Rehabbing arena footing

Our arena has not been well maintained over the years, both through benign neglect and some odd ideas regarding additives… The footing is fine sandy soil, actually from the farm itself, and is about 40 years old at this point. For what it is worth, the soil in our area is described as orthic grey brown luvisol, and I assume that is relatively accurate for what is in the arena. Sand and silt mixture, drains well, but is definitely a bit finer than what you would usually find in a ring. Over the years, it has been oiled (mineral oil, I believe, definitely not used oil!), and also had magnesium chloride and calcium chloride added. At one point, the previous owner did some odd things like mixing leaves and shavings in, presumably to try to retain moisture? I am making it sound terrible, which is isn’t, but I want to be very honest about what I’m working with.

Obviously, if money was no object, the best course of action would be to pull it all out, consult an expert, and put something perfect, beautiful and expensive in. This is not in the cards this early on in farm ownership, but we would like to rehab what is there as best possible until we can afford something better. I have been pulling footing out from the corners and walls to the point where it is no longer ramped up, both by hand and using a skid steer. I am now left with harder spots where it has been compressed through use, as well as deeper, softer spots where horses turned a lot while lunging, or where fences were left set too long without footing maintenance (i.e. landing and take off spots).

I have slowly been filling in the lower spots to allow footing to settle, rather than dumping it all in at once and making a deep spot. The footing is not 100% level - there are still higher and lower spots. My thought is to level as best I can, then maybe roll it to compact and make sure I have the looser spots sorted out, then harrow well to give the top few inches some “floof.” Does this seem reasonable? I have access to a box scraper with or without teeth, harrows with teeth, a big set of traditional chain harrows, and the skid steer. I am willing to rent equipment if there is something that would be helpful to rehab, but am not in a position to invest in something for daily use.

To be very fair, the footing is pretty good to ride on right now - I do not have concerns about tendons, there are not any slippery spots, and it rides pretty evenly. I just want to make it as good as I can. The intended use is for hunter and jumpers, and probably no fences over 3’6" max, and about 2 to 5 people riding on it daily. If I could snap my fingers to improve it, the footing would be level, more consistent, with a big more spring.

Congrats on doing everything you can to identify conditions in your ring. One additional piece of info would be helpful (and you may have stated it but I missed it). Is your ring outdoors or in?

About 15 years ago we bought a place with an indoor that was about 15 years old. Original footing seems to have been screened dirt and shavings. Over the years the shavings composted into the dirt, but good to ride on as long as it was watered once a week to keep dust down. However, it was quite uneven with noticeable harder ridges. Not too bad for 30 year old footing but not great either.

What we did was borrow a tractor mounted rototiller from a farming friend, set it at 4 inches, and ran it around a few times in different patterns (straight lines, circles, diagonals). That broke up the harder spots. Then we York raked the heck out of it and cultipacked it because I prefer a firmer base with about 2 inches of looser material on top. (look up a cultipacker. Essentially a roller with ridges. Great piece of equipment!)

Since then we York rake and water it weekly and it has held up well. At one point I tried mixing in a bit of waxed sand and fiber footing, which saved me from watering for a whole summer but ultimately ended up looking like dust bunnies had attacked, and got dusty when heat melted the wax off. So I wouldn’t recommend that as an option.

I’m looking forward to reading more suggestions. I’m not in a position to remove and replace all the footing either, so I’m happy to learn! Thanks for starting this topic.

I would consider to get a grader in there and push half the footing over to one long side.
Then work on leveling the base, water and pack it.
Graders today have a laser that would help get an indoor level, outside whatever grade is desired.

Once that half is done, get the footing over to the other side and do the same on the base on the other side.

Once that is done, spread the footing again all over.
If more footing is desired, add and spread as necessary, then drag often until new footing gets incorporated.

That all, if the arena had good care, may keep one working fine, just add a little footing every decade is all it should take.

If your base is not level, or close enough to level that is adequate, that is really the worst situation. And probably does need to be fixed before you start figuring out what you want to add on top. And it isn’t cheap to fix this, but it may be an unavoidable expense at this point. If the base is put in right, right at the beginning, it tends to hold up well with basic care, but if it’s not done right originally, it has to be redone to make it right.

If you want to try to avoid redoing the base with a professional with heavy equipment and crushed gravel and compacter, you could try the rototiller, and use it to try to reset the compacted base to being more level by removing the high spots, lowering the level of the base to become level at that lower level. Without removing the top layer entirely, it will be tough to do this correctly. If you can get your base level, by the sounds of what you have as a top layer, the addition of some rough angular sand may be helpful, because it sounds like you have good organic and clay components there already. The heavier sand will add weight and grit to the footing to give traction, which would be helpful IMO. It is the mix of the three components, plus water and working that gives you that nice spring with good support and nice traction. Clay, organic, and sand, on a level compacted, non slippery base. As each component wears out and disappears, you add a bit of what you need, when you need it. It doesn’t HAVE to be expensive to do this, if you have a good base.

Thank you very much for all the input. The arena is an indoor, completely enclosed. Sorry for not mentioning that initially! Because of that, we try to maintain the footing through means other than strictly watering, as we are in Southern Ontario, and have freezing winters.

I am thinking that come spring when riders move outside, we will tackle the footing by pulling the top layer back to see what is underneath. I am hopeful that the base can be salvaged with careful work. From what I can tell, the lower spots are not necessarily holes in the base so much as just less compacted areas. The spots where people stand to lunge or are not spots that are consistently where people turn or jump, for example, have gotten harder and higher in contrast. Fingers crossed that we don’t find a disaster when we pull the footing back! It feels like ripping up carpet - will we find beautiful original wide planks, or something awful purposefully hidden away? :wink: