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Dear Julie,

I am in the process of purchasing a round pen for training and lessons. What size would you suggest? What is safer? Chain or pin? My local feed store-is steering me towards chain for safety of the horse’s legs. What type of entry gate? Bow or walk-thru? The round pen will be setup outside. We have very clay-type soil, nearly impossible to use ground during Oregon winter. What would be an appropriate base to use for good drainage and usability during wintertime?

Another question....I have a 60 x 100 indoor ring that has a clay base and 2 to 3 inches of sand for pleasure riding. Wintertime is ok with moisture levels high in our environment. How about summer? I am currently dragging around the sprinkler to water. What would eliminate the dust in the sand and not have to spend a lot of time watering? Maybe a greenhouse mister system?

Krista Castell
Silver Lake Equestrian Center
Mt. Angel, OR


Dear Krista,

A 50' round pen is good for ground work only. A 60' round pen is ideal for riding and ground work. An 80' is ideal for riding, especially if you will be doing much canter work, but is a little too big for ground work. 60' is the best compromise. Make sure your gate is at least 5' wide and if it has a top piece, make sure it is high enough to ride through, at least 10'. Additionally, it is nice to have a latch that can be opened from horse-back, so that you can practice gate opening.

The pin configuration, with rounded tops and a V shape where the panels come together, is dangerous for horses because they might rear up and get a foot caught between the two panels. The kind of panels considered "horse safe" have ends that butt up square to each other and are fastened with a chain or rubber strap that wraps around strapping the two panel ends together, leaving no space to get a hoof hung up.

The ideal sub-base for an arena is road base or 3/4" gravel with a layer of road fines (sometimes called crusher fines), followed by your footing. The sub-base should be machine packed to provide a firm base underneath the top layer of footing. If drainage is a big issue in your area, you may want a layer of large gravel underneath the sub-base and to crown the sub-base to encourage drainage.

The ideal footing depends on your climate but in most places a 50/50 clay sand mix works well. The sand gives good drainage while the clay give the horse some "rebound" so he doesn't have to work so hard. How deep you want the footing depends on what type of activity you'll be doing. Remember, the horse needs some cushioning from impact but too much footing makes him work too hard and may stress tendons. I prefer about a 3" footing depth in my arenas and a little more in the round pen.

I use Arena Rx in my indoor arena, which is a chemical coating (non-toxic, natural ingredients) that reduces dust. It gives a similar effect as the stuff they use to coat dirt roads to keep dust down. It is like the sand is wet all the time. We live in a high altitude desert so watering is not really an option for us. My arena is 80' X 120' and the first treatment cost me about $1200 (including delivery and application) and about a year later I put another $600 on. That was two years ago; I may need one more coating. Each time you reapply, you use less. By the time you factor in the cost of a watering system, water and/or labor, this is a pretty good deal. We have long stretches of below zero temps in the winter and our footing stays very soft and "dry" not freezing up at all.

Keep in mind that as your footing deteriorates, it is ground finer and finer and produces much more dust. If the sand is already ground to a fine powder, even watering or coating with a dust-down product will not resolve the dust issue. Periodically, the footing should be removed and replaced with new, coarser sand. A dusty environment is a health issue for both horses and humans, so it is an investment worth making.