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As seen in Your Horse and Country, June 2018

Whether a private yard, busy livery yard or competition venue, we are using our arenas more than ever, expecting the surface to suit a range of different disciplines and be ready to use whatever the weather. A winter spent avoiding soggy, waterlogged and frozen arenas, can soon be replaced with dry, deep and dusty surfaces come spring. A surface that isn’t performing, is at best, annoying and disruptive, and at worst, has the potential to cause injury.

Poor surfaces can damage soft tissue, joints, muscles and hooves, as well as respiratory and vascular systems. A quality riding surface is necessary to maintain a horse’s safety, longevity, and performance.

Wood chip/ wood fibre

A natural surface, wood fibre which has been produced especially for equestrian surfaces consists of smaller wood particles, whereas woodchip can be anything out of a timber yard’s chipper. Environmentally friendly and economical, wood surfaces are however the least durable and have the shortest lifespan out of all the different types of surfaces currently available.

Pros

  • Eco- friendly if the wood is not treated with chemicals or colourings, however, avoid using recycled wood which may contain nails, wire or staples. Cheap offcuts will breakdown quickly and may block drainage, splinter or become slippery.
  • Versatile. Can be used both indoors and outdoors, as well as for gallops, lunge pens and turn-out paddocks.

Cons

  • Ground works are needed. Like traditional sand and rubber schools, a drainage system and membrane are required.
  • Slippery.Wood surfaces can become very slippery when wet, and deep when the wood begins to rot.
  • Lifespan is roughly 2-6 years depending on use.

Rubber

Economical, suitable for all equestrian disciplines, rot-proof and highly shock absorbent, rubber is still a popular surface choice.

Pros

  • Long lasting alternative to woodchip. Pretty much indestructible if properly maintained.
  • Low maintenance. Once a week with a flat back leveller will ensure an even rubber coverage, however regular top-ups will be need.
  • Weather resistant. Less likely than woodchip to dry out, become waterlogged or freeze.  
  • Good for jumping on as horses are less likely to skid on landing and the ‘spring’ of the rubber reduces the risk of concussion injuries.

Cons

  • Not the eco- friendly choice. Traditional rubber surfaces can take more than 50 years to decompose. Good news for the rubber in the arena, however, rubber crumb migrates easily.
  • Regular top ups needed. Once the rubber topping has dwindled, the sand underneath may freeze in the winter, become deep in summer. Without the ‘spring’ of the rubber, the sand will also start to ‘ride dead’ taking the energy out of the horse’s stride. Deep, dry sand will cause horses to travel through the surface rather than over it, increasing the risk of injury.
  • Rubber needs a sand base and drainage system to make sure it doesn’t puddle during the wetter months.
  • Disposal. If you are wanting to change the surface in future, bear in mind that as rubber is not biodegradable, it can be expensive to get rid of.

However, a new generation of synthetic rubber crumb, containing fibre, and laid on top of silica sand has removed some of the downsides of choosing a rubber surface. Still rot proof, shock absorbent and all- weather – but with the addition of the fibres which prevents the surface from drying out.

  • Adding fibres means moisture is retained, reducing surface movement and required maintenance.
  • Clever membranes. New products, such as Equitex- Drain System Membrane allows arenas to be constructed without the need to dig drainage ditches. Made from multiple layers which contain an internal band of drains, the system provides a cost-effective option for well-draining land.

International Event rider, Ben Way, uses a synthetic rubber crumb and silica sand surface, on top of an Equitex- Drain System Membrane.

Way says: “The membrane was put down over eight years ago – directly onto a mown grass area, with silica sand and synthetic rubber placed directly on top. We work at least 12 horses a day on it, including jumping, lunging and loose jumping. I am very pleased with the surface and how well the horses move and perform it.”

Sand (waxed silica sand with fibres)

Sand combination such as sand with a rubber topping or waxed sand with fibres mixed through are popular choices. High- quality, waxed silica sand mixed with fibres, is currently the surface of choice for most competition venues and professional yards.

Pros

  • Secure footing. By replicating the natural qualities of turf by mimicking the binding ability of top soil, sand and fibres minimise kickback and provide a secure footing which allows horses to travel over the top of the surface rather than through it.
  • Problem solving top-up. Sand with fibres can transform most types of poorly performing surfaces, rejuvenating loose surfaces which dry out easily and ride deep.
  • Versatile. Top-up or complete surface, sand with fibres can be used for outdoor arenas and on gallops. Ideal for indoor use due to being dust free, the natural light colouring also visually brightens enclosed arenas.  
  • Minimal maintenance. Silica sand and fibres move less meaning less maintenance is needed.  

Cons

  • Abrasive. Sand, as soon as it is laid, will begin a natural process of grinding against itself. Through the action of the hooves, it will gradually become finer and the surface progressively deeper. Adding fibres will prevent movement in the surface and slow down this process.
  • Not a complete solution. Sand without the fibres can freeze in winter, and if unwaxed, sand will also need to be watered in dry weather for optimum performance.

Carpet

Carpet surfaces are versatile and suitable for most disciplines, in all weather conditions.

Pros

  • Environmentally friendly. Most carpet surfaces are recycled from surplus and waste carpets, saving large amounts of carpet fibre ending up in landfill
  • All-weather. High quality carpet surfaces will not freeze, rot or blow.
  • Versatile.Surfaces, such as Equestrian Direct’s Flexiride can be used on both indoor and outdoor surfaces, added to most types of existing surface as a top-up or if you are building your arena from scratch, laid directly on top of a simple, stone drainage layer, negating the need for additional materials and labour costs.
  • ‘Cushioning’ ride. Carpet surfaces offer a springy, forgiving feel and making them ideal most disciplines.
  • Low maintenance.Surfaces made from carpet require very little maintenance to remain in peak condition. A weekly harrow to ensure even coverage is often more than sufficient.

Cons

  • Lifespan. Thelifespan of carpet surfaces can differ depending on their original use. While they may look similar, a surface recycled from industrial sources will last significantly longer than domestic carpet. Surfaces made from virgin material (surplus clean, industrial quality carpet) such as Equestrian Direct’s Flexiride, also offer UV protection, for even greater longevity.
  • Quality. Surfaces made from used, domestic carpets maybe contaminated with unwanted extras such as carpet grippers and wire. Poor quality carpet can also become dusty when used in indoor schools. Whereas larger pieces of carpet will not lay correctly, giving an uneven surface.
  • Foam. Beware of carpet surfaces which contain high quantities of foam. The foam will quickly break down, meaning a surface top-up will be required just a few years after installation.
  • Can be costly. Surfaces made of carpet offer a wide range of benefits, but only if they are good quality and if you have enough surface to cover your arena. Beware of companies offering cheap carpet surfaces. If something looks too good to be true, it usually is. Poor quality carpet will break down quickly, and too sparse a covering will not give you the benefits listed above. Making an investment now, will pay off in the long run.

Problem solving an existing arena

Reconstructing an arena is a costly business, but there are other options available for improving what you already have.

A short-term solution to a deep, sand-based surface is to level and water the arena, replacing the moisture which has been lost due to the warmer weather. However, the beneficial effects will only be temporary. Surface top-ups are a quick and cost-effective solution.

A top-up of a sand and fibre surface, such as Equestrian Direct’s TurfFloat works by rotating additional fibres into the existing surface, meaning more moisture will be retained, as well as vastly improving the top ‘riding’ layer.

A top- up of a multi-purpose surface, such as carpet based Flexiride, can be used to improve footing and retain moisture on the majority of existing surfaces. The carpet-based surface also works as an insulating layer preventing the surface from drying out in the summer and freezing in winter.

Choosing a surface provider

Purchasing new or topping-up an arena surface can be a high cost investment, however choosing the cheapest option could prove costly down the line.

  • Years of experience. Look for a company who has been around for a while, and likely to still be in business in the next few years, should you need them.
  • Social media reviews are a great place to start when researching a surface company.
  • Customer service. Give the office a call to discuss what they would recommend for your specific circumstances. Some will send out surface samples if requested.
  • Try before you buy service. Equestrian Direct offer this service at their Warwickshire base. For customers who are based outside The Midlands, the company will find more local examples of their products for you to visit.

Equestrian Direct provides top quality riding surfaces to suit all budgets and requirements nationwide.