Sand 101

Sand is the key ingredient in all good arena footing. Choosing the wrong sand creates problems and is very expensive over time.

Over 10,000 different types of sand used in the U.S. alone makes it very important to understand the sand’s qualities and not go with just a name. Geologists and soil engineers are employed for large projects like damns, highways and buildings. Our own soil engineer determines the quality and compatibility of our customers’ sand.

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What’s in a name?

There is no “Arena Sand”

Sand is the most important ingredient for an equestrian surface; however, not every kind of sand is suitable for riding arenas. Quarries across the country will have different names for their sands, and particle size, gradation, mineralogy, and shape will vary.

The qualities of your sand will greatly affect the performance of your surface, such as being tight, loose, or just right; soft or hard; and how much dust is produced. Becoming familiar with these characteristics will help you determine a solution for adding additives, improving an existing surface or building a new arena, and maintenance.

Be sure to use the recommended specifications and sizes to determine what sand you will need rather than the name of the sand, as “Arena Sand” could mean anything.

Kieshaufen mehrerer Sorten

Particle Size

Sand is a granular material composed of divided rock and minerals. Sand is classified by its size, rather than what type of mineral it is. Sand sizes range from 4.76 to 0.074 mm. It is smaller than gravel and larger than silt/clay.

Sand particle size classification
Sand size comparisons
Super Fine Silt/Clay

less than 0.074 mm
Sieve smaller than #200

Fine Sand

0.074 mm to 0.42 mm
Sieve #200 to #40

Medium Sand

0.42 mm to 2.0 mm
Sieve #40 to #1

Coarse Sand

2.0 mm to 4.76 mm
Sieve #10 to #4

Particle Grading

Sand gradation is the most important aspect of a sand for equestrian arenas.

Gradation is a representation of different sized particles and the percentage of each size within a sand. This affects how much the sand compacts or remains loose.

No graded sand with graphic

No Grading

When particles are the same size, sand will remain loose and feel deep.

Sand gap graded with graphic

Gap Grading

Sands with a large and a small particle will separate, becoming packed on the base and loose on top.

Sand well graded with graphic

Good Grading

A wide range of medium to small particles will help keep your footing firm, but not compacted.

Sand gradation is measured by vibrating a sample through a set of known mesh sizes (large to small). The percentage of sand that passes each numbered sieve is measured to create a sand gradation report. Higher sieve numbers equal smaller grain size, lower sieve numbers equal larger grain size.

Most equestrian sand suppliers will have prepared gradation reports for the different sands they sell.

Sand sieve screens with samples

Minerology

The type of mineral affects how the sand particles will hold up over time. When sand particles become small enough they turn into dust and become airborne. Quartz and Silica are commonly used for horse arenas because the hardness of the particle. Different regions of the country will affect what minerals are available

Particle Shape

The sand’s particle shape affects how the grains nest together. This affects stability underfoot.

Sand particle shape Round

Round Particles

Round particles create voids, which offers cushioning. However, they are typically unstable and can roll like ball bearings. This decreases stability and traction.

Sand particle shape Angular

Angular Particles

Angular particles have sharp edges and fit together tightly. This provides stability and traction, but angular particles can compact and become hard.

Sand particle shape Sub Angular

Sub-Angular Particles

Sub-angular particles have the sharp edges worn off. They will nest while still allowing some movement. This lessens compaction and provides traction.

Where does sand come from?

Natural Sand

Natural sand has eroded from mountain rock and is mined from where it was deposited. The host rock determines the exact mineral composition, but most sand is composed of silica from broken down quartz crystals. This type of sand is extremely resistant to weathering and breakdown due to its chemical hardness and will last longer as arena footing. These hard sand particles have been transported and tumbled by water, making them round or sub-angular in shape.

Manufactured Sand

Rock quarries crush rock into various sizes. The smallest particles are called fines and are sold as ‘manufactured sand,’ ‘man-made sand,’ ‘crusher fines,’ or ‘stone dust.’ These particles range from 5 mm to fine dust, are sharp, and will tightly compact if used alone. The mineral composition can range widely. These particles are not the hard quartz grains of tumbling river action, so they may be softer and break down to dust sooner. These sands have very sharp tendencies. A small amount of manufactured sand can be useful to add stabilization to rolling footing with very round sand grains.

Get Started

Many of our products can improve existing sand whether it’s too hard, compacted, dull, dusty, unstable, doesn’t hold moisture, and more.

Improve your existing sand, or talk to us before you buy new. We’ll guide you so you know exactly what to ask your local quarry.

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