance:
- Know if the arena needs to be watered or not. Waxed footings don’t need water, some dirt footing styles do.
- Make sure your watering system evenly distributes the water. If you use sprinklers, look for overlapping areas, or stuck sprinkler heads that drip or don’t move on their usual pattern. Lots of water concentrated will lead to hard-packed footing, footing that washes away, and uneven surfaces.
- If you have an indoor arena, it may or may not be treated with MAG, or magnesium chloride flakes. These handy flakes are humectants – meaning they draw water from the air to keep the footing moist. If used outside, a rainstorm will render them useless, hence their use in indoor arenas. You do need to touch up the MAG flakes every year or so as needed.
- Pick the manure out. It really doesn’t matter what the footing is, just pick it up and certainly don’t ride through it. Manure becomes dust, and dust is no friend to your horse’s lungs. Manure can also degrade many types of footing. A muck tub and poop rake by the arena makes this such an easy thing to do.
- Move jumps, barrels, and obstacles around, and stay off the rail as necessary. These high-traffic areas need a break. And, riding off the rail is better for your riding skills!
- Watch the weather. Storm coming? Time to level things out. Some arena drags give you the option of smoothing things out after the tines, which might help an arena stay “sealed” during rain. You really want to avoid puddles and low spots, which just get worse over time.
Your sprinklers might need adjusting to avoid puddles.
When you are dragging your arena:
- Make sure your tractor and drag are not bringing in rocks or mud or grass on the tires or tines. Do you need a hose by the gate to rinse things off?
- Do you need to rake the edges in? Yes, this is a job to do by hand, and it’s tedious and necessary, especially if there are lots of horses pounding the track by the rail.
- Know your drag. Be sure it’s not going into the base. Double checking arena depths can alert you to the low spots where you need to adjust the drag for the time being. Chronic low spots might mean you need to have the base repaired or more footing added or less riding in that area.
- Know how to pull your drag. Some drags work in circles and spin as you drive, some are fixed and just follow the tractor. Some you can only drive clockwise, or counter-clockwise, and some you need to mix up the pattern in which you drive. Big circles one day, up and down the next day. It’s going to be specific to your footing type and your drag.
There are many people and companies all over the land that can help you with your particular type of footing and drag. Just ask!