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Rubber mulch has unique properties that make it an excellent choice as an additive to sand horse arena footing. It provides cushion to reduce stress and concussion on horse legs without sacrificing properties that provide stability and traction to a successful footing. It also helps suppress the dust that is created during use.
Constructing the footing system of an arena is a bit of an art and a science. We’ve created this guide to take you through each step of this particular arena project we worked on and provide a detailed overview of the process. It should be noted that horse arena construction varies quite a bit depending on the site, soil conditions, materials available in the region, and riding style the arena is intended for. The information below is based on our research for this project. There may be varying methods and opinions out there for building a riding arena. We don’t claim to be experts on the subject so it’s important to do your own further research for your project and consult an expert if needed.
Proper drainage is a key part of any successful horse arena. If water starts to pool then it will weaken the base layer and create a soft spot which will eventually create areas where base and footing have mixed together. Water is an arenas worst enemy so it’s important to make sure that water can escape quickly and doesn’t pool.
The first step is choosing the right location. If the option is available to locate the arena on a high point or an area that already drains well, you can avoid many drainage problems in the future. Of coarse for many properties this isn’t always possible. The project pictured above is a great example of this. There was only room for the arena in one location and that area received a lot of run off during a big rain. They had to take extra steps to divert water around the arena so that it could handle a big rain with out problems. Keep in mind when you select the site that their may be unique drainage issues to address that are specific to that location.
Once a location is selected the next step is to design a drainage system that can effectively evacuate water off and away from the arena. Because each site will have unique issues, you may want to hire an expert to make sure you’re coving your bases. Indoor arenas like this one are a little easier because the structure will keep it dry but you still want to make sure that run-off isn’t coming in from outside. For the rest of this section we’ll be talking about drainage for outdoor arenas.
Let’s start with the grade. When water hits the surface of the arena it needs to be encouraged to flow to the edges by a gradual slope. A common and effective way to do this is to grade it with a crown that slopes away from the center line of the arena. The slope should be enough to cause water to move and prevent pooling but not enough to cause a horse to be unbalanced.
Once a proper grade is achieved then drains will need to be installed along the sided of the arena to collect the water and take it away. In some situations you may want to consider a herringbone drain design. This would have drains running underneath the sublayers of the arena footing that feed into a main line that runs down the center. A herringbone design may be necessary if there is concern of water coming up from underneath the base layer when the ground is saturated or if there is concern that the arena won’t drain effectively enough with drains on the outside. This is the kind of thing that you’ll want to have a professional look at with you.
The base layer provides the foundation and stability for the footing. It’s very important to have a good base for a long lasting arena. There are several different variations depending on the region and discipline but they all start with a crushed screened rock which is compacted to form the hard base layer. In most cases the base material is sourced locally because it can get very expensive to have it trucked in long distance. It’s important to do some research and find out what material the local quarry has available and what the best option would be for your arena. Sometimes the best source of this information is other riding arena owners. They are often very happy to talk about what base material has worked for them and where they got it.
We went with a 5″ thick base layer. If the soil is soft underneath the base you may want to consider making the base a bit thicker. It’s also a good idea to extend the base layer beyond the fence by about 2 feet. This will allow the drains to be installed outside the fence and will also allow water to run past the fence and prevent the posts and kick boards from sitting in water and rotting over time.
Sand is the most common material to use with rubber mulch for arena footing but not all sand is created equal. The best sand to use is some type of angular sand. This means the granules aren’t round like river sand which allows them knit together a bit and makes the riding surface much more supportive and less slippery. Another important property of sand for footing is that it doesn’t break down over time. A sand that doesn’t have hard grains can start to break down over time and make it very dusty.
When adding rubber mulch to sand a good ration is about 2 parts sand and 1 part rubber mulch. For 3 inches of footing you’d go with 2 inches of sand and 1 inch of rubber mulch. The footing depth will be different for different applications. For example a jumping arena would need deeper footing than a dressage arena.
The mixture can be installed right on top of the base. An easy way to do it is to spread out the sand and then spread the rubber mulch on top and rake it in. The rubber mulch will generally rise to the top because it’s larger and lighter but a smaller rubber mulch grind (about 3/8” or pea gravel consistency) will mix in with the sand better.
The arena will need to be dragged regularly with some type of harrow. This will prevent the footing from compacting in high traffic areas and will also ensure that the rubber mulch is evenly mixed with the sand. For this arena they use a section of chain-link fence attached to a Hustler mower. The mower is designed for turf so it’s wide tires are easy on the footing and keep it from producing ruts.
The crown of the arena will cause the rubber mulch and sand footing to move towards the edges and thin out in the middle over time. One way to counter this is to drag with the harrow against the grade in the opposite way it naturally wants to move. This will help keep the depth even across the arena.
Watering the footing before riding will help the consistency of the footing and also keep the dust down. Sprinklers can be installed for this task or you can water it by hand for more even coverage.
We’ve included a few common arena sizes below for your reference. The size of an arena depends largely on the type of riding it’s intended for. For example if a rider needs to jump or would like to run barrels, you’ll need more space.