Rain or Shine
Premier Equestrian offers arena advice for California’s wild weather.
California has been known to have some extreme weather. From torrential El Niño rains to persistent state-wide drought, the weather in California is a challenge when related to equestrian arena maintenance. Add to that the California water restriction laws scheduled to take effect in 2023 and the challenges arena owners face in terms of water are real, expensive, and daunting. Proper arena maintenance includes water management, whether you’re draining water away or putting water on the surface. This article will look at the challenges created from too much rain or too much shine and some strategies to handle the flood or the dry dust-choked parch.
For arena footing to function at its best, sufficient moisture is essential. Too much water makes the surface un-ridable, too little can leave the surface deep and dusty. Properly maintained footing complements equine biomechanics by providing shock absorption, support and stability. Keeping just the right amount of water in the surface is critical for success.
Heidi Zorn, president of Premier Equestrian, North America’s leader for equestrian surfaces, was asked about how to deal with excess water and arena drainage.
“In any horse arena it’s the base that determines and affects drainage. Options range from a simple compacted base to arena drainage mat solutions. Compacted bases drain water off to the side; it’s slow and may wash away some of the footing with it. Mat systems, like OTTO Sport, drain the water vertically into a drain layer then into pipes. This allows the arena to be used immediately after a rain event compared to the traditional compacted base that may take days to dry out.”
OTTO Sport Base Mats
Riding in heavy rain is possible with OTTO Sport base mats.
OTTO Sport makes mats that are particularly suited for California rainfall. Installing OTTO Sport base mats will create a true all-weather riding surface. Each OTTO Sport Mat, one square meter in size, is comprised of drainage holes, water cups, several heights of traction knobs and locking rings. 252 holes in each mat let excess water flow through to a drainage layer beneath, the water flows away leaving the footing saturated but still ridable. Puddles and mud will no longer be an issue, even after a heavy rain. At the same time, each mat’s water retention cups hold up to one gallon of water (1,200 gallons for a standard dressage arena), which helps to ensure that the entire arena surface remains consistently hydrated when the sun finally comes out.
“OTTO Sport mats are amazing,” says Zorn. “We installed them at Arroyo Del Mar, Steffen Peters’ farm, because they need an arena that’s available every day, rain or shine. Before, they used to tarp the arena when rain was forecast, it took hours and made the arena useless. Now, with OTTO Sport arena mats they never have to tarp, and the arena can be used even when it is raining. It’s a very effective solution for too much water.”
OTTO Sport Base Mats are so effective that last season they were installed in the International Arena at The Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (WEF) located in Wellington, FL.
International Arena at WEF – OTTO Sport base mats installed with Premier ProTex footing product.
Premier Ebb & Flow Base System
The Ebb & Flow system – showing the layers. Installed by Olympia Footing, LLC.
Another effective solution for rain management is the Premier Ebb & Flow System. “The Ebb & Flow system is great for handling rain but is also effective for keeping water at the surface,” continues Zorn. “Our Ebb and Flow system works in rain and shine. The system maintains a reservoir of water under the footing. When it rains the system pumps the water out, keeping the footing consistent and ridable. When it is dry the reservoir hydrates the footing from below. It’s all automatic and all very effective.”
For those with a serious commitment to managing
water resources efficiently, the Premier Ebb & Flow System is a unique and effective option for conserving available water, ultimately leading to greater ease of arena maintenance and lower water costs.
The Ebb & Flow system provides consistent hydration of the arena surface from below; moisture is wicked up through the sand to the surface, effectively delivering moisture on demand. An electronic control panel monitors water levels, which can be fine-tuned to the centimeter. The system automatically releases excess water (such as after a heavy rain) and draws more water in as needed.
This base system consists of a liner and a pipe array, which is connected to both a water source and the electronic control. The pipe array is then covered in sand, followed by your footing of choice. Alternatively, OTTO Sport Mats may be installed between the base and the footing, providing a true state-of-the-art riding surface.
Dust in the Wind
On the other end of the California weather spectrum is drought. The result of drought is obvious: water restrictions, high water costs, and low water flow. Water is one of the main issues when it comes to arena maintenance and performance. When arena footing is dry it loses its support, body, and traction. Strategies for adding and retaining moisture in an arena are in high demand. California has passed water restriction laws that will affect the supply and cost of water for all people and industries beginning in 2023.
“There are things you can do to keep water in the arena,” says Zorn. “Each one has tradeoffs. The very first thing is to look at what’s in the footing. Some sand holds water better than others. Also, adding synthetic fibers and textiles can help retain moisture. Then, there are products you can add that will help retain moisture.”
SlowDust is another Premier Equestrian product that helps during dry times by providing dust control. This product uses a flocculation polymer to bind microscopic dust particles together. To give an example, flocculants are widely used at water purification facilities, where they attract not just particles such as sand or debris but also potentially dangerous organisms like bacteria or protozoa. When clumped together by the flocculant, these now larger particles can be readily caught by water filtration systems.
SlowDust offers a similar effect to riding arenas. All arena sand, over time, will degrade into smaller and smaller particles due to the stresses of use; these particles contribute to increased dust. Dust particles are charged to a negative state. When applied to an arena, the positively charged flocculant polymer in SlowDust binds the dust particles to create a unified particle that is too heavy to be airborne.
Dust can be controlled with SlowDust.
SlowDust application has the added benefit of improving traction through particle stabilization. Similar to Hydro-Keep, SlowDust will reduce the need for watering by about 50%. It comes in a 55-pound bag, which covers 15,000 square feet of arena surface. SlowDust is easily applied with a fertilizer spreader and is safe for use both indoors and out. The polymer will degrade more quickly in direct sun, so users should expect to reapply every one to two years for an outdoor arena and every two to three years for an indoor.
Premier Hydro-Keep is one of the products that can help to retain moisture and reduce dust in riding arenas. Hydro-Keep is a polyacrylamide crystal with tremendous absorptive qualities—it can absorb as much as 20 times its weight in water. One pound of Hydro-Keep can absorb 40 gallons of water.
Polyacrylamides are more common in daily life than you might think; they make diapers absorbent and are used in agriculture. Hydro-Keep is safe for humans and horses.
HydroKeep absorbs and retains water.
When Hydro-Keep crystals get wet, they expand by absorbing the water. Over time, as the soil surrounding it dries, the crystal contracts, releasing up to 95% of the water it contains. This flow between expansion and contraction of the crystals actually helps reduce soil compaction, an added benefit. While Hydro-Keep won’t eliminate the need to apply water to an arena surface, its ability to absorb water molecules and release them over time can result in an average 50 percent reduction in water use.
Hydro-Keep is supplied in 55-pound bags, which will each cover 6,900 square feet of surface area. It is easy to apply and can be combined with other additives for enhanced water retention. Hydro-Keep may be used indoors or outdoors, where it is non-toxic for animals and the environment. On average, one application lasts about three years.
One of the most affordable options when it comes to preserving existing moisture within footing is the application of magnesium chloride. This form of salt is readily available at most major home/garden centers or wholesale distributors and can be applied with a fertilizer spreader, then groomed into the surface. Magnesium chloride draws moisture from the air and pulls it into the footing, thereby helping with dust control. Its chemical composition also makes magnesium chloride effective at preventing the formation of ice; therefore, it is a popular choice for moisture control at facilities located in colder climates, when supplemental watering is not possible.
However, magnesium chloride does have its limitations. While magnesium chloride is less corrosive than its cousin, calcium chloride, some animals still find it irritating to the skin, particularly on the lower limb. Further, its ability to draw moisture can have a negative effect on equine hooves; owners often need to treat animals with a farrier-endorsed hoof protectant. Finally, magnesium chloride is only appropriate for use in an indoor or covered arena, as even a moderate level of rain will wash it off the surface and into the surrounding watershed.
No matter your budget, there is a solution to your arena’s moisture maintenance needs. The experts at Premier Equestrian, North America’s leading supplier of high-quality footing additives, arena groomers, base mat systems and arena consultation, are here to help you determine the best fit for your facility and your wallet. Premier Equestrian products are in use from the most elite venues to private arenas all over the world, and the staff is proud to use its advanced knowledge of equine biomechanics and footing to serve their customers’ needs.