The primary purpose of maintenance is to ensure that your surface is evenly distributed across the whole arena. This process helps keep the surface consistent in its performance by reducing the risk of over-compaction and unevenness whilst also ensuring that all the materials remain well blended.
If your arena surface becomes overly compacted due to a lack of maintenance, its ability to effectively absorb impact forces will be dramatically reduced. This lack of shock absorption can significantly increase the likelihood of your horse sustaining bone or joint injuries. However, a loose or ‘deep’ surface can often lead to soft tissue injuries, such as overstretched tendons or ligaments. In most cases, a loose footing is caused by a lack of irrigation, over-maintaining the surface, setting the tines of the grader too deeply or a combination of all three.
A good maintenance regime consists of more than just grading or harrowing your arena surface. You should aim to remove droppings or fallen leaves from the footing as soon as possible; if allowed to degrade, they will create dust that can cause the surface to dry out prematurely, particularly if your footing contains wax. It’s also essential to regularly inspect your surface, recording any inconsistencies or problem areas in a logbook. Ideally, this inspection should also include checking the depth of your surface at various points around the arena with a measuring stick. The results will indicate whether your footing needs topping up or requires any additional remedial work, such as re-levelling.
Maintaining Waxed Surfaces
Waxed footings generally require less maintenance than their non-waxed counterparts. Thanks to their wax element, these surfaces require little to no irrigation to keep them performing at their best. However, they may need some additional water during hot and dry conditions.
If not maintained correctly, a waxed surface is more likely to become over-compacted. If this happens, the footing will generally hold more water, which encourages further compaction and increases its probability of freezing during periods of colder weather.
If you find that your surface does become compacted easily, despite grading it regularly, try increasing the depth of your tines to allow the grader to penetrate deeper into the surface and create a looser footing.
Maintaining Non-waxed Surfaces
Unlike waxed surfaces, non-coated footings require regular maintenance to keep them sufficiently compacted. Most outdoor surfaces benefit from the UK’s frequent rainfall, yet they will still need additional water to keep them performing at their best, mainly when the weather is dry.
A non-waxed surface will need a dedicated source of irrigation, such as a sprinkler system, to help prevent dust and maintain a consistent footing. If allowed to dry out, the surface will become increasingly deep, and any fibre will migrate to the top of the footing.
If your arena surface is sand and fibre-based, we recommend harrowing it regularly using an appropriate grader. During this process, you should pay attention to the corners and outside track, which should help to prevent surface banking. It’s also important to grade using a variety of patterns and directions, remembering to remove jumps and other obstacles.
It’s highly recommended that you invest in the correct type of maintenance for your chosen footing, as this is an essential part of enhancing the performance and lifespan of your equestrian surface.
Graders can either be tractor mounted or towable and typically range between 1.5m to 3m in width. Both waxed and non-coated surfaces require a grader with height-adjustable tines and, ideally, a crumbler roller to both the front and back. It is also beneficial if the grader has a pop-out plate to bring the surface in from the kickboards.