Footing choices are just one weapon in a horse owner’s arsenal of tools to combat and win the battle against mud and dust. To learn how to make sure that your footing investment is money well spent, and lasts you more than a few months, check out our tip sheet: Say Goodbye to Mud and Dust. Better yet, come see in person what others are doing to combat mud; consider attending one of the many upcoming workshops, tours and events listed above that are offered this spring from Horses for Clean Water and our partners!
Here's a 'reader's choice' list of footing materials, plus some advantages and disadvantages for each:
Advantages. Budget friendly, naturally reduces the smell of urine, can sometimes be acquired for free from tree trimmers.
Disadvantages. Not as effective as gravel at keeping an area dry, will break down quicker than other footings and need to be replaced. Needs to be checked for moldy or toxic material when purchasing.
Advantages. Fines become soft and fluffy creating a nice footing. Cedar is less likely than mixed hogfuel to turn to mud, unless it gets mixed with soil or manure. It also repels insects and is a good choice for odor control.
Disadvantages. Can become dusty during dry weather, which can irritate respiratory systems of some horses. Initial expense can be twice as much as mixed hogfuel, depending on availability in your area, and it will hold more moisture than larger wood products. Also, it can be slow to thaw during freezes. Fine wood products are not recommended for poorly draining soils.
Wood Play Chips
Advantages. Virtually no dust compared to other wood products. Can last many years longer than hogfuel, depending on the size of the chips.
Disadvantages. Initial expense can be up to three times as much as hogfuel, depending upon availability. Larger sizes can scatter where horses will be exercising or moving at speed.
Advantages. More effective at keeping an area dry than wood products. Lasts a long time - will not need to be replenished as often, if ever. Crushed gravel with fines help lock the gravel in place, keeping it from migrating. When used in adequate thickness, gravel with fines helps create a barrier between dirt and the gravel footing.
Disadvantages. More expensive than wood products. Will not naturally reduce the smell of urine. Fines in gravel can create an impervious surface, trapping urine and moisture. Care needs to be taken to get the correct size, 5/8” or smaller, so that you can pick up manure and the gravel will fall through the manure fork. You may need to slope areas and provide drainage solutions for run-off, depending upon your conditions.
Advantages. Provides great drainage, and some horses prefer to lay and roll on these smooth round stones. Will last longer than wood products and not need to be replenished as often.
Disadvantages. Footing is not as firm as products with fines; care must be taken to get the correct thickness for a horse’s joints if a base product is not used in conjunction with pea gravel. Needs well draining soil or a base layer of crushed gravel, or geosynthetic material to keep it from mixing with soil and 'sinking.'
Advantages. Provides adequate to good drainage, depending on the type and size of the sand. Generally, horses are more comfortable rolling and lying on sand and soft wood than on gravel products.
Disadvantages. A sand-free feeding area needs to be incorporated so that horses don’t run the risk of getting sand colic. Sand can get dusty in dry weather, and some types don’t drain well. Arena sand, generally made from crushed gravel, is less dusty and drains well compared to other types of sand. Sand that is too deep can cause soft tissue problems and can be difficult to walk on when frozen.