It’s in the Drag, Part 1

Arena care is important for horse health and show success.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Horse people are particular about arena conditions. Walk around any arena, and you are sure to hear someone commenting on the ground. “What’s the big deal?"

Jim Kiser, of Kiser Arena Equipment, the official arena caretakers for the AQHA world shows, the National Reining Horse Association Futurity and Derby, the National Reined Cow Horse Association and National Cutting Horse Association major events, knows his dirt.

He says he has two goals when working an arena. One is to make it the same consistency throughout the event, and the other is to make it safe.

“If you let some of the barrel racers, the cow horse riders, and the team ropers ride on hard, slick ground, you’ll end up getting somebody hurt,” Jim says. “You might need to end up making the ground heavier; compromising what might be ‘perfect’ ground just because it’s a little safer.”

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Randy Snodgress, owner of Arena Werks Equipment, says he works the ground to make the footing level and consistent.

“(Dragging) helps reduce lameness and injuries in horses’ legs,” Randy says.

AQHA Professional Horseman Brad Jewett of San Antonio has trained all-around, reining, pleasure and showmanship competitors for 15 years. His wife, Stephanie, also trains hunter-jumpers.

“I make sure that there is always a good base, there are no holes in the arena and that it’s level,” Brad says. “You should always have a nice, soft cushion on the top that is not too deep.”

Arena Specs
Jim says each event has its own specifications for depth and moisture.

Brad keeps his arena the same for his all-around events and makes the ground deeper for reining. He says Stephanie uses a slightly deeper surface when going over fences. They average 30-40 horses in the arena per day.

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The Tools

“(Working up an arena) is a combination of what the actual material is and the kind of equipment you use,” Jim says. “I can take really average ground, and if I have the right equipment, I can make it good ground. I can take great ground, and if I don’t have the equipment, it becomes poor ground.”

Jim attaches an all-purpose tool to a John Deere tractor for his work.

“There’s just not much that I can’t do with that piece of equipment,” Jim says. “I’ve got the water system on it to keep the ground a consistent moisture content. I’ve got the scarifier teeth – the rows ripper teeth – to break up hard ground. It’s also got a leveling blade that I can use to keep the arena level. “

Randy says the type of tool he uses depends on the type of ground being worked. For sandy ground, he recommends something to smooth and level. For ground containing more clay, he says to use an attachment that will dig deep to break up the material, then will smooth, level and fluff it.

For people who can’t afford to buy a big tractor and equipment but still want to make their arena look good, there are other options.

“You want something that will make your ground consistent and keep it level,” Jim says. “Those are the things you are going to look for in a piece of equipment.

Jim recommends equipment that will break up, level and water the ground.

Randy says some tools can be attached to a pickup truck or an all-terrain vehicle instead of a tractor to work the ground.

Brad uses an arena rake, attached to a tractor to care for the ground at his facility.

Drag Patterns
Jim uses several techniques to balance the arena dirt.

“There are some events, like the cow horse and the reining, where some parts of your arena are going to take a lot more use and stress than other parts,” Jim says. “It’s not just reining, but if you stop there 20 times, you are inevitably going to move some dirt from those stops. I use different drag patterns that allow me to bring that dirt back and keep it even.”

For speed events, working cow horse, reining and several other events, Jim likes to drag the arena every five rides, though it doesn’t always happen that way.

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“You run a certain amount of horses, and that ground starts getting deeper and more worked up around the barrels. The deeper you are in those barrel classes, the more at a disadvantage you are, because that ground is going to get a little bit heavier.

“In the reining, they all go down and stop in the same spot. If you run very many horses on that ground, they start moving the ground around, so you have a deep spot and a thin spot. We drag to try to keep the playing field level.”

Perfect Ground

    • Know your event’s ground specifications, and consider the experience of the riders.
    • Use the best equipment you can find for the job: something to break up hard ground, level and water the arena.
    • Vary your drag patterns and compensate for dirt displacement.
    • Monitor the moisture content of your arena and realize that an outdoor arena requires a lot more water.
    • Don’t try to drag or ride too soon on wet ground; this can damage your base.
    • Set aside enough time to drag your arena thoroughly and frequently.