In 2014, The Swedish Equestrian Federation sponsored and co-produced with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences an extensive guide on equestrian surfaces.
Many equestrians discuss and want an answer to what is "the best" riding surface. However, several factors should be used to decide on the best materials and construction for your arena. Furthermore, similar surface properties can be obtained with different materials.
Water is one of the most important influences on the properties of an arena surface.
It is the properties of the surface rather than the material it is composed of that affects the horse. The properties of an arena will change based on wear, maintenance and environmental factors.
The risk of injury on a surface is to a large extent determined by how it is used. The intensity, speed, duration, frequency and type of work are all as important as the properties.
Traditionally jumping and dressage riders have slightly different expectations and demands of a surface. Experience from international events including championships such as the Olympics or World Cup Finals with Dressage and Jumping held in parallel show that the two disciplines can share the same arena. Jumping riders expect a surface with more impact hardness which can be achieved mainly through rolling the surface and increasing moisture content by more watering. Dressage riders typically want a looser, softer top layer. This can be achieved by harrowing the superficial layer.
A riding surface is only as good as its maintenance programme. Maintenance free arenas do not exist. A maintenance program needs to be designed with climatic and use patterns in mind. Provision needs to be made for suitable machinery for regular and frequent harrowing, application of moisture, diligent collection of organic litter (leaves, manure etc) and annual renovation. The aim of a maintenance program is to :
- Keep an even distribution of the top layer across the whole arena
- Maintain the mixture of different materials in the top layer so that the top layer maintains its intended properties
- Prevent compaction of the top layer (harrowing and dragging, alternating between driving clockwise and anti-clockwise)
- Maintain correct and consistent moisture levels
- Protect the base layer
- Keep the arena free from manure and other organic material such as leaf litter and weeds.
A well constructed and maintained arena surface should last up to 20 years.
Reference: Hernlund, E., Lönnell, C., Roepstorff, L., Lundholm, M., Bergström, L., Andersson, A-M., Carlsson, B., Fogelberg, F., Krügel, F., Söderberg, M., Hoberg, O., Clayton, H., Egenvall, E., Hobbs, S-J., Mahaffey, C., Martin, J., Murray, R., Northrop, A., Peterson, M., Thomason, J., Tranquille, C. & Walker, V. 2014. Equestrian Surfaces – A Guide.
You can read Equestology's more in depth summary of Equestrian Surfaces – A Guide. here.