Surface Maintenance for Your Riding Arena

Courtesy of PennState Extension

Horse traffic patterns during arena use will cause the footing material to become uneven. The high-traffic path along the arena rail will take the most abuse. 

Depending on the riding discipline, high-traffic areas are also located along the arena diagonals, near barrels or poles, and the centerline. The footing within the high-traffic area will be thrown out of the path by hoof action, while any remaining footing will be more compacted where it is most needed. It is not uncommon for the footing material to be almost entirely gone from the high-traffic area with the horses working off the base material. This is very undesirable; footing is supposed to provide a cushion above the highly compacted base material. Horse hooves contacting the base will cause permanent ruts in the base that are expensive to repair. Footing near jumps also compacts. Surprisingly, the position where riding instructors stand is among the most compacted footing in an arena.

Uneven footing and compacted areas at the rail and elsewhere are resolved with a dragging device to redistribute or break up the footing material. Dragging should be done even before traffic patterns begin to be detected. Plan to drag the arena at least once per week even for arenas that are lightly used for riding (three times a week or more). Arenas under heavily scheduled use will need the surface dragged once or more daily. Once a deep path of disturbed footing is established, it is difficult to alleviate. Ruts along the rail are common, but frequent redistribution of the footing will keep the rut from becoming chronic. Accumulation of footing at the fence line of an outdoor arena can slow surface water drainage. To make the dragging less time consuming, use appropriate equipment that is easy to hook up and adjust to conditions.

Several options for dragging arena footing back into position are available. A tractor-pulled chain-link fence section (with added weight) or light footing material out of the arena gate as it exits unless it is stowed prior to exit. Finer but heavier footing materials, such as sand and stonedust, will need a harrow with short tines. The tines are dull spikes that are flat on the bottom. Adjustable tines are highly recommended so they may be set to redistribute and loosen the entire depth of footing while not disturbing the base material. Adjustment of harrow tines is a real advantage in surface conditioning to match desired conditions, depth of footing as it wears and compacts, and for use in more with one arena footing material. Make sure the tines are set or purchased short enough so that they do not penetrate the underlying base material. The base is an expensive part of the arena construction and costly to repair if it is accidentally dredged up into the footing material. Heavier harrows benefit from a three- point tractor hitch arrangement to raise and lower the device for entry and exit from the arena.