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.