In an ideal world, we would all school and exercise our horses on turf, as this is the best and most appropriate surface for equines to work on.
However, turf requires huge amounts of care and maintenance in order to keep it in optimum condition, and it is simply impractical for schooling and jumping as it simply cannot cope with the heavy use involved, particularly given our unstable climate.
The subject of equestrian arena footing is therefore of the utmost importance when planning a schooling arena.
Types of Arena Footing
Traditionally, arenas were constructed of sand, as this tends to give a smooth and level surface.
Silica sand is the material of choice for arena construction rather than builders’ sand, and although it can be used alone, the best results are obtained by mixing it with some other material, usually fibre or rubber chips, as this provides better support, spring and longevity.
Fibres work best in conjunction with sand, providing good grip and traction for the horse’s hooves. Rubber is another popular equestrian arena footing, although it needs to be laid on a silica sand base to provide the best levels of comfort and support.
Finally, there are wax-coated surfaces, which are particularly suited for outdoor use, as they require very little in the way of maintenance and can be used throughout the year with little risk of freezing in very cold weather.
Which Type of Equestrian Footing Is Most Suitable?Everybody’s needs are different, so your choice of arena footing will be based on your particular circumstances. Your budget will probably have the greatest influence on your choice, but it’s important to balance long-term costs against the initial outlay on your surface. Wood chip used to be an extremely popular arena surface, thanks to its low cost, but as many users found, the life of a wood chip arena is extremely short, and the need to keep the surface topped up quickly caused this option to fall out of favour.
Sand is often cited as being the lowest-cost option, but sand on its own degrades over time as the particles grate against each other, so mixing it with some other material gives a surer footing and increased longevity. However, it is prone to flooding in periods of very wet weather, so it needs suitable drainage channels and regular grooming to keep to its best.
Rubber is a popular choice amongst riders, as it’s the most comfortable surface to fall on to, but it has a tendency to ‘ride deep’ and needs to be layered over a properly constructed base of silica sand to be most effective.
Wax-coated surfaces are considered to be the gold standard of arena surfaces, thanks to their longevity and low maintenance requirements. These ‘all-weather’ surfaces won’t create dust or become heavily compacted, and they don’t need much in the way of topping up either, making them the most ideal equestrian arena footing for a wide variety of circumstances. In fact, experts tend to agree that wax-coated equestrian surfaces provide the next-best thing to a turf arena, with none of the need for ‘managed rainfall’ that most other surfaces require.