There is not much bibliography about arena footing but there are a wide range of products and techniques in the market and many experiences in building riding arenas for different uses and climates and in a variety of materials.
Arenas must not be designed for multiple uses. The construction of an ideal footing for a particular equestrian activity, let’s say show-jumping, will never be the best possible footing for dressage, although the cost may force us to do otherwise. The natural characteristics of the arena’s subsoil and the area’s climate are also significant factors to bear in mind when choosing the footing’s materials and design. This is especially true for outdoor arenas; indoor school conditions can be easily determined at will, so these factors are less important for our choice.
In any case, footings have a durability which is directly related to the materials employed and to their use and maintenance. There is also a process of adaptation: this means that new footings are not immediately perfect and it is the horses themselves who will gradually mix and smooth out all components until their optimum state is attained. After this point, if we are not careful, deterioration would begin.
Usually, soil in its natural state will not adequately resist continuous use by horses. This is why artificial footings must be laid. The constructing philosophy of these footings consists in achieving a surface which is uniformly springy and elastic, not soft, but also resistant to continuous use by horses, animals of significant weight (plus the riders’), that move upon wedge-form hooves which dig into the ground when landing and then push off with a “spoon” effect. This is the main obstacle that arena footing designers encounter: horses’ particular way of moving causes surface layer fines to become “finer and finer” due to erosion and sink down towards the footing’s support layers. Moreover, the “spoon” effect makes the stones of the support layer work up towards the surface.
The main aim is to obtain a surface which does not cave in when wet, whose resilience does not greatly vary with horses’ weight, and which, when dry, forms the less amount of dust possible. It should contain materials with a low noise factor, to deal with the hooves’ action, and which are resistant to erosion and decomposition. It must be flexible to reduce the effort made by the horse’s musculoskeletal system, but it should not be too deep because moving on it would be difficult and horses would get tired quickly. Finally, we must be able to achieve an arena with a moderate installation expense and, above all, reasonable maintenance costs.
An arena footing which meets the basic equestrian requirements should take into account the following:
- The existing natural soil which, improved, will serve as base : it must always be a perfectly levelled base (achieved by means of agglomerating elements and/or mechanical stabilization) with a good load capacity. It should contribute consistency, horizontality and permeability to water, or draining ability. The latter, in outdoor arenas, is probably the most difficult thing to determine and implement.
- Support layer : as its name implies, this layer serves as consistent base for the surface layer. The support layer presents a packed upper section and a lower loose or non-packed section. It must be sufficiently consistent to ensure that it will remain flat and even when used by horses and when maintenance vehicles wheel over it. Apart from showing a good packing, it must be highly resilient. This is very important, especially in footings designed for show-jumping, since their surface layer wears out sooner. It should also show a certain degree of flexibility in order to reduce the force of the horseshoes’ impact. Finally, it should allow for the elimination of any excess of water.
- Transit or surface layer : this is the layer which is in direct contact with the horse and where help is most frequently needed. The basic requirement is that it be a “loose” surface: this can only be achieved using non-bonding materials, where binding forces cannot act. The composition, the type of materials used, how they are mixed, particle size distribution and the density of the mixture when watered and used will eventually determine the final result.
Depending on the intended use of the arena, there are many ways of building one. In LUPA, we work with two systems which we explain below, both highly trustworthy.
EBB AND FLOW SYSTEM
These are arenas where the watering is buried under the sand layer and, basically, consists of a series of porous tubes which are controlled by a computer and can inject water when the footing is too dry or remove water when it is too moist.
It is a cutting edge system which can be seen in the best competition arenas throughout the world. It involves using new and select materials and sands and must be installed by a specialized company.
ARENAS WITH INTEGRAL DRAINAGE SYSTEM
The other system we install are ECORASTER grilles, or integral drainage grilles. Grilles have three functions:
- They serve as antipollution barrier, i.e., they prevent stones from coming up to the surface, and sand from sinking down into the lower layers.
- They allow for a complete drainage along the whole (100 %) surface of the arena.
- They stabilize the footing and distribute the superficial loads, while their elasticity protects joints and tendons.
To know exactly how to build or repair an arena, we recommend our video “Cómo arreglar una pista hipica” “como arreglar una pista hípica”, which you can find in the video section of our website
The use of ECORASTER grilles is the easiest method of achieving a good arena footing because the installation can be done by local workers, while we can assess and supply the materials directly to the customer or the construction company. Obviously, we can also build it ourselves.
In any case, a riding arena is not only the footing. It is also having a safe fence, an appropriate watering system and the necessary machinery and implements for its maintenance. In LUPA, we have all the elements you need to build an arena by your own means or with a local builder and then be able to maintain it in optimum conditions.
You can find the prices of the different options and material available for riding arenas in our online store.