As we head into spring and start using our outdoor riding rings again we need to make sure that they are prepared along with the equipment used to prepare them. Arenas take a beating from snow, ice, rain, and wind, so it’s important to create an optimal riding surface by harrowing and conditioning the arena before anyone uses it.
Ensure that the teeth on your harrow, drag, or groomer are either replaced or turned around for optimal cutting ability. Then tighten bolts, grease moving parts, and straighten anything that has been bent. When you’re ready to hook up your equipment to your tractor make sure that the lift arms on the tractor are level.
Adjust the tines or teeth so that they are approximately 1” or more lower than the blade or roller depending on the depth of the sand in your arena. Making sure that the tines aren’t set too deep is important to avoid grooming into the sub-base material. If when you’re grooming you start to hear scraping sound (steel on gravel), stop immediately and heighten the tines or teeth. When starting to groom your arena, alternate between driving in small circles, big circles, figure 8s, and serpentines. You want to fill in the areas where the footing is low with footing from areas where it is high. If you’re using a three-point hitch mounted machine, lift it up and back into the corners, then lower it and drag the raised footing inwards. When you have some build of sand on the drag try to move that extra material into the lower areas.
Sand Footing: A ring with footing made of a hard sub-base with sand on top is the easiest to condition. Sand moves and can easily be taken from high spots to fill in low spots. System Equine’s Track and Ring Conditioner works very well for sand applications. It has a spring tooth tine on the front with a blade and a grade bar that floats on the footing instead of the blade being a cutting edge. It’s very easy to use and comes in both a pullbehind model and a three-point hitch model. The three-point hitch model works better for getting material out of corners and away from wall edges. The pull-behind model is great for people with less grooming experience, as all you have to do to get going is back into it and attach one pin. Lots of adjustments are required at first, but after most people find the adjustment that works for them they find that they never have to adjust it again.
Fibre Footing: If you’ve invested in fibre footing for your ring then your arena maintenance routine will be very different. Fibre doesn’t tend to move a lot and the equipment used for grooming it will need to fluff and put down the material in the same spot. Rigid cutters or single spring tines with wide spacing between the tines or cutters are typical for groomers designed for this type of footing. On the back of the machine is a mesh wheel to fluff up the footing. There are some adjustments to be made at first, but fibre tends not to migrate as much as sand, so the goal of the process is more to fluff up and smooth out the depressions created by horses’ weight. Ensuring that the fluffing is consistent across the entire footing surface is one of the main challenges with this type of footing during the grooming process.
The length of time you spend conditioning your arena and how frequently you will need to condition it will depend on a number of factors, including how often the arena is used, the quality of the footing and sub-base, the type of riding or training the arena is used for, and whether or not horses are turned out in the arena. Taking a little extra time to groom your ring and doing it a little more frequently will benefit your arena, the horses, and the people riding in it.
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