The horse arena is a place where horses and riders spend a great deal of time. Many times, the horse is bored in an attached facility, meaning the air quality of the arena directly impacts the air quality your horse breathes while eating, resting, and sleeping.
This closed environment creates a unique problem: sand and silt kicked up throughout the day hangs in the air, resulting in poor air quality and a higher potential for respiratory distress. While initially it may seem like a minor inconvenience, the health ramifications to you and your equine companions could be incredibly severe.
To combat this, equestrians have found many solutions to keep their arenas healthier and cleaner– keep reading to find out which strategies might be right for you.
How Much Dust is Too Much Dust?
Here, your eyes are your most useful tool.
There is no hard and fast rule to determine whether the dust level in your arena is harmful, there are noticeable signs in the barn that indicate whether more rigorous dust control is needed.
First, take time to examine your horse and their stall. Signs of dust overload include visible silt on and around your horse, especially the nostrils, in addition to cloudy water, dust covered hay, feeding trays, and blankets.
Second, for barns that are attached to an indoor arena, check how long it takes for dust to re-collect between cleaninging. Ideally, it will take a week or more for dust to collect on surfaces away from your arena– if you notice dust collecting rapidly in anywhere from a few rides to a few days, added dust control is imperative for the health of your arena.
Last, be mindful of how easily dust is loosened from your arena footing while you are riding. If there is a considerable amount of dust even from light riding, it may indicate that your arena footing would benefit from dust control options.
Health Hazards of Dust Exposure
So what are the potential hazards of having excessive dust? Mainly health concerns that will affect both you are your horse.
Dust particles are small. They are kicked into the air during your ride and stay, suspended, for long after you’re done. In lesson arenas, this is even more of a problem as the arena substrate is constantly being agitated, stirring up new dust with each lap.
Many riders believe that a little dust in their indoor arena is normal. While this is technically true, the threshold where dust becomes harmful is lower than many initially believe. This is because they underestimate the large volume of air they breathe over the course of a ride.
For horses and people alike, inhaling this many particles is a gateway to respiratory infections, coughing, and small bacteria finding a way into the body. Remember, arena footing is a mixed material– its not unusual for manure and mold particles to get pushed into the air along with sand.
For dusty arenas, it is particularly important to keep watch on horses who are over the age of 6 and previously presented with heaves (a non-infectious respiratory condition). Horses who fall into this category are at increased risk for an uptick in symptoms or recurrence of prior ailments if they are exposed to airborne dust particles.
Dust Prevention Methods
There are several well known tricks to attempt to manage dust levels in an indoor arena. Keeping the sawdust stall substrate dampened along with hay and other materials can help, but it never fully eliminates the problem.
Arenas with poor drainage, keeping the main riding area damp may lead to troubles with shifting ground materials and poor ground support. Furthermore, dampening the arena footing is a temporary solution at best. The water will evaporate, often leaving the arena footing dryer than it was before and necessitating more frequent waterings. Over the long term, this can actually make your dust problem more severe in addition to necessitating premature footing substitution. Finally, many smaller or personal arenas do not have access to water trucks found at larger establishments, making irrigating itself difficult.
For instances where traditional dust prevention is not enough, there are several substrate options available.
Low(er) Dust Footing Options:
For individuals who are due to change their substrate or are looking for a new footing material, there are several low-dust options on the market. How well these materials actually control dust and how accessible they are, however, varies widely based on region and budget.
1. Wood Shavings
While wood is one of the most common footing additives to help retain moisture, it’s riddled with problems that will eventually create more just in the long-term. Initially, the wood shavings retain the water in an arena due to their high absorbency. Unfortunately, the material is prone to heavy deterioration once dry, creating tiny particles of wood dust that can get into your horses lungs.
While this springy material has many upsides, it is somewhat particular and not a good fit for all arenas.
Normally sourced from car tires, crumb rubber footing is best for arenas that will either not be utilizing water (and the materials are incompatible) and are not used for sports that require a great deal of spinning, such as barrel racing.
An interesting product currently on the market called FoamFooting™ takes the resilience, durability, and temperature resistance of laminated foam and creates an extremely versatile footing made for all arenas. This material is similar to that of a shredded yoga mat, giving it even traction as it mixes and integrates with your existing footing.
4. Wax-Coated Sand
Like rubber, wax-coated footing materials are not ideal for every arena, especially those that are exposed to high heat levels which would compromise the coating.
In colder climates, wax-coated sand is a good option for those with larger budgets who want to stop using water on their arena entirely.
5. Polymer Coated Sand
Another option that is more on the expensive side, polymer-coated sand offers a heavily cushioned footing material. The added weight from the laminated polymer surface makes this an essentially dust-free footing option as the particles are too heavy to remain suspended in the air.
Using a Dedicated Dust Suppressant
More recently, there are newer solutions to keep dust down that not only work better than generally dampening the environment or using a substrate additive, but are just as safe and eco-friendly for both horse and rider.
Our favorite option in this category is DustPunch, an ecogel additive that is applied directly to your footing to help it retain moisture.
DustPunch works by bonding to the substrate and slowing down the evaporation of water. This is why the first application of DustPunch is applied to your footing while it is damp, while the second application is mixed in with your next watering. This method cuts down on watering needs by over 50%, is eco friendly, and is safe for both your and your horse.
The largest benefit for DustPunch, in addition to its safety, is this remarkable ease of use. When watering requirements seem to go up again, a small dose of DustPunch is added to the water. Then, you water as normal. This not only saves water, but it saves product as it is highly effective and designed to be diluted.
Finding Your Solution
When looking for the best arena solutions, it’s often helpful to speak person-to-person with individuals who not only know their products, but who share the same love of questrial activities as you do.
This is what we strive for at Performance Footing— a family business of knowledgeable individuals who are passionate and experienced in the equestrian industry.
Have a question? Don’t hesitate to reach out and we will help point you in the right direction at (877) 835-0878.