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Riding arena surfaces

Below is some advice for the construction, use and maintenance of riding arena surfaces. This has been compiled with the Animal Health Trust from a World Horse Welfare funded project, in partnership with the FEI and World Class Performance UK Sport Lottery funding, to evaluate training and competition surfaces in riding horses.

The research highlighted some areas that should be carefully considered when constructing an arena, which will help to reduce the likelihood of injury, and are listed below. It is also important to remember to ride your horse on a variety of surfaces, such as grass, tracks and tarmac.

Arena construction

  • Do use a solid base that drains well, such as hard limestone, under the riding surface.
  • Do make the base of the arena level or with a slight incline (1/100) to assist with drainage.
  • Do use the same base under the whole arena, especially if adding an extension.
  • Do ensure your arena drains adequately and evenly otherwise some parts may be a swimming pool and other parts may be too dry.
  • Do put an even thickness of surface across the arena.
  • Do make sure the arena surface is the same across the entire arena.
  • Do research the experience of previous customers and find out how their arenas behave in all weathers before committing to using any building contractors or suppliers.
  • Don’t put in an arena without a base or use an unstable base like crushed concrete
  • Don’t use different construction for different areas of the arena.

Arena surface

  • Do choose an appropriate surface for the type of riding you are doing: for example jumping and dressage need a more stable surface than Western reining.
  • Do choose a surface that can cope with the number of horses riding on it between levelling or maintenance.
  • Do use a surface that you can keep even across the arena.
  • Do use a surface that you have the equipment and time to maintain properly.
  • Do choose a surface suitable for the weather conditions of the arena location.
  • Do choose a surface that keeps the same moisture content in dry conditions, even if the actual moisture content has to be achieved by watering.
  • Do choose an outdoor surface that does not change dramatically in varying conditions.
  • Do be aware that your horse is more likely to slip on woodchip than most other surfaces.
  • Do be careful selecting the type of sand for your arena: use small angular grain (fine) sand for a more stable surface than large round grains of coarse sand which can give a deep and unstable surface.
  • Do use a layer of rubber over sand if you can, as this helps keep the sand moist and arena more even.
  • Do add fibre to a sand-based arena, as this can make it more stable.
  • Do remember that adding wax to a sand surface may help maintain moisture content, but should be suitable for the temperature range of the arena location.
  • Don’t ride in arenas where the surface is hard or very deep, if avoidable.
  • Don’t ride in arenas where the surface is uneven if avoidable.

Arena maintenance

  • Do level, harrow and /or roll your arena frequently using the appropriate type of equipment for the surface. The guidelines of the surface manufacturer should be followed, but depending on the type of surface and type of riding, an arena is likely to benefit from maintaining at least daily if approximately 20 horses are using it per day.
  • Do make sure that all parts of the arena behave the same and that corners do not get deep and unstable.
  • Do frequently level areas that are overused to make the entire arena surface uniform by harrowing and rolling each area as necessary.
  • Do move jumps around in the arena so that different parts of the arena get worked at different times.
  • Do use the appropriate type of maintenance for different types of arena surface. For example, a sand surface that becomes deep and unstable may need frequent watering and rolling. A wax coated surface that becomes hard or with hills and troughs may need deep harrowing.
  • Do use appropriate types of maintenance and surface for different types of sports. For example, for Western reining the arena surface needs to be loose and able to move so harrowing and levelling is likely to be more important than rolling and watering.
  • Do maintain the arena more frequently when it is used for lunging.
  • Do water a sand-based arena if it becomes dry and deep.
  • Do use a watering system that dampens the surface evenly.
  • Don’t water in patches as you get areas of puddles and dryness, increasing risk of your horse slipping and tripping.
  • Don’t forget that the more horses that use an arena, the more times it needs to be maintained.

Riding

  • Do ride on large arenas as much as possible.
  • Do ride all over the arena to help your horse’s coordination and balanced fitness.
  • Do use outdoor arenas to promote respiratory health.
  • Do ride your horse on a variety of different surfaces (artificial arena surfaces, grass, tracks, tarmac) but
  • Don’t work your horse really hard or fast on a surface that they are not used to.
  • Do train your horse on the same surface type you compete on.
  • Do take care when riding on an uneven or patchy arena surface as your horse can lose its balance moving suddenly from one area to another or struggle in deep corners.
  • Do move around the arena when lunging.
  • Don’t just ride on the track as it makes the arena surface uneven and increases risk of problems.
  • Don’t work your horse hard or long on a deep or slippery surface.

Article replicated with kind permission from the World Horse Welfare website.

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