The True Cost of Horse Arena Footing
By Guest Author:Heidi Zorn
Riding arenas are the place where the magic happens. Spend time riding a horse, and you quickly realize how important a sturdy foundation is, however, it is a factor not often discussed among peers.
Whether training for a competition or spending time together on and off the course, horses need a foundation that supports the hoof. Choosing the right footing is a critical piece of the puzzle. If you are thinking of investing in a solid foundation for an existing or new arena, there are some essential factors you should consider such as the primary use for the arena and whether it is covered or open air
But before we discuss what factors influence your horse’s performance, Heidi Zorn from Premier Equestrian explains her experience with horse arena footing and why it matters so much.
Heidi and Serrano
In 1999 I got Serrano as an un-started four-year-old. At the time, I was not looking for a new horse, but his disposition and movement were intriguing. When I went to try him, we set up a jumping chute, shook some grain at the end of it and he proceeded to jump through gracefully. There, in the arena with Serrano, I told the breeder that I might have to pass. At the time, I was migrating from jumpers to dressage, and I was unsure that I needed another horse.
It was surprising but as soon as I made that remark it was as if Serrano looked at me and shook his head as if to say, “No!” He then ran down the long side of the arena, jumped through the chute and proceeded to do this five more times all by himself. We sat there in bewilderment. I had never seen a horse voluntarily run around and jump like that. I took this as a sign that he was choosing me. He was right. It has been the best decision I ever made. From that moment on, my journey with Serrano proceeded to teach me why dress arena footing was an integral part of any horse’s training regimen.
Serrano is a large horse 1600 lbs. and 17 hands with a heart of gold. Our troubles started when he was ten years old, and he began to show an unwillingness to go forward, mentally, and physically. Eventually, it became apparent this struggle originated from pain in his hips and hocks. Thinking it was his age, I began regular treatments with a chiropractor, but the results were short-lived.
Serrano started to show advanced signs of lameness, and after several different approaches, I was fortunate enough to find a farrier who was able to support his conformational downfalls better. He inspired me to examine the horse’s anatomy and how biomechanics related to the surfaces we ride on.
Learning How Footing Plays a Role
I learned that the deep surfaces I had been riding him on only exacerbated his conformational challenges. Learning about the flight of the foot helped me identify how different surfaces altered Serrano’s gait. He felt the very best on a stable, grass surface. I became conscious of the surfaces we rode on, even taking steps to modify them to increase stability. Serrano continued training for a few more years; however, all the previous wear and tear led to arthritis in his hocks.
I decided to do a hock injection.Unfortunately, that hock injection went septic and just about took his life. It destroyed the joint and caused me to retire him permanently. I was devastated. I had learned so much from Serrano over the years, and I felt like there was still more to do together. I know many equestrians have had similar experiences and ended up suffering the loss of a remarkable partner.
If you are anything like me, you probably tend to obsess over the things you could have done to avoid such a catastrophe. For me, I wished I’d started him as a four-year-old on the stable surface right off the bat. While many factors play into the longevity of a horse’s career, I do believe it would have made a significant difference had I understood more about dress arena surfaces and how they affect our horses.
Not only was it the emotional cost of losing a partner but add on the cost of regular vet and maintenance products, and then add some more for other maintenance (specialized vet work, chiropractic, equine massage, supplements, customized tack, etc.). Finally, think of the amount it would take to put your horse into early retirement along with the costs associated with purchasing a new horse.
"That for me, was when I truly realized the true cost of riding on a bad surface."
These experiences have driven me to become an expert in understanding everything that goes into creating high-quality footing to help other horses and owners avoid suffering the same fate, emotionally and financially. I will never again make the mistake of asking my horses to perform on substandard surfaces. I believe these amazing creatures deserve the best, and I love working with horse owners to find the best way to improve their arena surfaces. I will always be grateful to my Serrano for showing me the way forward.
What is the True Cost of Bad Dress Footing?
The cost of bad footing is a lot higher than you probably imagine. Not only does it affect your horse’s ability to perform in the short-term but long-term, there can be cumulative damage as well. For Heidi, she not only lost a horse but spent a lot of money investing in him. Luckily, that experience gave her invaluable information for creating a better outcome in the future.
Today, Heidi is armed with a fantastic arena surface that is multipurpose for dressage, jumping, lunging, and turnout. Premier Equestrian also helped design the arena with OTTO Sport mats and a custom Premier blend of footing suited for all of her horse’s needs.
Really understanding the biomechanical impact of horses ridden on different surfaces has become an exact and ongoing science that can genuinely transform your riding experience. Whether you have an existing surface or a new horse arena project, you’re looking to improve, working with dress arena footing experts can help you to make an educated decision about horse arena footing additives that will enhance your horse’s performance and safety.
There’s a vast amount of information to understand about sand and aggregates. That’s why geologists and soil engineers work on large projects like dams, highways, and buildings. For that same reason, it is crucial that you get a soil engineer’s opinion on the quality and compatibility of your sand.
Heidi recommends that you work with an expert like Premier Equestrian to determine the needs of your dress arena. Premier Equestrian offers one free sand report to customers to properly guide them through the process of getting qualified sand for your additive. But no matter who you work with, make sure that you put your horse’s needs first. Building a foundation they can depend on will pay dividends in the future.
**Heidi L. Zorn is an entrepreneur and equestrian from Salt Lake City, Utah who has dedicated her life to developing affordable arena solutions that are safe and beneficial to the horse. Heidi’s passion for horses and experience in show jumping began at the early age of 12. She competed in both hunters and jumpers as a junior rider. In 2000 Heidi co-founded Premier Equestrian (https://premierequestrian.com). In 2006 Heidi was driven by personal tribulations with her own horses to investigate equine biomechanics, and how the surfaces that we ride on affect our horses’ soundness. Through research and trials, Heidi designed a line of footing additives and arena grooming equipment that can accommodate almost any budget. Today, Premier Equestrian is one of the industry leaders for synthetic arena surfaces and arena groomers. In 2017 the company earned the designation as the Official Footing Supplier for US Equestrian.