LiveryList Focus On… Maintaining Your Riding Surfaces

Posted on 19th February 2018

Offering your clients somewhere to exercise their horse is a bonus- whether its a flat bit of paddock or a fully fledged Olympic sized indoor arena. One of the most important factors is ensuring these facilities can be used as often as possible by clients, with a regular maintenance routine to keep them in tip-top shape. 

The most important factor is a basic check of all riding areas at the start of each day. Check for any issues with arenas- that fencing, access and lighting are in working order and that there seems to be no reason why the arena should not be in use. Even silly things like a dropped whip can pose a risk if it were to be broken underfoot or buried in the sand. If you are on a larger yard it is worth keeping a note of who and when has checked the arena.

The Basics for Arenas:

Levelling. Keeping the surface of riding areas level is one of the most important maintenance tasks. Regardless of the surface type, more often than not you will end up with deep corners, puddling, bare patches and a worn outer track if it is used frequently and never maintained. This can cause damage to horses using the area, and a risk of slipping. Especially if your surface has an underlayer of membrane it is easy for this to rise through shallow areas and be easily damaged, caught in hooves or allow stones and debris through to the riding surface if damage has already occurred.

As well as maintaining its level, maintenance such as harrowing will also reduce the compaction of the surface- especially if used a lot for jumping- and will increase the flexibility and bounce of the surface making it easier and safer to ride on. If your surface is a mix of materials harrowing will also correct the mix and prevent one material or the other becoming dominant on the top layer of the arena. Make sure areas are regularly levelled depending on usage- be it manually by a rake, or mechanically by a towed harrow. It is also an idea to have kickboards around the perimeter of the arena to prevent loss of surface when in use, being levelled or windy weather. This will retain the surface and ensure it is not kicked or blown onto neighbouring areas.

Poo. One word and you know what we mean. As well as potentially causing damage to the surface- particularly waxed surfaces- manure can make an unsightly arena and also cause bacterial growth and air quality problems. Ensuring any droppings are cleaned up should be a basic part of maintaining any riding surface. You need to be clear whose responsibility this is. Yours? The clients? Yard staff? Make sure the arena is cleared at least daily and more often if in regular use so it minimises the likelihood of the droppings being spread and mixed into the arena surface. Make sure there is poo-picking equipment readily available by the riding areas so it is a quick and easy task for whoever undertakes. It should also be considered to request horses hooved are picked clean before arena use to prevent contamination of additional manure from fields or stables.

Jumps and Poles. If one rider uses jumps or poles, do they need to put them away when they are finished or can they leave them as they are? Whose responsibility is it for tidying away the jumps and do you have a ‘jump store’? Especially if you have a mixed discipline yard, riders who want to practice a dressage test will not want to put someone else’s jumps away or weave in and out of a course of jumps whilst schooling. Not forgetting the effects that leaving jumps on the ground can have- especially to wooden poles, or the damage that may be caused if they are blown over or knocked down. The best solution is to have an easy to access jump store adjacent and accessible to the school where jumps and poles can be stored and then taken out as necessary for use.

Make sure each time they are finished, riders put the jumps away stacked securely so the school is clear for the next persons use. This is particularly important with jump cups and pins which could easily be separated and end up buried in the sand and cause damage to the membrane, levelling machinery or horse and rider.  No jump cups should be stored loose or on the ground and should always be stored pinned into a jump wing- even if not in use- or in a designated area such as a large bucket. When riders are taking jumps to or from the storage area, ensure they are lifted and not dragged along the surface which can make troughs or could damage the underlying membrane.

When in use, it is a good idea to not always position jumps in the same places, or leave them in one position too long, to prevent a build-up or compaction of the surface on takeoff or landing points. Ensure the jumps are cleared away and the surface regularly levelled to provide a level and safe surface ready to use for all disciplines. You should always check the jumps regularly and any damaged poles or jump elements should be removed or repaired as necessary to reduce the likelihood of further damage to equipment, horse or rider.

Fencing and Gateways. Make regular checks to the boundaries and entrances to the arena. Any fencing should be solid and secure, with no broken pails or nails sticking out that riders or horses could get caught on. Each post should be checked to ensure it is solidly in the ground. Ideally, for outdoor arenas, posts should be concreted in at a suitable depth and suitable anti-rot preservative applied to increase their longevity. Also checking that kickboards are in place to protect loss of surface and safety of horses.

Ensure any damage to the arena is reported and repaired as soon as possible to reduce the likelihood of injury or escape. Make sure gates are easy to open and do not need to be dragged along the surface or are too heavy so they are easy to open and close whilst leading a horse and, if possible, whilst mounted.

Mounting Block. In order to prevent riders from using your fences and gates as a mounting device, ensure a suitable mounting block is provided. Within the riding area is ideal so that riders do not need to leave the arena to re-mount in the event of a fall or dismounting to change jumps. This can be a simple block built device in the corner of the arena, or even something like a jump block, which is discreetly and safely stored to the side of the arena or accessible through the fence where it will not cause an obstruction and can be easily moved.

Lunging. On many yards, lunging is banned in arenas full stop due to the repetitive nature which could cause damage to the surface. However, this is determined very much by the behaviour of the horse and competence of the person lunging. A horse which is lunged in a controlled manner moving around the arena will cause far less damage than a horse who bombs round uncontrollably churning up the surface. It is an important request to make if lunging is permitted, for handlers to move around the school rather than fixed in one position, and to lunge both in a controlled manner as well as using a variety of speeds and circle sizes. This will reduce the likelihood of tracks being created and certain areas of the area being churned by repetitive use.

Loose Schooling and Turnout. This is a heavily debated issue. Some believe the accessibility to loose school young horses or turning horses out in an arena during inclement weather is a bonus whilst some yard owners would never dream of it. It really depends on the behaviour of the horses. Those who will charge round will certainly cause more damage than one who may mooch around calmly, and this should be a deciding factor. You ideally also need to ensure, if using for turnout, that no hay is put in the arena which could mix with the surface. You also need to ensure that any manure is removed quickly to prevent it being trodden in and spread across the surface of the arena.

Dust. Noone likes riding in a dusty arena and, largely, they are a thing of the past. However, in the dryest months, this can still be a problem. Unfortunately, the best solution to this is water- which costs money! Watering can either be done manually via a hose, or can be done automatically with the installation of timed sprinklers. For most the first option is best. It is best to water arenas during the morning or early evening, and to encourage riders to ride in the cooler parts of the day when the watering will be most effective. Again, regular harrowing of the surface will reduce the dust in part-sand based arenas by mixing the layer so the light sand does not rise to the top of the surface.

Roofs and Covers. A lot of indoor arenas and covered riding areas have been in place for a long time. Whilst checking the riding surface, how many think about checking the actual roof? It is worth carrying out a regular check of roofing structures for stability, and also to reduce the likelihood of leaks and damage from inclement weather which may cause an inconvenience to the rider and also cause damage to the riding surfaces. If any damage or leaks are noticed it is important these are investigated and dealt with as soon as possible to ensure the arena can remain in use.

Lighting. If you provide lighting for either an indoor or outdoor arena you need to ensure this is in full working order at all times. Make sure all installations are correctly done and checked regularly and ensure replacement of bulbs or fittings as soon as possible if there are failures. One way to increase the longevity of the bulb is to ensure that they are only in use when necessary, and not left on by staff or clients. If this electric a cover you cost or have you considered a charge for liveries (or a portion of their livery fee to contribute towards this?). Some yards have installed a meter for a per hour charge or £1-£2 paid for by the client which may also be an idea to save costs. Installation of roof lights or large doors can increase light to indoor riding areas during the day removing the necessity for so many interior lights.

Rain and Snow. Arenas, whatever the surface, should not be used in the snow. Using in the snow- even if it feels stable- can compact snow and push into the surface and create an ice block which can cause risk of clipping for several days after the snow has gone if the temperatures remain cold. Tracks that are harrowed will drain easier in snow and wet conditions due to the increase spaces and drainage channels between the surface materials. This will also reduce the likelihood of puddling.

Long-Term Maintenance. A riding arena surface will not last forever. The expected surface lifetime is around 3-20 years depending on the surface type before it will need some attention. This can be topped up or replacing the surface or, in more extreme cases, replacing the entirety of the arena drainage and membrane if necessary due to drainage issues or damage. Replacement of a surface can be a costly sum, especially for a facility that already exists. There are now some products on the market, such as Equimulsion, that can help rejuvenate existing surfaces by re-waxing or re-conditioning rather than the need to replace which can be more cost-effective and less disruptive to clients.

Other areas:

Round Pen and Lunging Areas. Instead of allowing loose schooling and lunging in the main arena, you could provide a separate lunging or loose schooling area such as a round pen. You would need to maintain the arena the same as described above by way of dropping removal and regular levelling but these can be constructed cheaper and easier than large arenas and removed the risk of damage from such activities being carried out in a larger area.

XC Courses. If you’ve schooling fences or are even lucky enough to have your own course, regular maintenance is also a must for the safety of both horse and rider. Ensuring tracks between fences are clear of debris, overhanging branches and of good going is a must, as well as checking the take-off and landing places of jumps are clear of compaction, mud, debris, damage or holes. The jumps themselves should also be checked for stability- especially after winter months where rotting or weather-related damage could affect the structure of fences. For portable fences, it is ideal to relocate them once or twice a year to prevent sustained damage to the take-off and landing points and also to site them in the best possible position in relation to ground conditions. Before anyone uses the course it should be checked in full and the entire course walked on foot to check for any damage or potential risks to both the fences and the route.

Off-Road Tracks. Some yards are lucky enough to offer their clients private hacking on their estate. This is a great bonus but still needs to be checked and maintained regularly. Access needs to be checked- such as fallen trees, damaged gates etc- as well as the condition of the ground. It should be checked every week or so on foot (if possible) and any potential hazards – such as particularly muddy or flooded areas- noted to clients so they can be aware and avoid if necessary.

Grass Riding Areas. Grass riding areas are commonplace at yards that cannot offer purpose-built arenas. To have the best use of this for as much of the year as possible, try to place this on a  well-draining area slightly larger than your average arena. This will ensure no overuse of the area and maintain its solidity in winter months. It is worth- if possible- relocating this as soon as damage or ‘tracks’ becomes apparent, especially if it is still to be used as grazing at a later point, to prevent damage to the underlying grass. It is also ideal to restrict use in winter months in wet weather to prevent the ground becoming too muddy and poached. It is also important o check for naturally occurring risks such as rabbit holes or molehills which can appear overnight and pose a risk of tripping or stumbling. If the riding area is adjacent to trees or hedges is it important to check regularly for any fallen items or overhanging branches which may hinder its use. Whether a permanent or moveable riding area, you should have solid and suitable fencing in place which will not pose a problem by riders or horses being caught or tangled up. Avoid the use of barbed wire, wire electric fencing or other thin fencing which may be hard to see. Ensure this is checked regularly.

You can find further resources and templates on this topic on the following YOH Resource pages:

Facility Planning and Management

Health and Safety


This information as provided above is intended to provide guidance and areas for consideration for those intending to enter into such arrangements, and is best advice to our knowledge at the time of publication following extensive research. Anyone proposing to enter into agreements, processes or actions based upon the information contained herein are advised to carry out their own due diligence to ensure the information above remains current and factual. 

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