The animals using your arena are valuable, and footing plays a very important role in your horse’s health and welfare during training and pleasure riding. Good footing also encourages your horse to perform well, with more energy and elasticity. Poor footing is dangerous and can impact your horse’s well being and cause them to move timidly or react more aggressive, therefore it is important to have a premium riding surface.

The goal for any horse owner is to provide a uniform riding surface on which a horse can perform at its best. Your arena must have a resilient non-concussive surface, providing good traction and protecting the horses’ legs from shock and injury. For overall safety and health, it should also be a dust and odor-free environment, thus reducing any respiratory problems for both horse and rider.

Arena soil normally consists of four basic components: sand, silt, clay and organics. The relative proportion of these ingredients determines the overall characteristics of your footing. The greater the clay, the more dense and tighter your footing will be and conversely the greater the sand percentage, the looser the footing will be. Organics will either loosen or cause the footing to compact, depending on the size and age of the material.

How an arena is built depends greatly on the type of native soil you start with and the type of riding you plan in your arena. Also, whether the arena is outdoor or indoor, the drainage requirements and the material you plan to use for footing, etc., will effect how you should build your arena.

An arena should be constructed on dry, well-draining ground. It should be level, yet with a light grade to allow rainwater to pass through the surface soil and flow off the base. And the base should be hard packed similarly to the density of concrete.

The riding surface should be between two to six inches deep which will provide your cushioning effect. Surfaces consist of different mixtures of sand, silt, clay, topsoil, sawdust, straight sand and artificial footings.

Anyone can create an ideal footing by blending the proper mixture of sand, silt, clay and organics and having enough time to maintain the field’s moisture (between 8 – 14%) and condition (dragging the mix and smoothing the surface). Additives provide a simple way to modify and improve your arena.

The most common arena footing problems are hardness/softness and dust. Hardness is associated with joint & ligament problems and excessive wear on the rider and your horse. Hardness readings can be measured by using a Clegg Impact Tester, which measures the rate of deceleration when an object hit the ground. Hard surfaces, where the rate of deceleration occurs quickly, have little give and do not absorb the energy of the impact. Softer surfaces absorb more energy and have a more gradual impact to loading sequence, resulting in a less-abrupt deceleration and lower risk of injury to the horse’s legs. Footing that is too soft or deep can also create undo stress on your horse’s tendons and ligaments.

Dust is derived from the type of surface material you are using, dirty imported material, broken down organics or additive and by your water practices. Dust can bother respiratory and vision in both the rider and the animal.
Crumb Rubber

Waste tires have been a disposal problem at landfills, have housed mosquitoes and snakes, and are extreme fire hazard. But properly cut up, tires can provide a quality amendment for your arena footing.

Rubber functions primarily to improve porosity, decrease the bulk density (weight per cubic foot), increase the cushion, reduce compaction and improve drainage. It has a long life in the footing and can extend the life of sand footing by decreasing abrasion. Rubber cannot perform well if it is applied to a surface material that has been degraded through excess wear and tear. A degraded sand is one that has an increase in the amount of fines in the sand. These materials limit the effectiveness of the rubber.

There are a variety of rubber footings available made from products such as sneakers, golf grips, conveyor belts, and lacrosse balls. However, compared to tire rubber they are lighter weight and tend to blow or wash away and will break down over time.

Ground up rubber has unique characteristics that makes it a valuable amendment to your existing arena, weather it be indoor or outdoor, or sand or soil.

  • Low freezing point: will help keep your arena rideable in colder weather.
  • Low density: will keep the rubber from settling. If you add sand in the future the rubber will not disappear.
  • Low thermal conductivity: will keep it cooler in the summer.
  • Low vapor transmission: will help reduce evaporation from your arena footing and reduce dust.
  • Resilient/Elastic: the rubber particle acts like a shock absorber; absorbing the concussion shock and creating a softer more pleasurable ride. The crumb rubber will not compact and so will help keep the rest of the footing from compacting fast or as hard, thus reducing muscle strain, minimizing injuries your horse’s legs and back and allows for an increase training time.
  • Square/Rectangular Shape: The shape of crumb rubber allows the particle to improve drainage, yet allow water moisture to be retained along the rubber’s surface to help reduce water requirements and dust.
  • Inert: the crumb rubber will not leach any contaminant into your soils and will be harmless if ingested by your animals.

Water Resistant & Non-biodegradable: crumb rubber will not absorb water nor does it break down into dust like wood chips, straw, manure or other Organics. Crumb rubber will last for years (10-60 years).

Rubber cannot perform well if it is applied to a surface material that has been degraded through excess wear and tear. A degraded sand is one that has an increase in the amount of fines in the sand. These materials limit the effectiveness of the rubber.

The United States Dressage Federation, (Underfoot, 2000 Edition) has recommended that a riding surface should never contain more than two inches (four pounds per square foot) of rubber. A minimum volume is about 1.5 pounds of crumb rubber per square foot in three inches of freshly washed, angular sand. Any less and you will loose the maximum benefits of the ground rubber, and any more than 4 pounds per square foot and like any other deep footing, you create an environment for strained ligaments and tendons. It is suggested to add 3 – 5 pounds per square foot to modify your surface when you are adding the crumb rubber to natural soils or deeper sands.

Each specialty wants something slightly different in the riding surface. While a jumper needs traction for the take-off and cushioning on the landings, a dressage horse needs firmer support, as well as resiliency to push off the ground. The performance preferences will influence the depth of the surface, as well as the volume of rubber used.

Michael Plumb (Michael Plumb’s Horse Journal, November 1995) has stated that “Our favorite arena surface is a rubber and sand mix, and we recommend stable owners investigate this possibility for their arenas. We find rubber-sand footings offer a more consistent surface than other surfaces. We feel this footing blend is an excellent shock absorber that reduces arena surface hardness. Plus, arena maintenance is less than with many other surfaces.”

Be aware that all rubber contains latex, and those riders with sever latex allergies should be notified if rubber is in the footing.

In summary, tire rubber reduces dust, need less watering, is heavy enough not to blow or wash away, will not biodegrade, is non-toxic, requires little maintenance, reduces concussion to horses’ legs, provides a more softer riding surface, and allows you a more longer more pleasurable ride. For over ten years, tire rubber has been purchased by federal, state and country agencies for playground surfacing, soil amendments, equestrian arena footing and even as a substitute for gravel in septic tank systems.
Grass and Rubber

Ground up rubber can also be used to radically improve turf arenas. REBOUND Soil amendment is a mix of crumb rubber and compost and is rototilled into the soil to radically reduce soil compaction, improve drainage, reduce concussion shock and promote a healthier and deeper grass root systems. CROWN III Topdressing is a rubber product used above the surface, on the grass, and protects the crown of the turf from extensive wear as well as reduces concussion shock. Both are patented products and need to be purchased by a licensed distributor.

Contributed By: Brad Price