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Indoor vs Outdoor Horse Arena Footing: What You Need to Know 

By September 13, 2023September 18th, 2023No Comments

One of the most frequent questions we receive from clients is, “Is there a difference between footing appropriate for use in my outdoor riding arena and the footing I choose for my indoor?” The short answer is: no! In fact, most elite training barns pride themselves on having the same training surface across all their riding arenas. This ensures that equine athletes benefit from the same degree of support, cushion, and stability from their footing, whether they are schooling indoors, outdoors, or on a covered surface. 

ArenaAid Textile Footing Product is featured in Luke Dellmyer’s beautiful indoor riding arena

What is different about indoor footing versus outdoor footing is the amount of control managers have over the environment—namely, moisture. Maintaining just the right amount of water in an arena surface is necessary to ensure optimal performance from the footing. However, the best strategies to achieve this goal will be different for indoor and outdoor arenas. 

“Any footing can be the right choice for you, whether indoors or outdoors,” explains Heidi Zorn, Premier Equestrian president. “It is the type of base you have and how you maintain moisture that is different. Outdoor arenas need drainage capacity, and indoor arenas need moisture that will not freeze. If you properly prepare, treat, and maintain the surface, you should never have puddles or dust.”  

Keep reading to learn more about the difference between footing for indoor versus outdoor riding arenas.  

The outdoor dressage arena at Donato Farms features the Arion Ebb & Flow Base System and OTTO Sport Base Mats

Outdoor Arena Base Systems   

Outdoor arenas are subject to the effects of weather more directly than indoor arenas, and this is especially true when it comes to managing the impacts of heavy rain or similar weather events on your riding surface. If you live in a region with regular rainfall, your best bet is to build your outdoor arena on a base designed to encourage drainage. 

The most basic option to achieve this goal is a free draining base. This design includes a textile layer in between the sub-base and the footing material. For additional impact, consider installing OTTO Sport Base Mats beneath your footing; these specialized mats can both improve drainage and increase stability and shock absorption, creating a true all-weather surface. 

For maximum moisture control, the Arion Ebb & Flow Base System not only helps to divert water from the surface, but it also stores it beneath the arena for future use. When the footing begins to dry out, moisture is naturally wicked up from below, maintaining an optimal level of hydration in the riding surface.  

Any of these three base designs will help improve drainage on your outdoor arena, preserving your footing and getting you back in the saddle more quickly after a storm. But when combined with a Premier SportPro Arena Drag, managers can combat excess moisture even more effectively, by sealing the surface prior to heavy rain, then grooming the footing after. 


Horse Arena Construction
OTTO Sport Base Mats being installed in an indoor riding arena

Indoor Arena Base Systems  

Indoor arenas do not require a drainage layer in their base design, because managers can easily regulate the amount of water being added to the footing. Most indoors are built on a sealed stone base, which doesn’t require as much base material or as thick of a footing layer. However, in regions where temperatures do not fall below freezing, the Arion Ebb & Flow Base System can help provide moisture management for indoor arenas where water is piped from below. Indoor arena footing also benefits from OTTO Sport Base Mat features like superior stability and impact absorption. 

Planning to build a new riding arena? See our Indoor & Outdoor Arena Base Construction Plans 

The Premier Equestrian Water Wagon Trailer holds 550 gallons of water

Arena Hydration for Indoor & Outdoor Riding Arenas  

Both indoor and outdoor arenas will require the application of water to maintain optimum footing performance, but the frequency, intensity, and method of application will vary depending on your climate, time of year, type of footing, and budget.  

“People think indoor arenas are less healthy than outdoors because of dust,” says Zorn. “But with the proper sand, additives, and moisture, dust should never be part of the equation.” 

Many facilities apply water to their arenas using water guns or sprinklers (on ground or overhead); others may have a Water Wagon to help keep footing at the optimal moisture level. Arenas built on an Arion Ebb & Flow Base System will have an underground reservoir available to provide hydration, which can be filled either naturally or via a pump. Regardless of the method of water application, outdoor arenas in arid regions and indoor arenas everywhere can benefit from water-retaining additives. 

Magnesium chloride is a budget-friendly form of salt that wicks moisture from the air; when mixed with footing, it can help maintain hydration, reduce dust, and prevent freezing—which is extremely helpful for unheated indoor arenas in colder climates. Magnesium chloride works best in regions with humid air, and it isn’t suitable for use in outdoor arenas because it will be washed away in the first good rainstorm and can negatively impact vegetation. 

For equestrians looking for more environmentally friendly, non-toxic additives to help retain moisture, Premier Equestrian recommends Premier Slow Dust or Premier Hydro-Keep. These two unique, proprietary formulas work within your footing to attract and retain moisture. Premier Slow Dust uses a flocculation polymer to bind microscopic dust particles back together, making them heavier so they do not get airborne, resulting in less dust, greater water retention, and increased traction and stability in the footing. Premier Hydro-Keep is a highly absorbent polymer crystal that holds moisture when water is added to a surface; as the surface dries, Hydro-Keep slowly releases moisture back into the surrounding particles, reducing the need for watering by as much as 50%. 

horse walking on footing surface
Premier Equestrian footing products are designed to pair with specific types of sand

Footing Products for Indoor and Outdoor Riding Arenas 

The right footing product for your indoor or outdoor riding arena will be based on your discipline, volume of use, climate, budget, and type of sand available. All Premier Equestrian footing products are designed to pair with specific types of sand, but if negotiating this step is overwhelming, we also offer Premier Footing, a complete footing solution that includes both the sand and footing product pre-mixed and ready to install. You can also “try it before you buy it” by taking advantage of a Premier Arena Test Strip

We know selecting the proper footing product can be overwhelming, and that is why we recommend you contact a Premier Equestrian footing advisor to help you get started. We will do a free arena sand analysis of your existing footing and make recommendations specific to you and your goals. 

About the author
Christina Keim is a professional equestrian and writer based at Cold Moon Farm in Rochester, NH. Over the course of her career, she has worked as a barn manager, head groom, riding instructor, and collegiate equestrian team coach. In 2015, she founded Cold Moon Farm with the mission to promote sustainable living, conservation, and the highest standards of compassionate horsemanship. 


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