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Suggestions for fixing a slippery outdoor ring

I’m not looking for experts to suggest what I did wrong or critique, just some ideas from people who ran into the same problem.*

I recently put sand down to make an outdoor ring and am looking for some suggestions. I had an area of land that was in corn for several years beforehand. It is really good soil with high OM and somewhat high clay content. I leveled and packed it to create a ‘base’ and put 2" of arena sand on top. Before the sand was added, it was hard as concrete and drained really well, so I thought I wouldn’t have too much of a problem. However when I added sand, the clay underneath became very very slippery and is unsafe to ride on. When doing any type of sideways motion, their feet will slip out beneath the sand and skid on the clay. I think the sand ‘insulates’ the base in a way and traps moisture in the clay, as it is still rock hard where there is no sand in the same area. Overall the area drains amazingly well and there are no puddles, wet spots or obvious drainage issues (we just had 2 weeks of straight rain and it looks beautiful still).

The options I’m deciding between are a) pulling the sand back and adding stone dust to increase structure and stability as a sub-base. b) people have suggested adding a few tile drains underneath might be enough to pull the moisture out of the clay and decrease the slipperiness. c) if there’s something else someone would recommend.

I would like to do it as efficiently as possible (would like to keep a low budget but also want something safe. We have our own skidsteers, tractors, tillage equipment, etc so labour/rentals isn’t an added cost)
Located in Ontario

The problem isn’t the clay being slippery, it’s the clay being hard. Sand on concrete is a notorious road hazard. It’s like a loose towel on a wood floor, neither is a problem individually but they don’t grip each other at all.

You need to come up with some way to get your top footing (sand) to grip a little with whatever is below it. Either by changing what’s below it (pull the sand out, add a layer of gravel, put the sand back) or…I’m really not sure, some kind of magic.

Also, watch out when it starts freezing. The harder the clay gets the more slippery things will be.

What kind of sand do you use? River sand (round) or quarry sand (angular)? If it’s river sand/round sand, that’s your problem.

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I’ve definitely considered both above. I agree Gamma, the sand just moves around on top of the compact ground but their hooves also pull up quite a bit of wet clay as well. Gloria, I ordered subangular sand but what came was more round and beachy than I would have liked. I know round rolls too much and acts like marbles, so not ideal.

I thought about removing some sand and adding stone dust to mix with it and give it some traction, but still think the clay will slip out from under that too unless I put a true compacted layer down. Thoughts?

You did not want critique of what you did wrong - maybe not “wrong” so much as, “not enough” of. 2 inches is not much when you don’t have a “real base”. The horses are pulling up clay because you did not put a base down first and 2 inches is not enough.

The base is the most important part. Without the base you run into issues as you have, and eventually the additional deposit will just mix with the base when it is that little (2 inches). Clay is a poor base. It is stilt-like and can hold water, compacts, and does not offer much traction as you’ve found.

If it were me I would pull the sand aside and put down a thick layer of stonedust (4 inches minimum). I would not do gravel if this is low budget, because while gravel is excellent for drainage and great with the right additive/footing, if you are on a budget you wont be able to add the appropriate depth of additional base (usually a solid compact layer of stonedust over the gravel).

If this is a long term project, it is best to get the base perfect because no amount of fill or footing will ever hide an imperfect base. After you put down the base , allow the stone dust to settle for several months, and then put the sand additive down.


Can you get a small amount of stone dust and run some experiments in the corners? I’m guessing that you probably can’t texture clay enough to grip sand with just a small amount of stone dust, but I’d be happy to be wrong. I’d try at least 1) a full layer of stone dust compacted with sand on top, 2) a thin layer of stone dust with sand on top, 3) stone dust mixed with sand, 4) stone dust mixed with sand and compacted with more sand on top.

We had a similar problem in an indoor arena w a compacted screening base. The sand rolled like ball bearings. We took the sand out, put in two inches of screenings w an inch of blue stone product ( no idea what that would be in your area), mixed it, and now it’s fabulous. I think it would be similar to # 3 above. Adding that inch may keep them out of the clay base. Good luck! Footing can be such a headache.

Based on what you said, “Before the sand was added, it was hard as concrete and drained really well… However when I added sand, the clay underneath became very very slippery and is unsafe to ride on,” I think your problem really is your sand, and not your base. The concrete consistency base is the ideal, and exactly what you want. However, imagine putting marble balls on top of your concrete floor, and try to do any athletic activities on top of it. Horses weight more, so the sheer they put on the ground becomes even greater than just you running on your marble balled cover floor.

If I were you, my main focus would be to increase grip. I would try adding screenings (or something similar), something that is very grippy to mix in with your current footing, assuming your current sand has some sort of grip. If the current footing is quite round, I am afraid you will need to replace it entirely, as you may not be able to add enough screening to achieve proper grip. I will be vary cautious the amount of new material you add in. You don’t want footings that are too deep. 2~3" when all is done is what I would aim for.