Equinabuild arena surface guide

Once you’ve built yourself an arena, it can be difficult to know exactly how to lay your surface. It is important to remember that getting an optimal arena footing is vital for your horses’ safety and performance. Here is a guide that goes over the different characteristics and aspects for the best options.

Key to horse’s safety and performance

In all equestrian sports it is common for riders to invest large amounts of money in ensuring their horses are well prepared for performance and if the competition is not successful they often fault the horse. A commonly overlooked factor is the importance of a good arena footing. Poor arena footing can cause problems in relation to the horses’ performance and confidence.

Horse footfall process

You can break a horse’s footfall into 3 steps that helps you to understand the interaction between horse and arena footing surface.

  • Landing step: in this step the horse’s foot plants on the ground and comes to a stop, the hoof stops, sliding forward and downward into the surface.
  • Loading step: in this step the whole hoof is in contact with the ground, carrying the full weight of horse and rider. The fetlock and flexor tendons create a shock absorbing affect. The weight loaded on the horse’s hoof is dependant on movements, as it can increase or decrease from different motions.
  • Rollover step: throughout the rollover step the heel rotates off the ground, rolling over the toe for a push off into the next stride.

Characteristics of a good surface

Firmness

The firmness of the riding surface influences support and shock wave forces. If a surface is too hard it will not aid in absorbing any impact shock. If a surface is too soft absorbs shock well but lacks support. An ideal surface is firm enough to offer support with minimal concussion to bones and joints whilst being soft enough to absorb shock.

Cushioning

Cushioning refers to how the arena layers minimise shock through the loading step. A compacted surface lacks cushion to relieve shock whereas a soft surface has too much cushion and will shift under the hoof, making the horse’s body to work harder. This also results in soft tissue injuries such as inflammation and tears.

The right amount of cushioning should distribute shock easily through the arena layers as well as providing enough resistance to balance the rollover step.

Cupping

On a compact surface the frog in a horses’ hoof has minimal contact and the amount of weight over the hoof capsule forces blood through the large veins only. This can lead to problems such as navicular disease and laminitis.

A soft surface will cup under the foot but may not provide enough resistance and pressure to maximise hoof mechanism.

Grip

the tightness of the surface affects the horses’ ability to grip which aids in absorbing shock and providing support and traction. To much grip in the surface makes the foot stop too suddenly and risk of injury is increased. However a slippery surface causes the horse’s hoof to push through the surface, decreasing their ability to push off the ground. The right amount of grip in a riding surface allows the hoof to slide during landing and stopping to absorb impact forces however the tightness should provide stability for the horse during push off and on turns. The amount of grip needed in your riding surface is dependant on how the arena is going to be used.

Getting the right sand

Sand is a key ingredient in all good arena footings, but not all sand is appropriate to be used for riding arenas. Sand is suitable to be used in an indoor high maintenance arena but will most likely be completely unsuitable to be used in an all-weather outdoor arena. Choosing the wrong sand can create expensive issues in the future. Here are some factors that will help you when choosing the sand for your arena.

Particle size and shape

Sand particles are measured by graduation reports, these reports will help you determine exactly what type of sand you are buying and how it will perform. The shape of the sand particles affects the stability underfoot. Round particles offer cushioning but are typically unstable and decreases stability and traction. Angular particles provide stability and traction due to the sharp edges but can compact together and become hard. Sub-angular particles have the sharp edges worn off so they nest whilst still allowing movement. This lessens compaction and provides traction.

Particle grading

Grading is a representation of alternate sized particles which affects how much the sand compacts or stays loose. For a good arena surface you need sand with equal amounts of differing sizes, this will assist to keep your footing firm but not compact it.

Where does the sand come from?
  • Natural Sand: Natural sand is deposits from eroded mountain rock and mostly composed of silica from broken down quartz crystals. Such sand is very resistant to weathering due to it’s chemical hardness and will last longer in an arena footing. The particles are usually round or sub-angular in shape having been tumbled by water.
  • Manufactured Sand: Manufactured sand originates from rock quarries as the smallest size of rock crushed there. This sand compacts tightly if used alone and have very sharp tendencies. A small amount of manufactured sand can be used to add stabilisation to a footing with very round sand grains.
Sand types

When you are looking to buy sand for your arena make sure you use the specifications and sizes to determine what sand you are buying. Do not be fooled by sands called ‘arena sand’ as this could mean anything. The following types are commonly found:

  • Pit run: This is sand that is excavated and sold without grading or washing. There will be a wider variation of particle sizes. The properties of this sand is dependant on the quarry it comes from.
  • Washed sands: Washed sand is not a stable surface as a sand if it contains particles of below 200 sieve size. The sand has less dust but provides less traction, compaction and strength. You should be wary when choosing washed sands, if you have water available choosing an unwashed sand may be a better option.
  • Fine sand: Fine sands mix well with textiles and binds loose sand but it should not be used alone. Fines, clay and silt are likely to create dust and compact.
  • Masonry sand: This sand can vary in shape from round to sub-angular and is washed but still contains some fines. This sand will mix well with crumb rubber products and is widely available.
  • Concrete sand: Concrete sand particles are usually sub-angular to angular in shape and tend to be larger in size. The sand is washed but still contains some fines. It mixes well with crumb rubber and is widely available.