If a winter of snow and ice has you contemplating the perks of having your own riding ring, this is the time to make plans. There are almost as many different types of rings as there are saddles. But it's essential to do it properly from the start or you'll be sorry later when you're eating enough dust to convince you that you're riding in the Sahara Desert.
Location, size, building a base, then adding a topping are the keys to a ring that will be functional, provide good footing for your horse and drain well.
The bottom layer - or sub-base - usually consists of native soil. If the natural material is not suitable for a ring, you can use additives to improve it. This layer should be leveled and allowed to settle before the base is laid down. With an indoor arena, only a sub-base and sand are necessary because drainage isn't a consideration. If there is too much rock or debris, you'll need to add some stone, perhaps with clay, to cover it.
The base - the next layer - should be firm because it's the foundation of the ring. If it isn't done properly a host of problems can occur - from the horse breaking through, to erosion - causing an uneven riding surface. Stone dust works well for this purpose.
George Stone, of Stone Construction in Southbury, Connecticut, builds a variety of rings. George says that the material needed for each ring varies depending on the drainage in the location you choose. He stresses that the most important preparation for any ring is proper grading, so that water doesn't run through it or pool there, which will erode the material and prevent it from setting.
There is polymer coated sand, recycled rubber, granulated plastic and rubber, crumb rubber particles… one could spend weeks researching rubber footing. There is, however, one very important thing to know about rubber footing: It's expensive. The industry average, depending on the form in which it is ordered and the supplier, is $230 per ton. For the recommended two inches of topping needed in a typical 60 by 100 foot arena, the price is roughly $3,500.
But most who take the plunge and spend the money for rubber footing are delighted with it. The general consensus is that it is low-maintenance, dust free and resilient. However, it may not necessarily be the best footing for an outdoor arena. Although manufacturers claim that rubber is every bit as durable outdoors as indoors, some experts report that sunlight breaks it down quickly and, because it is lighter than sand (with which it is normally mixed), it rises to the top and can wash away during heavy rain or bad weather.
Indoors, however, it's terrific. It doesn't compact, break down or wear. It keeps the footing lighter, reducing concussion to the horses' legs.
The best advice if a new ring is in your plans is: Visit as many facilities as you can. Look at the footing and see how it rides. Then talk to a variety of suppliers before making a decision, because it's one that you'll have to live with it for a long time.