A round pen is an essential tool for horse training. It provides a controlled environment where horses can be safely worked. Many horse owners use a round pen for a variety of activities so considering the best footing option for you and your horses is certainly going to differ by individual. At Performance Footing, we are here to help guide that decision process, reviewing the many options and solutions that currently exist.

As you may know, the footing of your round pen plays a crucial role in ensuring your horse’s health, comfort and safety during training sessions. The best footing for round pen depends on a number of factors, including the type of horse, the geographical location, the climate, and the desired use of the pen. However, some general guidelines can be followed to create a safe and comfortable surface for horses. Let’s dive into the basics to consider.

The Importance of Good Footing

Good footing is essential everywhere your horse moves, but many ask us what are some of the key considerations when considering footing for your round pen. Below are items we often tell our customers to consider:

  1. Safety: A safe footing provides traction and prevents slipping, reducing the risk of injuries to the horse, such as tendon or joint injuries.
  2. Comfort: A comfortable footing cushions the horse’s feet and legs, reducing fatigue and strain during training or exercise.
  3. Performance: A well-maintained footing allows the horse to move freely and efficiently, enhancing its performance during training or exercise.
  4. Health: A suitable footing promotes hoof health by preventing hoof problems like laminitis or thrush.
  5. Durability: A durable footing withstands wear and tear from regular use, reducing maintenance costs and extending the lifespan of the round pen.
  6. Drainage: Proper drainage ensures that the footing remains dry and prevents the formation of muddy or slippery patches, which can pose safety hazards.
  7. Versatility: The chosen footing should be suitable for various activities, such as training, exercising, and turnout.
  8. Cost-effectiveness: The footing material should be cost-effective, considering the initial investment, maintenance costs, and longevity.
  9. Environmental impact: Eco-friendly footing materials minimize environmental impact and promote sustainable practices in horse care.
  10. Aesthetics: An aesthetically pleasing footing enhances the overall appearance of the round pen and contributes to the overall ambiance of the equestrian facility.
  11. Dust Reduction: Dust is an issue when you have sand or sediment based footing. No matter the geography, at some point the footing will get dry and dust and watering are considerations.
  12. Type of horse: Consider the breed, age, and activity level of your horse. For example, performance horses may need a firmer footing for traction, while horses with sensitive hooves may need a softer footing to prevent soreness.
  13. Climate: Consider the climate in your area. In wet climates, you’ll need a footing that drains well to prevent mud and puddles. In dry climates, you’ll need a footing that won’t become too dusty.
  14. Desired use of the pen: Will you be using the round pen for training, exercising, or turnout? Training pens typically require a firmer footing, while exercise pens may benefit from a softer footing. Turnout pens need to be durable and easy to maintain.
  15. Cost: Footing materials can range in price from inexpensive to expensive. Consider your budget and choose a material that is within your means. Be sure to consider the short-term and long-term benefits.

Providing a safe, comfortable, and durable footing in a round pen is crucial for the well-being, performance, and health of the horse (and for you). It also plays a significant role in preventing injuries, enhancing training effectiveness, and maintaining an attractive equestrian environment.

What are the Types of Footing for Round Pens?

Native Soil

Using the native soil is the budget-friendly choice for round pen footing, but comes with significant trade-offs. Pros include affordability and natural feel. However, cons are numerous: dust in dry weather, mud in wet weather, potential joint strain for your horse, and erosion concerns, making it only suitable for specific settings like well-drained areas with appropriate soil composition and limited use. Opt to use your native bare soil only after careful consideration and potentially as a temporary solution.

Grass Footing

Grass offers an aesthetically pleasing natural surface for your round pen, providing a soft landing and good traction for most activities. However, its appeal comes with significant maintenance hurdles. Pros include affordability and natural feel, encouraging hoof growth and mimicking pasture environments. But the cons are demanding: frequent mowing, watering to prevent dust and mud, potential unevenness caused by hoof traffic, stability concerns, and increased risk of mud in wet weather. Additionally, specific grass types and climates favor its success, and heavy use can quickly turn it into a rutted mess. Consider carefully if you have the time and resources to keep it in top shape before choosing grass for your round pen.

Sand Footing

One popular option for round pen footing is sand. Sand provides a soft and forgiving surface for the horse to ride on. With the proper type of sand structure and sieve, sand offers good traction and compaction. Making certain your sand is not round is key to maintaining stability. Over time sand does break down, causing it to be more rounded and unstable as well as contributing to more dust. Depending on the base you have, sand also allows for excellent drainage, preventing the surface from becoming waterlogged during wet weather conditions.

Crushed Gravel Footing

For crushed gravel footing in your round pen, consider size and stability. Pea gravel (3/8″ – 1/2″) offers low dust and good traction but can migrate and might not cushion enough for intense work. Also, not all pea gravel is angular in shape. Other crushed gravel comes in various sizes and is stable and affordable, but if it contains larger particles, it is harder on hooves and can contribute to stone bruising.

Opt for crushed limestone, often called screenings or decomposed granite, which provides good drainage and traction while staying softer than larger crushed rock. Remember, a base layer of larger crushed rock and proper drainage are key for any gravel option to support drainage. Good footing starts at the base.

Scrap Rubber Footing

While rubber footing chips offer excellent drainage, cushion, and dust control, concerns lurk beneath the surface. Potential metal content, strong initial odor, and latex allergies raise safety and environmental red flags. Opt for virgin rubber or certified metal-free options, and consider mixing chips with sand/screenings for affordability, though drainage suffers. Explore alternatives like eco-friendly FoamFooting or the rubber-blend Levitare, aiming for a balance between cost, safety, and performance.

Eco-Friendly Rubber

Repurposed foam options like FoamFooting, crafted from recycled yoga mats, and Levitare, born from plant-based derivatives, offer eco-friendly and budget-conscious alternatives. Forget metal concerns and latex worries. Mix these innovative options with sand for a perfect blend: the foam cells grip the sand for stability and rebound, while the sand provides drainage. Bonus points for Levitare – its clever cell structure locks in moisture, minimizing dust and watering needs. For a similar price as traditional rubber chips, embrace the sustainable, supportive, and dust-busting future of round pen footing with repurposed foam options.

Wood Chip Footing

Wood chip footing is an alternative option that can be used in round pens. It consists of small wood shavings that provide cushioning and promote good drainage. The biggest hurdle with wood chips is stability, both with shifting of the material in the round pen but different wood have different capacities to hold onto moisture or grow mold.

Dust is another major drawback. As horses move, wood chips break down, releasing dust particles that can irritate both equine and human respiratory systems. Additionally, wood chips decompose relatively quickly, requiring frequent replenishment, adding to both cost and maintenance burden. Ultimately, while wood chips might seem economical at first glance, their instability, dust issues, and short lifespan make them a less-than-ideal choice for your round pen’s footing.

Textile Footing

While synthetic carpet fiber textiles may initially appeal to budget-conscious horse owners due to their affordability and visually uniform appearance, several drawbacks require careful consideration before installation in your round pen.

Maintenance demands become apparent quickly, as specialized groomers or frequent manual work are needed to maintain and install the fibers. This adds to the cost and eats into valuable time.

Dust poses a significant concern, as aging and breakdown of the fibers releases harmful particles into the air, potentially impacting both horse and human respiratory health. Additionally, prolonged moisture exposure can lead to mold growth, creating further health risks and requiring additional cleaning measures.

Stability is another crucial factor. Loose fibers over time create uneven footing, increasing the risk of injuries for your horse. Furthermore, the durability of these textiles often falls short compared to alternative options like rubber or sand, leading to more frequent replacements and higher long-term costs.

Finally, the environmental impact cannot be ignored. Derived from petrochemicals and often lacking easy recyclability, these materials do not promote sustainability.

Fiber Additives

Choosing the right fiber additive for your round pen footing requires balancing performance with sustainability and horse health. Traditionally used plastic blends raise concerns about microplastic pollution and potential harm to your equine companion. Luckily, newer options like Noviun offer a greener and healthier solution.

Made from natural coconut coir, Noviun acts like tiny roots in the sand, boosting drainage and stability while remaining entirely plastic-free. It effectively tackles dust, provides excellent traction, and prioritizes sustainability, making it a standout choice for the eco-conscious equestrian.

However, traditional fiber additives often tell a different story. Blended with plastics, they contribute to microplastic contamination and raise health concerns. While they might offer performance benefits, the ecological and health risks can’t be ignored.

Before making a decision, prioritize microplastic-free options like Noviun, choose natural materials over potentially harmful chemicals, compare desired functionalities like dust control across options, and ensure your choice aligns with your environmental values by seeking biodegradable materials. Remember, investing in your round pen’s footing goes beyond performance – it’s an investment in the health of your horse and the planet. Choose wisely, for a better tomorrow.

Native SoilAffordable, natural feelDust (dry), mud (wet), joint strain, erosion$
GrassAffordable, natural feel, hoof growthHigh maintenance (mowing, watering), unevenness, mud (wet), climate-specific$$
SandSoft, forgiving, good traction, drainageDust (over time), needs maintenance, not all-weather$$
Crushed GravelStable, affordable, drainageHard on hooves (larger sizes), dust (some types), migration (pea gravel)$$
Scrap Rubber FootingExcellent drainage, cushion, dust controlMetal content risk, odor, latex allergy risk, mixing needed (affordability), alternatives exist$$
Eco-Friendly RubberSustainable, affordable, dust control, drainageRequires sand mix, new technology$$
Wood Chip FootingCushioning, drainageUnstable, dusty, decomposes quickly, not weatherproof$
Textile FootingAffordable, uniform appearanceHigh maintenance, dust, mold risk, unstable, unsustainable$$$
Fiber Additives (Traditional)Performance benefitsPlastic pollution, health concernsVaries
Fiber Additives (Noviun)Sustainable, natural, dust control, drainage, performanceNew technology$$$

A Personal Guide for the Perfect Footing for Your Round Pen

Choosing the right footing for your round pen is a multi-faceted decision, balancing your horse’s health, performance, your budget, and environmental impact. This journey doesn’t have to be overwhelming!

Remember, the “perfect” footing doesn’t exist, but the ideal solution for you combines the right mix of benefits and minimizes drawbacks. Consider factors like your climate, horse’s needs, activity level, and personal preferences.

Don’t let the options paralyze you! At Performance Footing, we’re dedicated to helping you find the perfect fit. Contact us for a free consultation at 877-835-0878. Our experts will delve deeper into your specific needs and explore all available options, including both our products and those offered by others. We’re committed to finding the best, most sustainable solution for your round pen, ensuring both you and your equine companion can enjoy it for years to come.

Together, let’s transform your round pen into a safe, healthy, and happy haven for your beloved horse. Call us today and take the first step towards creating the perfect foundation for your horse’s performance and well-being!