A cloud of dust and a hearty ”Hi ho Silver!”
That’s how ”The Lone Ranger” used to open on TV, but if that cloud of dust is in your arena, you won’t be able to see Silver at all or anyone else for that matter. And dust can lead to allergies, eye and lung problems. Arena dust is bad.
There are three ways to disperse dust from your arena:
1. Get new footing in a dust-free mix and then take special care to always remove any organic elements (like manure) that can break down into dust particles. It’s the best solution, but we’re talking real money here.
2. Water, water and more water. This assumes you have an adequate water source and it’s not winter (where water turns your ring into a skating rink). The main cost is time. The side effect is mud.
3. Add a dust-control product to your existing footing to weight it down. It’s more expensive, but it can be more effective depending on your footing and your climate.
The Dust Problem. Exposure to sun and wind help break down footing into dust in an outdoor arena, but even in a covered arena footing can easily grind into fine particles. If your arena has a well-compacted base, the native soil won’t work its way to the surface, while a base that wasn’t compacted to start with will break apart and allow dust to work up. The footing itself needs to have particles big enough to not drift into the air and be resistant to breaking down under hoof traffic.
You can start out with footing that is mostly sand over a clay base, but if it has a lot of traffic it could become as much as 50% silt in as little as a year due to the abrasive effect of the horses and maintenance equipment. You don’t want the tines in your harrow digging into that base. Crumb rubber mixed with sand reduces the abrasion between sand particles if it’s added at the same time as the sand. If the dust is already there, adding rubber won’t help reduce it.
What’s This Stuff’ Dust-control products come in several categories that act in different ways: salts, oils and chemical compounds such as alkanes or polymers.
Salt is a moisture magnet. It works best in humid climates, but it also can help in very cold climates where indoor arenas can’t be watered because they’ll freeze. Calcium chloride (plain salt) tends to be corrosive, magnesium chloride less so. Salts will wash away in the rain, so they’re just for indoors. As a rule, you spread salt on the top of the footing and let it work itself in over time. Don’t add water.
Oils generally control the dust by coating the footing. (Motor oil is a no-no.) The oils used in dust-control products are usually vegetable oils, sometimes even food-grade. They work best on sand footing.
Alkanes and polymers bind the dust so that it doesn’t disperse or else they absorb water and then release it slowly. They’re the most complicated chemically of all these products. Alkanes tend to work best on arena footing that is mostly sand. Polymers, especially, can be expensive and also hard to apply and maintain.
This area of products intended specifically for dust control in riding arenas is relatively new and still has a bit of a Wild West aura. They pop up suddenly and can disappear just as quickly.
Most are offshoots of companies that control dust in other applications, such as on roads, at construction sites, and for military and industrial use. Even as we prepared this article, we found a couple products still listed on websites that were no longer available or were being reformulated.
Several of the dust-control companies we talked to didn’t care to disclose the ingredients of their products, saying that this was ”proprietary.” We found the information on websites often long on claims of effectiveness and safety but short on actual information.
In making the decision as to which product to use, talk to a real person at the company, don’t just go by the website. Insist on full disclosure of the chemicals and the purity of all materials. You have the right to know what you’re buying.
Most types of products can be do-it-yourself, but some are better applied professionally. Make sure you know. This makes a big difference in convenience and in cost.
Safety. All the products we found claimed to be environmentally safe and biodegradable. Check for a Material Safety Data Sheet, but this is meant more for the safety of whoever applies it. That said, since these products should be safe during the intensity of exposure during application, they should be safe for riding as well. Unfortunately, the MSDS isn’t required to contain a list of the actual ingredients. It just indicates their safety.
The greatest concern we have is for calcium chloride, which can be corrosive to arena walls and equipment. Magnesium chloride is less corrosive, but even so it’s probably a good idea to rinse off your horse’s legs and maybe your own boots after riding. At least keep an eye on your horse’s legs for a while after its application.
While it may be tempting to shop for products of similar materials from non-horsey sources — take the word ”horse” off a product and the price often goes down — we would be leery.
Effectiveness. The usefulness of most of these products depends on how well you communicate your needs to the seller. In some cases, there’s just too much dust for any of these products to work. If you’re going to get any kind of guarantee with your purchase, the seller will need to be assured that he can actually solve your problem.
Rob English, who sells MAG, lists the following questions to be addressed:
1. What is the footing material’
2. What is the age of the footing’
3. How many horses use it’
4. What type of riding is done normally’
5. How do you groom your footing, using what type of equipment’
6. How bad is the dust’ Can you see from one end to the other when it is at its very worst’
7. What color is the fine dust that collects on the top of the jump rails and kickrail’
8. Can you control the dust to your satisfaction when you water it’
(A ”yes” answer to that last question would indicate that a dust-control product could help fix the problem.)
Most of the dust-control products are intended for use only in indoor arenas. The products that can be used outdoors usually indicate that watering needs are reduced but not eliminated.
In some cases, you can spot test the product, which we think is a good idea. If in doubt, start with a small amount and increase it as you go, rather than start with too much and make a mess. Make sure you know all the conditions of any warranty, including whether you can/should add footing after the product is applied.
Bottom Line. Commercial dust-control products start at around $400/year for a 10,000 square-foot indoor arena and can go above $4,0 00. The amount you need could increase over the years if your footing tends to break down or could decrease as the product builds up.
There’s no easy answer here. The price and your choice of a product depend on your climate (hot, cold, humid, dry, windy), the amount of traffic in your arena, plus the contents and condition of your particular footing.
For indoor arenas, we’d start with simple magnesium chloride. It’s time-tested both for safety and effectiveness, is easy to apply, works with a variety of footings, is lower in price than most other choices, and re-applying it if necessary won’t break the bank. For outdoor arenas, it’s good, old water.
Article by Associate Editor Margaret Freeman.