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What Makes "Good" Footing? My Answer May Surprise You!

Alright... before my babes at high performance facilities come at me for where this post is going, please know - this post is not for you. If you're boarding at a top tier training facility, I expect that facility to have the latest and greatest arena footing and to maintain it with the utmost care. That is part of why you're paying an arm and a leg for board every month, no?



This post is for the woman who juggles working full time alongside being a mom and/or wife. She doesn't have the money (or time!) to dedicate to a fancy trainer's big full training program at an equally fancy facility like the one mentioned above.


She's doing this horse thing mostly on her own and works with a trainer as it fits into her busy schedule and frugal budget. But she knows her stuff and still wants the very best she can get for her horse so he can thrive. She may not be at the fanciest facility but she still expects quality.


When it comes to footing, what does "quality" mean?



I was that woman once. Before Laura Goodenkauf Dressage came to be, I worked a 9 to 5 sales job for a local music equipment company. We sold brass instruments all over the world! Do you know how to ship a tuba to Australia? I sure do! Ha!


When I was working said sales job, I had my own personal horse. I had big goals and I certainly knew quality from shit in terms of boarding facilities and their amenities... but I just couldn't justify spending what it costs to be at one of those "fancy" barns.


The barn I landed at was wonderful. I went on to board there for many years - I even continued to keep my personal horses there even AFTER I got my assistant trainer job at a big fancy facility!


So, when you're in similar shoes, looking for a champagne facility on a beer budget, what does "quality" footing look like?


When it comes to footing, what does "quality" mean?


Here's what I look for:


Material/Composition


What is the footing actually made up of? Is it sand? Is it dirt? Is it DG? Is it a mix of "stuff"? Are there big rocks in it? Are there little rocks in it? How deep is it?


  • Sand is my favorite, as far as "not fancy" footing choices go... especially when watered appropriately and maintained correctly (we'll talk about that next!).

  • Regular ol' dirt? Not my favorite but not a deal breaker. It can get extra dry and hard in the heat of the summer and be a muddy mess any time it rains.

  • DG (decomposed granite) is more often used as an arena base rather than the footing itself because of how it compacts and becomes hard like cement with time. As you can imagine, if this is the primary make up of your arena footing, it will have a tendency to compact and get rock hard. On the plus side, DG tends to drain well!

  • Depth. Less is more, especially when it comes to "less than ideal" footing. For dressage horses, you want to avoid arenas that are too deep.

  • Rocks. With cheaper footing materials, you'll usually find rocks. How big of rocks and how many there are is what becomes a deal breaker for me. Too many rocks that are the size of my thumb or bigger? No way. You're just asking for a stone bruise. (Or you'll be putting pads on your horse's shoes. I've had to do this before for this exact circumstance!)


Maintenance


How the arena is maintained is probably even more important than what the actual footing is made of. You can have the fanciest, most expensive footing in the world, but it will turn to shit, dry up, and blow away if you don't maintain it properly.


What does good maintenance look like?


  • Do they drag the arena regularly? You'd be surprised how many facilities skip this basic step. With normal "wear and tear" (riding, etc.) arena footing will move and shift, creating deep spots and low spots. Dragging the arena often will help minimize this and keep the footing level and even.

  • Do they water the arena regularly? The amount of water in the footing will drastically affect how it reacts to horses on it and how it holds its shape. Think of the last time you were at the beach... Have you ever run barefoot on the sand down the beach? Is it easier to run in the wet, more compact sand or the deep, dry sand? You get the idea!

  • What kinds of activities do they allow in the arena? I'm going to get some "hate" for this but, in my experience, the footing in arenas that are used for turn out in addition to riding does not hold up as well. Loose horses run fast and dig into the footing hard with their feet. They turn sharp and cup out the footing. They roll around and push the footing into big, uneven mounds. If the arena also doubles as turnout space, it becomes that much harder to maintain it as a quality riding/training surface.



Hopefully this gives you a good list and a basis for asking questions, especially if you are in the hunt for a boarding facility!


Did I miss anything?


If you have any questions, add them in the comments or shoot me a message HERE!


Want to learn more about our footing at Fortissimo Farm? I love, love, LOVE our footing! And I love "nerding out" about this stuff! Let's chat!


Happy Riding!

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