Another arena question 😉

I’m getting ready to build my first outdoor arena and I’m completely confused. I’m working on a very small budget, after a complete barn overhaul and a tough breeding season. We bought our place a few years ago and can tell once upon a time it was loved but after years of neglect, EVERYTHING needs TLC. We have an area that I believe used to be an arena. It has RR ties set in the ground every 8 ft, like they used to have panels up. It’s very level, drains well (never seen it puddle up) and almost no rocks bigger than 1-2 inches on the surface. My entire property is naturally sloped. I live at the base of some mountains out on the flat wind blown prairie in MT, where only dry land grass survives. So all the land out here has a natural grade to it, going down to the valley floor about 15 miles away. We don’t get much rain from June-Sept. The ground is hard as a freaking rock when dry. It’s most fine shale (1-3 inch fragments), a little clay and some soil. To those familiar with MT it’s the “hard pan clay” with lots of shale in it. To give perspective of how hard the ground is, a hand held auger won’t even scratch the top, even a skid steer attachment auger can’t do all holes. Like this ground is insanely hard. But when we get loads of rain, the clay mud gets really slick and will stick to everything but the ground is still HARD. But back to the arena lol. The area is 280x150. It’s overgrown with weeds and cheat grass. We keep it mowed really short for fire reasons. My question is, can I just put sand over this existing ground?? I priced out building a correct base and the cheapest bid was 17,000. I cannot do that for a couple of years and really don’t want to keep hauling out 5 days a week to ride. Do I need to pack the ground more?? Give me some ideas of how I can make this work. Eventually I want to have a nice slide track for my reiners but for now, just a safe place to keep them exercised and worked. Any and all tips, pointers, ideas, personal experiences welcome!!

That sounds like roping arena dimensions.
They would need panels as the arena fence needed to keep cattle in there.

Sounds like they may have been riding right on that ground as is?

Could you find who works in the local arenas where they have competitions and pick their brain, see what they tell you?
They may even be able to recommend someone to fix that for you on the cheap for now, then see where you are later.

Footing is very important for reiners once you add sliders and speed.
If not on the best footing, it is too hard on their joints.
Important for reining, more than most any other discipline requires, as you know.

Aw you describe your materials there, yes, you really need those couple inches of sand on top.
At least you have good drainage, that is a plus.

If you’ve had quotes, have you had someone out to look at the spot? I think someone with some arena experience should be able to look at it and say if it was an arena at one point, and the sand had just washed away/blown away. The x-ties lead me to believe that it probably was an arena, but good for what use I don’t know.

When it’s wet does a horse working on it punch through leaving big holes or does it stay mostly solid? When it gets standing water how fast does the water leave and does it firm up quickly?

It sounds like whatever they used as a base is still intact and working properly, but all the sand has packed down or gone to China. If you are on a budget and you are happy with what the base does when it gets wet then dries then I would just add sand and be done with it.

Western people mix sand with clay to give the footing more grip, but if you don’t drag it all the time it packs like concrete. So I wonder if that’s what happened. If true, I’d just leave it if you like it and throw sand on top.

I had several people look at my abandoned arena and they wanted to redo the entire base and make it perfect. Since it’s just me we worked on leveling out the low spots on our own by adding some extra base, which improved the standing water situation, and then we’ll add sand.