Arena Footing Comparison
Written by Miquela Allen on October 14, 2019
When choosing footing for a new or existing arena, the options can seem overwhelming. There are many types of footings, as well as additives, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. There is no universally perfect footing, and what works best will depend on many factors.
Sand is one of the most common footing materials, and there are a lot of variations within it. Typically, the ideal sand for footing is hard and sharp with medium to coarse particles that has been cleaned and screened. Hard sand lasts longer before breaking down and sharp edges provide traction by reducing the amount that particles shift against each other. Cleaning the sand removes all super fine particles like silt and clay, making it less dusty while screening removes larger particles. This creates uniform particle size reducing the compaction. One of the perks of using sand as a footing is that it can be inexpensive and easy to source. It can also provide good traction as long as it starts out as good quality and is well maintained. Sand footing can be labor intensive, requiring frequent watering and dragging to maintain. It does also erode and compact with time and use, although rubber and other additives can help with this.
Stone dust is commonly used as a stand alone or supplemental footing, but it can be challenging to maintain. It is similar to sand in that they both have wide variations in shape and size. Stone dust makes a very cost effective footing, and it also drains well. However, it has a tendency to compact and harden and it can be quite dusty. To avoid this, stone dust requires a significant amount of maintenance in the form of watering and dragging. Purchasing stone dust with evenly sized particles will help reduce compaction and it can be mixed with sand or rubber to add cushion and improve the texture of the footing.
Dirt or Topsoil
Footing made from topsoil varies greatly depending on location. One of the major benefits of this type of footing is the low cost. Unfortunately, clay and silt often make up a majority of the composition of topsoil. Typically this type of material has issues with mud, drainage, and packing. The wide range in particle size means that this material compacts easily, and the smaller particles will loft as dust when dry. Clay is made up of flat particles, which become quite slippery when wet as well. However, topsoil can be an effective footing if it contains or is mixed with a high percentage of sand. The sand improves the consistency of the dirt and makes it useable.
While it is not meant to stand alone, rubber can be a very useful supplemental material because it can make the existing footing more adaptable. Some of the benefits of including rubber in a footing are added cushion, minimized compaction, added traction, and improved drainage. It also reduces the abrasion of particles, extending the life of materials like sand and stone dust. Rubber also darkens the color of footing, helping to reduce glare and speed thaw times in the winter, as well as prevent freezing. Rubber inclusive footing tends to require low maintenance, and has a low moisture requirement as well. It is important to be aware that rubber floats, and may separate from other material with heavy rain, but it can be reincorporated easily.
Synthetic fibers are another popular supplemental material for footing used most commonly in combination with sand. This material can help to improve traction, cushion, and stability. It works by binding loose particles, preventing sand from shifting too much while still providing impact absorption and preventing compaction. Fibers will also help a footing to retain moisture. The main thing to keep in mind when considering synthetic fiber is the level of maintenance it requires. Specific tools and lots of moisture are needed, and if it becomes too dry, some of the lightweight fibers may blow away in windy climates.
There are several additives and coatings that can also be used to improve the life and quality of footing materials. One example is oil, which works to weigh down and bind smaller particles together, much like the use of water. Most oil has to be reapplied every couple of years as it erodes away, however, pharmaceutical grade petroleum can last for over 10 years. This longer lasting version is pricey, but suppresses dust, adds stability, and is UV resistant. Wax is similar to oil, but longer lasting and more expensive. Salt is commonly used as well, and helps with dust management by slowly releasing moisture into the footing. It is also used in northern climates to prevent freezing. It does dissolve over time, so requires replacement every 6 months or so. While the initial cost is lower than petroleum or wax, the frequent renewal evens it out. One thing to keep in mind is that salt is corrosive and can dry out hooves, so it is important to wipe down the hooves and legs of horses after they use the arena.
There are many different options when it comes to arena footing, and they each have their perks and drawbacks. The ideal option will depend on the intended use and desired qualities. It is important to look at all of the available options to determine what will work the best in a specific situation.