A brief overview of myths and maintenance needs for sand footing with synthetic additives.
Recently, ABI Attachments announced our newest product line the SportPro – Premier Equestrian Edition. The SportPro line of groomers was meticulously crafted to suit synthetic footing. Synthetic footing and natural footing are not only vastly different substances, they have different purposes and requirements as well. Which is why we wanted to give a short overview of what “synthetic footing” means, why people use it, and common myths surrounding sand footing with synthetic additives.
What is Synthetic Footing?
Synthetic footing is a term used to describe sand with textile, fiber, or rubber additives mixed into it. The goal of using additives in a sand arena is to create certain textures for training and riding horses, usually for English riding disciplines. Specifically, to create a synthetic replica of grass/sod. The difference being that footing can be reset easily with a quality groomer, while grass gets ripped up then has to be repaired. Since grass is not a sustainable surface for English disciplines to train and compete on, synthetic footing is able to mirror qualities of grass when the right combination of sand and additives are used.
Why Use Synthetic Footing?
Synthetic footing is typically used for English riding and English sports. But there are some Western disciplines, like Liberty, that use it as well. Sports that require more grip and shock absorption prefer the texture of synthetic footing. Jumping, for example, requires more stability and grip in its surface, while still providing enough cushion to absorb some energy. Similarly, in dressage the horses have to carry their weight on their haunches and hind end, so they need footing that won’t fall away under their hooves.
Can I Add Synthetic Fibers to My Natural Footing?
Depending on the disciplines taking place in an arena, some arena owners have considered adding synthetic additives to natural footing in an effort to create the consistency of footing they require. Rather than converting the whole arena to sand footing with additives, some fibers, rubber, or textiles are added to modify the existing footing.
Adding synthetic material to natural footing can be done, and it can have the desired effect. However, once you’ve added synthetic materials to your natural footing arena, you are changing the maintenance needs of the footing altogether. Particularly in regards to your grooming equipment. Arena drags made for natural footing might be able to drag your modified arena at first, but only to a point. This is because synthetic materials have to be blended differently than natural clay, silt, and sand profiles. Once the content level of additives surpasses a certain percentage, you’ll find that a natural footing arena drag will no longer get the results you need.
Fibrous additives especially can plug up a natural footing drag before long. And for other types of additives, you will likely notice a natural drag isn’t able to pull up the small fines and push down the large particles of your chosen synthetic additive, because it was designed to de-compact sand, silt, and clay profiles.
Two Misconceptions about Sand Footing With Additives
Another thing to keep in mind is that some arena owners install synthetic footing thinking it will require less upkeep than natural footing. But arena footing care doesn’t end when you install a sand arena with additives.
Myth #1 – It Requires Less Water
There’s a common misconception that sand footing with additives requires less water and less upkeep. Neither of these are wholly accurate. Some arena owners who use synthetic footing use moisture regulating additives in an effort to not have to water their arena. The problem with this is, “water replacing” additives tend to dry out the footing, and can exacerbate hoof and skin issues on horses. Synthetic footing, just like any footing, requires watering. And in some cases, it even needs more water.
Myth #2 – It Requires Less Grooming
Installing synthetic footing is usually more of a cost investment than natural footing. The higher price tag is partly why there is a misconception around it needing less daily and weekly upkeep. If it costs more, it should be easier to take care of, right? But all footing needs arena grooming, and the frequency is not about what type of footing you have, but rather, how much traffic your footing gets. If you have multiple horses in your arena every day, you are likely still going to need to drag the arena daily.
Maintenance for Synthetic Footing
If you use synthetic footing or you are thinking about converting to synthetic footing, the two vital things you need to keep in mind are water and blending. We’ve written before how vital water is in a natural arena, and the same is true for synthetic arenas. So do yourself and your horses a favor by investing in a watering system that promotes consistency in your footing.
For blending, get a drag designed for synthetic footing. When we set out to engineer the perfect synthetic footing groomer, we focused on creating a durable, reliable piece of equipment that could be configured to perfectly fit whatever additives you’re working with. With infinitely adjustable components, you can set the tool to get your footing exactly how you want it for your discipline. Plus, you can adjust the tool whenever you need to remix, renovate, or change the surface tension of your footing for conditioning.