Is Grooming Overrated? We Don’t Think So.
Even with the best sand and footing additive, proper maintenance is vital to the success of your arena and to the performance of your horses. Regular grooming, or dragging, will help eliminate divots and inconsistencies, and will help build confidence in your horses.
Grand Prix rider Sahar Daniel Hirosh explains, “When an arena has hard spots, soft spots, and different depths of footing, the horse is always questioning and not trusting himself. This creates tension and he will hold back his performance to protect himself. Having a surface that has firmness, cushioning, rebound and grip will enable the horse to develop proper fitness and confidence without having to worry about falling or an injury.” At Premier Equestrian, we believe that understanding your sand and footing is the first step to helping you better maintain an optimal surface for your horses.
Understanding Your Footing
One of the first things we analyze in an equestrian arena is the gradation of the sand particles. This refers to the range of particle sizes. A well-graded sand will have a combination of different sized particles. The variation of small particles will fill into the voids between the larger particles, stabilizing the surface from shifting and rolling. When sand has no grading, or is gap graded, you will have a severe separation of layers that are difficult to mix, and the surface can be very loose and unstable.
What does particle size have to do with grooming?
Lack of a grooming program enables the different sand particle sizes and additives to separate into layers. Vibrations and movement cause a phenomenon known as granular segregation, or “The Brazil Nut Effect”, where the largest particles end up on the surface. Watch this video for a great explanation.
Imagine a container of cereal. Initially your bowl is filled with consistently-sized pieces, but near the end of the box the pieces get smaller and smaller.
Your arena is like that container. Due to constant vibrations and movement on the surface, the small particles will settle through the voids of the larger particles toward the base, while the larger particles will migrate toward the top of the surface.
When the particles separate, the top layer can become unstable and the lower layer may compact. Regularly grooming your arena combats the separation of layers and keeps particles and additives evenly mixed.
Footing additives create a superior surface by enhancing sand qualities. Each material making up an additive has a specific function, and they are designed to be well incorporated into the sand. Grooming prevents footing additives from becoming separated from the sand. Without proper mixing, the mechanics of the footing matrix and the quality of the surface are compromised.
Water adds beneficial stabilization and grip, keeps dust out of the air, and most importantly acts as a binder. Think back to granular segregation, or the cereal box. Vibrations shake smaller particles down which in turn push larger particles up. Keeping the surface damp when grooming will help the sand and additives stick together so they blend appropriately. Even without an additive, sand arenas will always perform better when watered.
Grooming Equipment & Patterns
The equipment used to maintain your arena will have a direct result to its long-term performance. Older styles of equipment like chain drags, or drags with only straight teeth, will not support proper mixing of the sand particles and don’t work with textile additives. In designing our line of groomers, we’ve included adjustable features that will mix, condition and finish an arena surface.
What’s the best pattern? No pattern! Just make sure you get all the areas. Changing your grooming pattern each day will help the surface to stay level and make sure all the particles are well mixed throughout. Use variations of circles, straight lines, and changing directions. By doing this you can alleviate rail ruts and high and low spots that can be damaging to your arena base as well as your horse.
- This will depend on how much traffic you have on your arena. As a rule of thumb, daily grooming is best. However, if there are only a few rides each day, then every other day may be sufficient. If there is no use in the arena, the footing should still be groomed at least once a week to keep it primed.
- Arenas with textile additives will require a consistent dampness to keep the sand and textile properly combined. Watering should be done daily, or at least on an as needed basis.
- Always remove organic material (manure, urine and leaves) from your arena. As it breaks down it will create dust, introduce bacteria and change the consistency of your surface over time.
Weekly Maintenance (Deep Conditioning)
- If you have a footing additive, digging and mixing a bit deeper once a week will help maintain a proper blend. Hand raking the corners, edges, or hard to reach spots are also a good weekly practice.
- If the arena hasn’t been used or groomed in several days (or longer) a more in-depth conditioning session may be in order before it is put back to use.
- On the other hand, if the arena has had a day or two of heavy use, we recommend doing a re-conditioning session.
- If your arena has jumps, move them around and thoroughly condition the take-off and landing spots.
Yearly Maintenance (Flipping)
- If your arena has settled over a long period of time, or if regular maintenance has not been performed, then it can be beneficial to have the surface “flipped” once a year. This involves scraping up the footing above the base or base mats and flipping the sand and footing to re-blend the surface.
- Examine the quality of your sand and footing additives. Sand breaks down over time and creates dust. You may need to incorporate some new sand and/or refresh your footing additives.
Grooming… It’s far from overrated
Great arena footing doesn’t come from just installing new sand or a brand-name additive. You wouldn’t buy the horse of your dreams and then just let him sit in a stall, would you? Creating an in-depth arena grooming and maintenance program is the best way to make sure that you are not just getting the arena of your dreams now, but also for the years to come. We strive for optimal longevity and performance from our surfaces, and good arena maintenance is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your horse.