Horse Arena Footing 101 | Performance Footing

Horse Arena Base 101: Understanding the Elements

Constructing any type of building or infrastructure requires a solid, stable base, and horse arenas are no different. An arena is only as good as and will only last as long as its base, which is why understanding the requirements for a good base is so important. Let’s explore the different sections in an arena, the different base layers, and what we offer.

What Are the Layers of a Horse Arena?

As you develop or refurbish your arena, it is important to keep in mind that there are three primary layers to address: the base, the subsurface, and the top layer. Each of these have different roles and vary in importance for your equine partners’ health.

  1. The Base: The base is arguably the most important layer of the arena, as it serves as the foundation. Most bases are made out of clay and vary in size depending on the conditions around the arena. Just as the foundation of a building is important to keep it standing for a long time, the base allows the footing in your arena to properly support your horses for a long period of time.
  2. The Subsurface: This section is usually made of sand or another similar, manufactured material. The subsurface is between the base and the top dressing, and oftentimes is simply an extension of the top dressing.
  3. The Top Dressing: This section should contain mostly sand, or some manufactured material, along with a small percentage of clay and silt. Most people refer to this as the footing layer.

What Is the Composition of the Arena Base?

Whether it’s an outdoor or an indoor arena, the base plays a crucial role in supporting the horses. Without a solid base, a horse could pierce through one of the upper layers and injure themselves, instead of landing on solid ground.

Base construction can be extremely expensive. Typically, this cost stems not from the materials themselves, but from the cost of both importing and exporting such large quantities of materials. According to horsetalk, even for the smallest arenas you will need at least 80 cubic meters of aggregated stone and dust, and most suppliers charge at least $15 per cubic meter.

To help you understand what it takes to build an efficient, long-lasting riding arena, here are the different layers involved.

The Sub-Base

When building your horse arena, you will need to start with the sub-base. To develop an effective sub base, we will need to excavate at least six inches of soil, leaving the area where you will put your arena several inches below the rest of the ground. This process is often referred to as boxing out. This sub-base typically goes on top of compacted soil from the site.

Before you even begin the construction process, it is essential that you understand your plan for drainage. Without efficient drains or runoffs, areas of your arena can become mushy, which can injure or inhibit your horse. For most outdoor arenas, you will want to build 1-2% crown in the middle so that the water flows down and out of the arena. For indoor arenas, including drains will help keep the water from harming the horse arena footing or base.  

Once you box out the arena area, you will want to install retaining boards. IGK says that retaining boards “have the job of holding the footing in the arena, and stopping it from migrating into the drainage outside of the arena or grass.” These boards, which prevent the base from shifting or washing away under the surface, allow you to maintain a consistent border and prevent your grass from encroaching on your arena or vice versa.

Aggregate Stone Layer

Once you have installed your sub-base, the next step is to install your aggregate stone layer. This is the most important part of the base that you are installing. These stones, which should be primarily sub-angular stones, can range in size from ⅛ of an inch all the way to 1 inch. Usually, you will make this layer about 2-3 inches deep. On top of the aggregate stone, you will have roughly 3 inches of stone dust.

All of these factors will vary depending on the area where you are building and what materials are readily available and affordable. Whether or not you are building an outdoor or indoor arena also affects your choices. Be sure to consult with an expert from the premier footing experts at Performance Footing or a local contractor who has experiencing building horse arenas.

Geotextile Fabric

While this layer is not technically necessary for the construction of the base, it is important for the maintenance and longevity of the base. This fabric typically goes between the stone dust and aggregate stone. Without some sort of fabric to inhibit them, aggregated stones from the previous layer can rise up and penetrate the top of the base and the footing. It can also prevent weeds and grass from poking their way through.

What Does Performance Footing Offer?

At Performance Footing, we understand the difficulties and costs associated with building and maintaining an excellent arena. From the horse arena footing to the base below the surface, each level can quickly deteriorate or change if not properly cared for. That’s why we have developed a variety of additive products, such as BaseCore and Geotextile Fabric, that help maintain the quality of your footing.

BaseCore is an expandable ground stabilization panel for soil retention of all terrains. This product allows water to move freely without washing out the material, which protects your top soil, footing base or arena footing additive. It provides significant benefits such as:  

  • Military-grade strength
  • Reinforces the ground to eliminate further erosion
  • Reduces the amount of fill needed to form a strong base
  • Easy to install without heavy equipment

We also offer geotextile fabric for ground stabilization, weed control and more. Non-woven geotextiles have historically been used for filtration and erosion control and have many other beneficial characteristics which work in combination with our BaseCore geocells. This fabric offers significant benefits for equestrian arenas such as:

  • Prevents the mixing of a subgrade and an aggregate material
  • Helps ensure the longevity of your arena
  • Helps stop the formation of holes or uneven foundations caused by temperature changes

If you are interested in utilizing one of our products to improve your horse arena surface or base, contact us today. We offer free consultations to help you determine your arena needs.

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