View Full Version : How to deal with arena base problems? *UPDATE* now what??

May. 4, 2011, 07:53 AM
I'm having some issues with my outdoor arena and am frustrated. I had the thing built almost 4 years ago and it has been usable, but not trouble free. Right now I am worried because with the unbelievable amount of rain we've had in VA this spring I am experiencing spots where hooves are punching into the clay subbase in one area (not the whole ring, but still). There is no standing water in the ring ever, so it's not like this is happening in puddles.

A bit of background: it is 100x200, clay subbase with 4" rolled bluestone on top, originally 2" of loose bluestone over that but I ultimately had that rolled also and added 1+ inch of angular sand on top. It has a 1" crown and is bordered by railroad ties. The first year I had some issues with drainage and the contractor came back out and worked on it. After 2 years I added the sand, and last year it held up very well, but this year I am having these base problems. I use a chain drag with a tractor to drag.

From the beginning the western 1/3 of the ring has always been slower to dry out, holds more water in the footing. The contractor told me that he now thinks there is a wet weather spring underneath it, but I'm not sure I believe him. Now that I have sand on it I know that a repair is going to be much harder, but how would you guys suggest I go about fixing this thing, and can anyone recommend a good ring contractor who services Loudoun County?

This is a private ring, so it does not get heavy use. I am careful about waiting to ride or drag after a rain - I don't think it should be too much to ask for the base to hold up.

May. 4, 2011, 08:11 AM
No real suggestions, but I kept my horses at a place in Clifton that had a lovely ring ... built during a drought ... then a rainy period came. They had a wet-weather spring underneath half the arena. When the water table rose, the spring came in contact with the sub-base and the horses did start punching through the bluestone footing into the base. It was not good.

The solution their builder recommended was to build a pond near the arean, build a drain system and draw the water from the underground spring into the pond. As I recall, that was a costly and labor-intensive project and they opted not to go through with it at that time. Not sure what may have happened since.

Not sure if that is any help at all, but the idea of having a spring under there that isn't apparent all the time is not an off-the-wall suggestion. Hope you can work it out!

Watermark Farm
May. 4, 2011, 11:49 AM
Major bummer. Did the contractor test compaction rates when the base was built? It should be compacted to 95%+ at bare minimum; you can have someone check compaction rates on it after the fact. An improperly compacted base can be the source of your drainage issues. Lack of enough slope is another thought. I went with a nearly 2% slope in mine to speed drainage, but 1% is standard for a dressage arena.

Was geotextile cloth installed under the base?

An acquaintance had an arena built that had poor drainage, and it did turn out that there was an unknown spring underneath. Something to consider. You'd probably have to bring in a soil engineer to look at that.

Also, if you drag it and "slick it off" ie drag something smooth and firm over it to seal off the sand footing into a smooth surface prior to a rain, it will supposedly shed water better. Basically you don't want to do you "fluff" drag prior to heavy rain.

When I built our arena, I did tons of research and found that the stories of failed and very expensive arenas were many. Of those failed arenas, several were due to improper compaction of the base. My neighbor wound up doing something called cement-treating her base as a fix.

May. 4, 2011, 12:58 PM
Ditto Watermark. I too did tons of research before doing my arena. I couldn't afford to have to do it over later!!

I used to live in VA so I know the clay you are dealing with. Sticky. The clay here in OK is different--rock hard.

Here are cheaper things to check before you get into lots of money.
Recheck the slope/crown on the arena. When we had ours done, by a professional, we told them want we wanted. SO has done alot of dirt work in his life but felt for time sake it would easier to leave to an actual "pro". Big mistake!! He had staked it out, did all the transit work (I get to hold the rod. lucky me), etc. When the guys started digging it looked like they were taking alot more down than he had figured. Asked them about it but swore that what their lasar level/transit said. So we went with it. When the footers were poured (indoor) and we had the next rain we had a lovely swimming pool, sloping to the end SO had felt was being dug too deep. He rented a dozer and spent 3 weeks fixing it. Moved a s-load of dirt!!
So moral to that story--double, triple, quadruple check the grade, esp now that there is a problem. Plus it may have "settled".

Was the grade also checked after the blue stone was compacted? Was the blue stone wet down before it was compacted? A 6" base may not be enough, esp now with the wet season.

We wound up putting french drains in around outdoor portion of ours (you have to see it to understand what I mean) even though we had the recommended drop. The edges don't seem to compact as well as the center. Esp with railroad ties as a boarder. That is what we have. Found that between the lesser compaction and the RRT holding water, we got wet at the edges. The french drains fixed it.

When compacted, it should be as hard as asphalt. When the trucks came in to dump our footing SO was so worried they would hurt the base. My answer: if they do, we need to re-do the base!!

Be sure your drag is not getting down to the base. With chain drag this shouldn't be a problem but check.

If all that checks out it is, unfortunately, time to get experts in.

Good luck, cuz that really sucks.

May. 4, 2011, 01:22 PM
such construction would not have held up even a year in our wet PNW climate. 4 inches of rolled stone over clay would have us p[unching through in weeks after the fall rains started.
Here we usually do 6 inches of drain rock, 4 inches of road base, with or without geotextile fabric, then either 3 inches of sand or bark chip for footings. We also, if we wanted to ride in the winter, would have put a curtain drain around the entire perimeter, buried 18-24 inches deep in drain rock.

One local riding stable which did not include the curtain drains, and had only 4-6 inches of road base on top of clay, then 3 inches of bark chips- ended up tearing up their entire arena after 6 months for the same problem. They spent an additional $10K to fix the original arena, retrofitting the drains and putting in proper drainrock base.

May. 4, 2011, 01:28 PM
Thanks, guys, for the advice. CH, I think I remember when you were at that farm - that is a scary story, those poor people! I don't think my arena is nearly that problematic...in fact I had no trouble with it all year last year. It has just been since the extreme rains this spring that it has been actually going into clay in the one area.

As for checking the crown, I did ask him to when he compacted the bluestone for the second time and I assume he did, but maybe I should have been more insistent. I do not believe he watered it when the arena was originally built. My thought from the beginning was that the base was either not thick enough or not compacted enough, just because of the little troubles it has given me here and there. I am sure I will be getting the experts to look at it, just can't afford a huge repair right now. I think it's time for a second opinion though - I like the contractor alright but I just don't think he is doing a good job fixing the work. It IS a major bummer.

May. 4, 2011, 01:43 PM
I can't imagine going to that expense and not putting landscape cloth down before anything - otherwise, its only a matter of time before the dirt/mud/clay works up into the base you put down. Shame.

Also, french drains are a no brainer. :)

May. 4, 2011, 11:22 PM
A few hundred bucks to get an expert opinion or a hydrologist from a local college might be a good investment of peace of mind.

Dr. Doolittle
May. 6, 2011, 11:04 AM
I was planning to post a separate thread on this, but here is HER problem (might be similar to what's happening with the OP's ring.) The ring in question has been footed and re-footed several times over the past 6 years or so, the most recent time they removed ALL of the old footing, and have put down a bluestone base (over clay, I believe), but I'm not sure how MUCH they compacted it. (I am just a boarder there.) They added river sand to top it off, and the footing has been TOO DEEP ever since, barely rideable. The horse's hooves just sink all the way in, all the way to the bluestone. They have taken a BUNCH of the sand away, and now the edges of the ring are too hard and the footing too shallow, while the middle remains too deep (and is holding moisture.) My BM says there are now only about 3 inches of sand over the bluestone. They keep working and re-working it (and dragging it), but to no avail. We have gotten a lot of rain recently (and this is also in Loudoun County), but I doubt there is a spring running under this ring because it has tended to get pretty hard and dry in the past, when it was differently footed.

Any suggestions for her? Sorry to hijack, OP, but my poor BM is kind of at her wit's end, here! Maybe some of these suggestions (and the wisdom of the board)can help both you and her...

Watermark Farm
May. 7, 2011, 12:54 PM
Dr Dolittle, inconsistent footing depth sounds like a big part of your problem. It's pretty amazing how fast you can get too deep and how too deep or too shallow changes the way the arena rides. For dressage 2-3" of footing is standard, 3-4" for jumping. (Ours is 3").

Getting the material level is really important. To start, get a contractor in there (a really good one) with a laser-guided blade or some other way of leveling the material to a uniform depth.

Our arena footing was leveled in this way, but every 6 months I drag the arena and then go out there and use a yardstick to measure footing depth in various areas of the area, since footing shifts with rain and horses rolling. I use spray paint to mark the thin and thick areas (a different color for each) and then get several teenagers to help me shovel footing from the thick areas into the tractor bucket and transport to the thin areas. Then drag the arena again and check levels again. And fix some more areas. Takes a day but it's cheaper than hiring the laser grader to come in!

I also hand-rake the rail frequently to keep footing moving around in that area. My drag doesn't pull the footing away from the kick board. Good luck

PS: This is a WONDERFUL article from University of Pennsylvania that deals with arena footing and how it functions. Really explains what you are after and how to troubleshoot. http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/freepubs/pdfs/ub038.pdf

Dr. Doolittle
May. 7, 2011, 07:40 PM
Thanks much, Watermark Farm! Will forward your response (along with the thread) to my beleaguered BM. The poor bastard who has been working this ring, over and over, was out there again today, trying to level it by hand :( Oy!

We have teenagers (mostly my students) at the barn, but their time is so crunched that I doubt they would be able to spend hours helping out with that, unfortunately!

I'll click on the site you linked to (and will of course recommend checking it out to my BM...)

May. 7, 2011, 07:51 PM
It is a clay base? Those cannot be ridden on when very wet. Clay absorbs water if exposure is prolonged, even after compacting, unless a polymer is added to the clay. Just have to wait it out until the base dries, as a trade off for the lower cost to build it.

May. 8, 2011, 10:54 AM
I suspect the cause of all your headaches is the clay base. Most arenas I have seen have been done with a coarse gravel sand base, then the compacted stone dust goes over that. Any moisture will go through the compacted stone dust and drain into and through the gravel. The finish sand/rubber/ felt or product of choice goes on top of the compacted stone dust. Wood chips/bark seem to turn slippery after awhile.

May. 11, 2011, 06:05 PM

May. 11, 2011, 06:31 PM
I am not familiar with the weather in Virginia but where I live in Washington State there is no way that we could ever ride in my trainers outdoor pen until the rains were over for quite sometime. If we are out there by June we are lucky. Riding in it any earlier would trash it!!!!

May. 12, 2011, 12:56 PM
My neighbor wound up doing something called cement-treating her base as a fix.

Never heard of this, can you give details?

Would this be in place of geotextile fabric application?

Getting ready to try to fix a bad ring job done by a so called "pro" and can use all the info i can get my hands on.

May. 12, 2011, 01:27 PM
Never heard of this, can you give details?

Would this be in place of geotextile fabric application?

Getting ready to try to fix a bad ring job done by a so called "pro" and can use all the info i can get my hands on.

That may be what I did in my ring a few years ago. Had a guy till in powdered portland cement into the clay/sandy base and then compact (just with the dozer - not a compacting roller). it made it nice and hard - lasted for about 5 years, and may have lasted longer, but over time the base settled and I had many low spots, so am now in the process of redoing the entire thing.

May. 26, 2011, 02:50 PM
The first issue you need to deal with is the clay. Ideally, budget permitting,you would put a GeoTextile Fabric over the clay and then add 4-6 inches of compacted stone dust over that. Both the native clay surface and the stone dust should be compacted to 95%. To make that happen the contractor needs a 10 Ton Roller. Do not buy into the story that he has a 3 ton and will go over it 4 times -- that is not how compaction works.

That is the ideal - now let's talk about some possible ways to fix your arena without ripping everything out and starting over ( which budget permitting is not a bad idea). If your arena only has problems in certain areas you can do something simple like buy a pallet of Mortar Mix at the local Loew's or Home Depot. You can use that to patch the troubled areas much like you see asphalt being used to patch potholes on the highway,.

I would dig out the effected areas to a depth of 3 inches and dump the Mortar Mix in it. In addition to setting up as a patch the lime will react with the clay to form a bond. Lime Stabilization of clay is a time tested procedure but it has to be done right. For additional information you can visit: http://www.lime.org/uses_of_lime/construction/soil.asp.

I would not recommend you do that in your area because I doubt there is a contractor with sufficient experience to pull it off. The procedure is much more prevalent in the Western State where stone dust is not available. I would stick with just using the Mortar Mix for patches.

Another option is to put a GeoTextile Fabric down over the clay and dump 3 inches of fine sand on that. It is not an ideal situation since you will occasionally punch through and once you rip the fabric the danger of a catastrophic trip goes way up.

Bottom line clay never makes an ideal Base. No matter how hard you think it is it will loosen in you climate. What you need to be particularly careful about now is getting too much of the sand mixed in with the clay. Once that sand enters the clay it is going to make it very hard to compact again.

Life with a clay base means you need to baby your arena. Stay off it after a rain - be sure the clay below is dry before you start riding. Keep it level and consistent so the hoof has enough footing below it to stay up. Look for a dense sand or a mixture of sand and stone dust for the surface.

Additives can help keep the hoof up as well but I would be hesitant to go to the expense of putting them in this type of arena. If you can afford the additives then fix the base! You can always amend the top later.

May. 26, 2011, 03:22 PM
not to hijack the OP's thread, but arenadoctor...what about when all you have is sand.....until you get to water! Coastal Carolina here, we have no bottom. Any help for that??

May. 26, 2011, 04:42 PM
Ditto on arenadoctor. I'm no footing professional, but have dealt with a lot of rings over clay (adobe) bases. Typical protocol is at least 12" of decomposed granite (which packs to half that), watered and rolled and compacted, and then sand. And you still stay off of it for a few days after it rains (see assorted threads on why California barns close their rings after a rain).

I have seen chunks of adobe rise to the surface in arenas, up through the sand.

A friend fixed hers in places by digging down, re-adding base, compacting it, and using some sort of fabric. Not sure if the fabric was between the adobe and the base or elsewhere?

May. 26, 2011, 05:09 PM
not to hijack the OP's thread, but arenadoctor...what about when all you have is sand.....until you get to water! Coastal Carolina here, we have no bottom. Any help for that??

If you are on straight sand then your options are limited unless you put a base in - which is expensive in a situation like yours. If your budget permits you need to dig down,stabilize the sand, put a fabric over it, and then build a traditional base on that. I won't quote depth here because it varies widely depending on the type of sand and water levels.

There are other options but they fall into the category of sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. In order of those that are most likely to work:

1- Put an additive into the sand.You can use any of the "stringy type textiles" out there. I would avoid those that are actual pieces (dime/quarter size) in this instance. The additive is not going to work as well as it would on a standard arena so go for the cheapest ones you can find.

2- If you live in an area that has a readily available source of strip size wood then that is an option. In Florida many people have had good luck with adding Cypress Strips to their arenas. They are durable and they "mat up" nicely under the hoof. In both these cases we are trying to create a " free form lattice" that holds the hoof up.

3- You can start dumping dirt into the sand. Depending on the amount of rain and how you drag it might buy you three or four months of good footing. It will slowly sift down through the sand. I have seen people do this year after year and in some cases the arena actually started to stabilize. There is no way to know this however - some sand pits just swallow everything you put into them.

4- Keep it wet. Water will bind the sand and help stabilize the particles. The problem you face is sand drains very well so the water does not last long.

May. 26, 2011, 06:20 PM
omg we haven't had a drop of rain in 8 weeks!!! There is a sprinler system, but it can only do so much.

The other problem we seem to have is sinkholes where large oak trees were removed ages ago...

I am thinking...laser grader, stone dust, cow carpet, then sand and fiber or wood chip mix???