California Riding Magazine • April, 2013

Footing & Sand 101
Del Mar National's footing designer, Mark Neihart, shares footing basics, advances and advice.


Mark Neihart, co-founder of Premier Equestrian.

There's a footing revolution happening across the equestrian world, says Mark Neihart, co-founder of Premier Equestrian and head of Premier's arena building division. Most major equestrian facilities, including the Del Mar National Horse Show, are upgrading their arenas with today's new footing systems. Facilities managers are realizing that, to attract and keep major competitions, their arenas need to have the latest and greatest footings available.

This trend has led many "backyard" riders to reconsider their own footing, and many are deciding to take the step and upgrade their home turf arena. The task can be daunting because information is endless and can often be contradictory. Mark has been around the world building equestrian arenas and recently supervised the footing upgrade at the Del Mar National Horse Show. He is happy to share his expertise.

Q: Mark, tell us what you are seeing in terms of people looking at improving their arenas.
Mark:
Premier Equestrian is a major player in arena footing here in the U.S. and across the world. Each year, we help hundreds of people improve their arenas, mostly by upgrading or completely replacing their footing. I get calls every day from people seeking information about footing. I notice a major shift in the general rider: they are getting more sophisticated about footing requirements, their knowledge is increasing as well as their awareness of how important good footing is to the health and well being of their horses.

Q: So more so-called average riders are demanding footing upgrades?
Mark:
Exactly. A few years ago we would mostly be dealing with high-end facilities and now we are getting many calls from riders with one or two horses, a backyard arena, and the desire to protect their horses from arena injury.

Q: What do you mean by arena injury?
Mark:
Incorrect footing can lead to injuries. If the footing is too hard, for example, you can expect concussive injuries to joints and bones. If the footing is too soft, or too deep, you can expect suspensory injuries, or soft tissue damage. Proper footing supports the horse, enhances his performance ability and confidence, and protects his health. Proper footing really makes riding more enjoyable.


Photo: Mark Neihart and Premier Equestrian

Q: What's new in arena footing?
Mark:
When it comes to the U.S., people are just now getting used to the textile additives. For example, at the Del Mar Arena we decided on a textile footing called GGT. We chose GGT because it is a high quality, long lasting amendment that knits sand together to provide superior traction and shear strength. Textile footings are the latest development in the footing world, though they have been around a long time, the majority of people haven't known about them. This is
what's new.

Q: These textile additives are mixed with sand?
Mark:
Yes, all of Premier's footings are mixed with sand. The sand is a very important component, obviously, and is the key to a stable, competent arena. The correct sand is probably
the biggest challenge I face when helping
my customers.

Q: Tell us about sand.
Mark:
That could take all day! Let me say this, I have a soil lab at my office and I perform free soil analysis for people wanting to upgrade their arenas. I see a lot of sand from all over the country. Ninety percent of the sand I see is unstable and unsuitable for arenas. Ninety percent, isn't that incredible? People will call their local sand quarry and take that guy's advice about sand. If I could get people to know just one thing about sand, it would be that the guy selling the sand doesn't know what you need for your arena. Unless he rides himself then don't take his advice.

Q: What kind of sand do you look for?
Mark: It varies by the job at hand. Let me use the Del Mar Arena as an example. For that job we couldn't find the exact specification we needed because the footing was going to be laid down on a concrete floor. It was very specialized so we sourced two types of sand to mix together. One was a medium-grained sand with an angular grain shape and the other was a very fine, almost dusty sand. When mixed together and blended with the textile the result was a perfect surface that provided stability, traction, shear strength
and support.

Q: It sounds complicated.
Mark: Sand is the key to a good arena. There is a lot to know. The lesson I have learned from experience is that you can't just go down to the local quarry and expect to get sand that is suitable. You may get close but there really is a science to it. Most of the problems people call me with are directly related to sand. When you are mixing a textile or other amendment then it becomes even more important.

Q: Where can the average person learn about this topic, so they are not making mistakes?
Mark: The Internet is the very first place to search. Just on my website alone there are videos, graphs, and pages of information about footings and sand. There are many, many other quality
sites as well.

Q: Where do you see the future of footing going? Are there new things on the horizon?
Mark: This is something I think about a lot. I have a testing facility where I am constantly experimenting with new materials and different sands. I also use my own dressage arena to experiment with, so I get to play with many of the new materials coming out from the marketplace. The use of textile footings has exploded across the country over the past few years and I don't see that changing. But what I do see is the textiles being refined to address specific arena issues. For instance we have our new Master's Blend Arena Footing, which is blended specifically to the type of sand available and the unique needs of our customers. This is where I see the future of footing going, more specific footing solutions addressing the realities of local sands available as well as the differing climates. This is the direction I am going and my colleagues in the industry can't be too far behind.

Mark Neihart is co-founder of Premier Equestrian and lives in Sandy, UT with his wife Heidi Zorn-Neihart and their three horses, Sting, Serrano, and Izzy. For more information on Premier Equestrian, LCC, visit www.dressagearena.net or call 801-446-1857.