top 5 Arena grooming tips for the perfect footings
no fancy equipment required
Having a well-maintained arena not only looks pretty but is going to boost your progress, and be safer for your horse. Having consistent footings means having a better shot at consistent work from your horse. Just think about the last time you were on a horse that was moving along just fine then it got tripped up or a time when you were trying so hard to get good transitions but just couldn’t get them to feel solid and confident. I’m willing to bet that ruts, hills, and lumpy footing weren’t doing you any favors. Neither were shallow spots or deep spots and that trench on the rail is like a horse magnet, you just get sucked in there and there is no going back. Looking at the number of shakey arenas that I see it’s no mystery why there are so many horses with leg issues. Maintaining a great riding surface doesn’t have to be daunting or even terribly expensive it just takes fine-tuning. The tips I’m sharing don’t include crazy expensive arena groomers or require fancy footing recipes. These are (use the drag you have and elbow grease) simple tips to help you out right where you’re at with your arena.
Pro tip #1
Drag in varied patterns and often. By alternating the direction and pattern that you drag your arena you will have a better chance of working out any ruts. As well as better shot at getting the footing to level out without having to use a blade to level it. Dragging often will help stay ahead of shifting/compacting footings from repetitive riding patterns which means your footings will last longer too. Be sure to work your patterns both to the left and to the right to prevent footing migration.
Here are a few patterns and the issues they help with…
Pro tip #2
Monitor the moisture levels. You can grab a moisture meter here. The right amount of moisture in the footing can determine how much concussion your horse feels with each stride. How compacted the footings become. The amount of dust that gets kicked up. As well as the general texture of the footings. Two texture issues I see quite often are footings that are too dry and then they move very loosely under the horse’s feet or footings that are thick from too much moisture and are hard for the horse to move through.
There are a number of moisture control products out there to pick from so it’s worth doing a bit of digging to see what option will work best for your budget, your riding discipline, your type of footings, and the depth of your footings. Regardless of whether you go with dust control oil, magnesium chloride flakes/crystals or even good old water, even applicaiton is going to be the key to creating a consistent riding surface.
*A good general rule of thumb is when you make a footprint in the footings you should be able to see the details of the pattern from the soles of your boots. If there are no details you either have footing that is too wet/muddy or too dry or you have boots that are so worn out they have no tread left on the soles 😉
Pro tip #3
Give the rail a bit of extra attention. Many disciplines involve more riding along the walls/rails which means that the footing there is more likely to get shifted creating a trench. Most arena drags don’t do a great job of leveling the footings out they more or less just smooth them off. That being said you may need to rake the high sides down into the trench by hand before dragging. The best way to do this is to loosen any compacted footings with a metal garden rake then use an infield rake (like the kind they use on a baseball field or golf course sand pits) to evenly pull the footings away from the walls. It’s not a fun job by any means but if you do it often it isn’t too bad.
Pro tip #4
Protect the base. Most arenas are created with a firm base of some sort, stone screens or compacted clay, topped with a riding surface such as sandy loam, sand, shredded tires, carpet fibers, or a combination of these things. As the riding surface gets worn it will start to become thin putting the base at risk of being worked up. The idea of the base is to help keep the arena level so keeping it from being dug into by hooves or drags is important. If you are seeing areas that the footing is thin it’s much easier to address them early, moving more footing into that spot before the base becomes compromised. I often see arenas with hills in them because the base became loose and shifted. Once this happens it is hard to fix without clearing off the surface, releveling and recompacting so it’s worth it to do the extra maintenance along the way.
Pro tip #5
This last tip is mainly for outdoor arenas as it pertains to uncontrolled amounts of moisture. If you know that there is a large amount of rain predicted dragging the arena ahead of time will help it dry out faster as the water will run off the smooth surface. Also, avoid riding when the arena is so wet it’s mushy as this gets back into compromising the base of the arena much like how a compacted gravel driveway gets pot-holes when driven on after heavy rain. I would also follow this rule if accidentally over water your indoor as well.
This Post Has 14 Comments
A good groomer is designed to be compatible with nearly every popular type of horse arena footing, whether you use fine sand or coarser materials.
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Hey there, You have done a great job. I will definitely digg it and personally
suggest to my friends. I’m confident they will be benefited from this
When equestrians call or email us to ask “why Conterra?”, we respond “why anything else!” Just like any great arena drag, the Conterra Arena Drag for ATV’s exists to accomplish necessary tasks for competition success such as mix arena footing, smooth out high/low spots and leave a clean finish. In addition to these basic drag functions, the Conterra goes above and beyond to ensure your arena is ready for competitive use in a variety of other ways:
Sounds like a great drag, if you want to send one my way I’d be happy to test it out and share the experience with my audience 🙂
With cutting depths from 0″ to 3″ in conjunction with tines spacings of 2-5/8″ the EquiGroomer offers superior subsurface preparation.
With a drag, you can easily evenly distribute the materials, as well as dislodge materials that have bonded together. In other words, a drag allows you to maximize the talent of your horse and protect them from injury.
My wife and I recently purchased a home with a lot of property, and we are wanting to get a couple of horses. It was really helpful when you explained that having a well-maintained arena will be a lot safer for your horse. I would think that it would be a good idea to have a professional company build the arena for you so that it can be a reliable place for your horses.
Do you think the speed of the tractor matters while dragging? I have a trainer that goes super fast because she says it moves the ground around better. Is that so? Also do you think it’s necessary to go more than twice around the arena if it’s being drug frequently? We do reining btw
Yes, the speed makes a big difference. I try to stay below 4mph to avoid causing the footings to migrate out toward the rails. As for the number of times to go over the footings it really depends on how compacted they are and the moisture level. I go over everything twice then look for any inconsistent areas to determine if it needs another round.
What kind of drag is that behind the 4 wheeler in the video?
It’s an EZ Groomer. We’ve been very happy with it. https://www.ezgroomer.com
Thanks for pointing out that having the surface maintained will keep the flooring from being dented by hooves. I will definitely keep in mind to have it done every now and then when we have an arena built. This is just requested by my daughter as a gift for her 13th birthday since she is really passionate about riding horses.
You’re welcome. Sounds like your daughter is just as horse crazy as I was at 13. Having a great arena really makes a difference, it’s worth doing extra research and lots of planning. Have fun with your equestrian adventure ~ Becky