Why I Have No Sense of Humor About Arena Footing.

I have no sense of humor about arena footing. None.

Let me start here: I don’t consider a plowed up area in the pasture necessarily the same as an arena with footing. A plowed area is kind of like chocolate chip cookie dough, and an arena with footing should be more like lemon meringue pie.

I’ve apparently failed to explain this clearly enough to the tractor guy I hired to spread 50 tons of sand. He left the sand 8″ deep on the center line and no sand at all on the rail. Given a chance to fix it- my base got disked up on the rail, and the center line got even deeper. Not rideable, but at least it was expensive.

I am replacing the footing in the outdoor arena here at Infinity Farm. I started in February. It doesn’t have to be this difficult.

Maybe I have bad contracting karma. Two years ago, I hired a trucker to haul in several loads of sand. Oddly, I can tell the difference between sand and fill dirt -with cans and wire and trash in it. I’m no doormat, I complained mightily.

The trucker wore a denim shirt with the sleeves cut off- it might have fit him in high school. Ultimately, I realized he was the kind of man who probably had a hand gun and wouldn’t be afraid to use it on a loud-mouthed woman. I took the moral high ground and shut up.

I suppose the good news, other than surviving the confrontation, is that fill dirt blows off quickly. In no time at all, I was hiring this current tractor guy, and hence, the reason I have no sense of humor about footing.

When I am being a trainer/rider, I require good footing to keep my horse sound and comfortable. Not too deep, not too shallow. Just right for this particular horse and discipline. All I need is a compacted, level base with no pits or ruts, and good drainage. Some expensive, softer footing on top- it can’t be that hard… Bad footing is a good reason to move a horse, so I’m pretty humorless when it comes to needing a good working arena and it should be included in the high price paid for board.

When I am being the facility owner, I can’t win. It’s my job to have the very best footing -if anyone ever agrees on what that is- and then care for it all day long. I’m forever raking, watering, harrowing, primping. But even if I’m over-protective of my footing, it’s never quite right- too deep here and not enough there.  Lucky for me, I can pay for all of this with the vast piles of money I make boarding horses. (Again, no sense of humor.)

Finally, there’s the horse’s side. First, these large animals have proportionally tiny feet. Second, they were never designed to be ridden. Third, nothing else matters.

Footing matters a lot to Magic, a very sweet Quarter Horse owned by a past client. Sure, he was a little down in front, with a long back and his toes turned in. He has a touch of arthritis and probably did more than his share of stumbling and tumbling in younger days. It’s a good reason to be cautious. But Magic is a great partner with alot to offer. He has the ability to glide effortlessly forward in good footing- a joy to ride. But uneven or slick footing makes him nervous, he loses balance and can even look three-legged lame. Magic has no sense of humor about footing either.

What is true for Magic is true for all horses, regardless of age or breed or physical condition. Confidence and balance are crucial for training to progress, and that starts under the hoof. Like any other athlete, a horse has to be able to trust the ground under his feet.

So, Mr. Trucker, with iffy confirmation yourself- “How about a trot lengthening on my un-paved, uphill road- pick up your feet around those potholes! Skid back down and careful through that wash-boarded part.” And with a tap on the hind, “Pick up your feet, Big Fella, more forward this time, relaxed and happy!”

“How’s your sense of humor?”

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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Comment by vickie lawson on May 23, 2012 at 4:56am

OMG! I hate arena woes!  I have them too! So I don't have an all weather arena, rather a fair weather arena!

Comment by Anna Blake on May 22, 2012 at 10:44am

The arena is 20 meters by 60 meters, regulation dressage arena size. 50 tons is less than 2" of footing when spread over the area. (1 cubic yard= approx 1.7 tons.) It does add up fast, but when first built, I hauled in over 70 tons to start. AND you are so right about taking it away being difficult, that was the dilemma with tons and tons of nasty fill dirt- sold as sand! Lots of opportunity for eye bugging if you ask me. Thanks for commenting- footing is important.

Comment by wildehex on May 22, 2012 at 10:25am

My eyes bugged out at 50 tons...omg.  One starts with an inch/maybe two (about 10 at the most).  It is easier to add, but taking away is difficult.  And nothing is worse for horses legs than too deep.

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