Do you remember the first time you saw someone show a reining horse?
Were you dazzled by the spin?
Surprised by the grace and preciseness of the lead change?
Shocked by the power of the slide?
Riders and trainers have been wowing audiences for years with this unique style and discipline. They understand the significance of the trust-bond between horse and rider and work tirelessly to fine-tune technique and communication in preparation for show day.
And while the rider works to build trust with his horse, there is another often-missed trust-relationship that is being fostered… the trust between horse and ground.
The signature movements that make reining so magical to watch depend on the horse trusting the substance under the arena surface that the rider can’t see but the horse can feel. Uneven footing, sporadic sub-surface compaction, and irregular moisture content are common distractions that could, at minimum, negatively impact performance and, at worst, cause harm to horse or rider. The best way to properly address horse arena maintenance concerns is to ensure a reining horse can concentrate and perform to its peak ability by properly preparing arena footing. Here are a few horse arena maintenance distractions to consider.
Is your arena footing level across your base?
One of the most common distractions for the reining horse is uneven footing. Reining horses cover a wide area of the show arena which means shallow spots or deep pockets won’t be able to hide when it’s time to lope or slide. These changes in footing depth and footing consistency will cause your horse to consider if the next step in the gait will be as sure as the last. This hesitation could make it difficult for you to maintain control during the pattern and ensure you’ve got your horse’s attention when it’s time for the next maneuver.
Remember the classic illustration of a flight of stairs. If all steps are the same height, you don’t have to think about them. But if every step is a different height, you’re going to slow down and measure your steps carefully. Uneven footing in your arena causes your horse the same hesitation.
Make sure your arena drag has the ability to level your arena footing. Some arena leveling equipment like the ABI Dragmaster, our arena drag with water tank, offer “from the seat” control of leveling functions by utilizing your tractor’s auxiliary hydraulic system. Other drags like the TR3 E-Series utilize a floating drag-bar system that uses the weight of the tool to pull excess material on high ground to low spots. Whatever your choice, a leveling component is a must-have for the serious Reiner and great horse arena maintenance.
Is your horse arena base smooth?
Remember when you were a kid and you slid across the hardwood kitchen floor in your socks? Now how many of you ever slid into an unforeseen obstacle or sticky spot on the floor? One small, unforeseen hindrance was enough to stop you in your tracks and potentially send you toppling.
If you can relate, then you have a good understanding of the need for a smooth base for your reining arena. When it’s time to slide, any rough spot, gouges, or densely compacted footing could cause unnecessary friction and prevent peak point accumulation on the slide.
Find an arena drag equipped with a component that can cut under your footing along the surface of your base to clean up compaction and smooth out unwanted gashes. Such a component will keep your base nicer longer, remove hidden decompaction, and allow your horse to slide with less resistance. ABI’s patented Profile Blade that comes stock on many of ABI equine drags is ideal in this scenario.
Is your arena properly watered?
Few topics on horse arena maintenance cause more disputes than how much water should be added. Tractor drivers at shows are regularly getting dizzy as trainers discuss if the footing is too wet or too dry. As a rider and trainer, you are responsible for discovering the moisture content for your arena that keeps both horse and rider safe and maximizes the performance for those showing.
Remember, the dust didn’t bother Charlie Brown’s friend Pig-Pen, but it could cause significant respiratory issues for your horse. It’s estimated that an idle horse inhales 16 gallons of air per minute and during strenuous exercise can inhale up to 600 gallons per minute. A little bit of water goes a long way in keeping the dust particles on the ground and out of your horse’s lungs.
And if preventing dusty lungs isn’t enough of a reason to motivate you to more conscientious moisture management in your arena, consider the impact on your performance. Watering footing regularly stabilizes loose and sandy footing. The objective is to keep the material moist all the way through the ground to ensure your horse has consistent purchase throughout all maneuvers.
Plan ahead and plan ahead! Many arenas will require a significant amount of water a couple of days before a show to ensure the proper moisture content is achieved. As you prepare your arena or facility, make time to get that water down.
Which brings up the second plan ahead: plan to have the ability to water your arena in a uniform pattern. Sprinkler systems and hand-held hoses pump out the water, but inevitably you’ll be left with puddles here and dry bones there. Water Trailers are a great alternative that can provide a significant quantity of water dumpage and deliver those gallons in a uniform spray pattern.
It’s about magic.
If you’re reading an article about footing for reining horses you must care deeply for your horse and enjoy the excitement that comes from witnessing a reining horse in action. And that’s where our attention should be.
No one comes to a reining show to inspect the ground or watch the tractor drivers. Riders and trainers alike just want the ground to be great so they have the best opportunity to demonstrate their skill and the horse’s ability. Implementing the recommendations above will help your ground stay out of the way and highlight the innate magic that is Reining.