Chat Transcript: Ken Helm

? Arianna Delin.

EquiStaffThank you all for joining us tonight, and special thanks to tonight’s sponsor, Perma-Flex, as well as our expert Ken Helm. Please proceed with any questions for Ken.

EquiStaffLet’s begin with a question that came in earlier via email. TWELVEFEET asks: “We just put in a riding area behind our barn and it was recommended (by another horseperson) to use a red clay/sand mixture which is readily available up here in the north woods. The landscaper used this mixture and made it approximately inches deep (also recommended). I feel this is too deep and could be hard on the horses legs as it is fairly soft, and doesn’t seem to be firming up at all. Is there anything I could add to help firm it up that is relatively inexpensive? I have a harrow and use that to smooth the surface after riding a few times. Thanks for any help.”

EquiStaffWhat would you suggest for Twelvefeet, Ken?

JenCWell, I road at a place that had clay in their footing. It was really dusty!

KenHelm – Telvefeet, first, does your arena have a base? Second, you have to be careful up north because they don’t have what is called a natural sand. They have what is called crushed rock. It continues to break down. Third, your depth on your footing is too deep–should be no more than 2 inches with a good base. Anything more than 2 inches can cause your horses to come up lame or become very fatigued.

JenCKen, didn’t your article say 3 inches maximum?

KenHelm – Jen C, regarding 3 inches maximum, that is an absolute–no more than 3 inches maximum. Every rider has his or her own preference. Some require 1-1/2 and some require 3 It varies.

KenHelm – inches includes crumb rubber.


bdooneKen, good evening, my horses share a shelter that is floored with sand ,how can I eliminate the serious dust problem without completely losing the sand?

KenHelm – Bdoone, remove the sand. Install screenings, which is a stone dust material. Wet it, compact it and if you can afford it, install rubber mats. That’s your best flooring.

bdoonebut the shelter is one big 40 by 100 foot space. I can’t remove the sand…$$$, can wood chips keep the dust down?

KenHelm – bdoone, you could try wood chips, but they break down and turn to powder and it will get even dustier eventually.

KenHelm – BDoone, take out the sand. If it is that large, install clay or stick with stone dust. It’s easier to clean because it won’t turn into mush with the horses.

JenCKen, what’s your view on the grade percentage?

KenHelm – JenC, regarding grade percentage, no more than 1 percent slope.

JenCokay, thanks!

cassyWhat would you recommend for a multi uses arena — amount of sand and rubber? I’ve gotten a few different amounts by a few different rubber dealers?

KenHelm – One good point about arenas is that you must properly maintain them. You need to have a proper drag, drag in different directions every time you drag the arena. You will find your horse performs better and doesn’t become fatigued.

KenHelm – Cassy, for a multi-use, I would recommend an inch and a half of sand mixed with 3/4 of an inch of crumb rubber and that will give you an overall depth of 2 inches. If you add that up, it will be 2 1/4 inches, but there is a lot of air displacement in sand. That helps with the bounce and keeps your sand alive.

cassyThanks Ken

bdoonehow does one keep the dust down in an indoor arena?

KenHelm – bdoone, the best way to keep dust down is to water it. If you have a high volume, I recommend watering every morning. If you ride moderately I’d say do it twice a week.

bdoonethank you

EquiStaff I received this question earlier via e-mail from Quimpy: “We’ve acquired 18 acres behind our house and barn. We plan to put up an indoor that is 100 x 200 We are having the land cleared and stumped. It is fairly level, high off a hill, so it is fairly dry, but we are wondering, since we are starting from scratch, what we need to do to put down for a base, etc.”

KenHelm – Quimpy: First, you want to lay it out–make sure you’re happy with way everything is going to set.

KenHelm – Two, make all your cuts and fills to get your land into a level position. It is very important to make sure that everything that is filled is rolled and compacted.

KenHelm – Then, dig all your footers and pour all your concrete for footings. Then you just need to erect your building. Then, trench in all your utilities.

KenHelm – Now, Quimpy, you have completed all your major work and you are ready to install your base. You can install your base and it is very important to water it–soak it–so you can compact it.

KenHelm – The most important part for an indoor arena is to have a very good compacted base. After your base is installed and compacted, you can install your footing, either sand with a rubber base or whatever you feel is adequate to your needs.

EquiStaffLet us address another question that came in earlier today via email from MISSYCLARE: “I have a 60 foot round pen that is outside. In the past, I have used a fine cut shavings. It’s so fine that it feels like peat moss – really spongy. After the initial loads, I only put in 1/2 loads so that it doesn’t get too deep. This stuff is local and in my price range. It doesn’t really drain well and its about 10 degrees hotter in there than on the grass. The fence is not solid, but the bottom board is at ground level to help to hold it in. It’s on top of a hill, with runoff all going down in the same direction. The bottom board is not holding it in during heavy rains. I have dug trenches that go with the flow, both inside and outside the pen but its still not enough. I’ve been thinking of buying beach sand, but I fear it getting into their eyes and stomachs and of being too loose and taxing their legs. I can only use it in winter under the best of conditions and in short, wish i could get better use out of it year round. With blood, sweat and tears, I built this thing all by myself and have been fighting disappointment ever since. Would you have any suggestions for a footing to use that would at least extend my training days and how I can keep it in the ring where it belongs now that the structure exists?”

KenHelm – To answer Missy Clare’s question: Your first step is to stop the water problem. You can solve your water problem by cutting swales around the upper part of the round pen. Do not use beach sand. It is round and it will break down and become very dusty.

KenHelm – You should use angular sand, Missy Clare, that has a C-33 spec. That should suit your needs.

KenHelm – Missy Clare, if you want to extend your riding time you can add rubber to it. It will help extend your riding time in the winter because it’s dark in color and will not freeze and helps extend riding time in winter.

EquiStaffAnother question received this week is from Rosie: “We have a heated indoor arena at our grounds. The footing they got is always so dusty by March it is straight sand. By spring it is worn out and this is when it gets dusty. This year we mixed oil in it and it was better. But it still broke down. Do you recommend a mix of some sort or are we buying the right kind of sand?

KenHelm – Rose, you need to make sure you are buying the right kind of sand. You need to use a natural sand that is an angular cut, washed sand that has a C-33 spec. To help keep the sand alive so it doesn’t break down, adding a little crumb rubber will help in the life of it.

EquiStaffWe had two other questions concerning dust from emailers, Chile and Rose. Rose suggests that she has heard that if you mix detergent in the soil it will be less dusty. Do you know if this works?

EquiStaffChile asked: We use dead sand and screenings in three arenas and by and large it works well but the dust can get unbearable during periods of drought. We do not have an irrigation system. Is there anything else that works, but is also safe on the environment, i.e. no oil? Thanks

KenHelm – Rose, regarding mixing detergent in the soil: That’s the first I’ve ever heard of that. I’d be careful before I did that. Some detergents have different chemicals that could irritate the horses’ eyes or respiratory systems.

KenHelm – Chile, first off, are the screenings and the sand mixed together? If they are mixed, you need to remove that, because the screenings are breaking down and are contributing to your dust problem.

EquiStaffAnd what if you did water that arena after putting detergent in it?!

KenHelm – Chile, make sure you are using the washed, angular-cut sand with the C-33 spec.

bdooneseems dust is a major problem everywhere…

KenHelm – One thing people should realize about arenas is that a horse is an athlete. Horses need proper training surfaces to train on. If you’re trying to compete with your animal in heavy competition or pleasure, you need to have a proper training surface.

KenHelm – When you achieve a proper training surface you will find it makes a big difference in your riding and training techniques.

KenHelm – The best way to combat dust is to water. Keep your arena a little bit moist.

KenHelm – Another thing people should look at when building an arena is to check out the contractor of choice to see how many arenas they have built. See how they are doing on the arenas they are building before you choose them. Not every excavator is an arena builder! The bottom line: Make sure you are getting what you are paying for.

KenHelm – Does anyone have any questions about barns or barn building? If you do later, feel free to email me at

bdooneKen what is the ideal size for arena?

KenHelm – The ideal size is 100 x 200. That gives you enough room to do flat work and to do jumping without having to keep moving your jumps on and off the arena.

KenHelm – If you get slippery spots in your arena–first you have to determine the cause. Is it spring and there is a sinkhole developing or just a depression in the base which is holding moisture.

KenHelm – The sand could just be too deep if it is slippery. After you determine the cause, there are many possible fixes. I would recommend consulting an experienced arena contractor–someone who specializes in it.

EquiStaffEquisearch would like to thank you all for joining us tonight to learn how to combat dust and best approach arena-issues. Special thanks to Ken Helm for his time and knowledge as well as to tonight’s sponsor, Perma-Flex.

EquiStaffA transcript of tonight’s chat will be available on the website. Please refer to the site or direct further questions to Ken Helm at

bdoonethank you Ken

KenHelm – Thanks very much, everyone. If anyone has any further questions, please feel free to contact me at

EquiStaff Thank you and good night.

Many thanks to Ken Helm and tonight’s sponsor, Perma-Flex High Performance Arena Footing. Visit their website at

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