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Spinal Research



Outdoor schooling areas


Yes, it's That Time of Year again!  Although we are lucky enough to have direct access to off road hacking, we don't have a proper school.... the soil around here is fairly sandy anyway, and in the summer we mark out a schooling area on one of the fields, but now it's getting a bit wetter we don't want to carve up what little grazing we have!
Now, we have two options.... there is an area in front of the muckheap where we have spread used shavings to make a soft surface for lunging when the ground is rock hard..... and there is a small paddock about 30m square which is being sacrificed to the cause!  The shavings should be OK when the paddock is frozen.... but the paddock itself is already starting to carve up, and although the soil is sandy it's going to be a mud puddle before too long....
Does anyone have any ideas about how we could make this a better wet weather surface?  The yard is skint, of course - when did you ever find a livery yard that wasn't?  I was toying with the idea of everyone chipping in to get a load of sand delivered, but do you think that would help?  And how much sand would we need to make a difference?

Depends a lot on how many horses (ie how many hours use a week).

If it's any more than about 5 - 10 hours a week, I don't think you'd get away with anything put proper drainage and a proper surface.

Not much help but I have heard that wood chippings are ok at first but you need to keep putting fresh down for them to be any use and it works out quite expensive.
Also the grass in the spring would have a job coming through from under wood chippings so if it is used for grazing in the summer then I would not recommend this.

I think you would need to invest in proper drainage and surface  if you want it to last.

Talk to your planning authority before putting down a sand surface. Our local planners consider that this amounts to "development" for which planning permission is required, and we can't get permission where we are because the planners are happy for the fields to be used for grazing, but not to have schooling and other facilities installed which might subsequently be put to commercial use.

If you're already a commercial yard then I imagine your planning authority will not have any such reservations, but you ought to check whether you need permission and whether you're likely to get it before you go ahead. There can be nothing worse than spending all your available money getting a load of sand in, only to be required to take it away again!

That's sound advice..... Fortunately we already have planning permission to install an all singing, all dancing outdoor school!   Now, if only we could find the odd 10,000 we'd be laughing!!  It's a really frustrating chicken and egg situation.... if the yard had a proper school, then the owners could charge more for the livery, and afford to install a proper school.....  

I believe they did have a go at putting down a surface some years ago, but because it was done on the cheap the drainage wasn't sorted out properly and it became a quagmire.  That's the bit in front of the muckheap which stays soft when everything else is baked/frozen!  We've put the shavings down to soak up the excess water, but it's far too deep and slippery to use in wet weather... works quite well in a drought, though!  We used it quite a lot this summer when the ground elsewhere was rock hard.

Which still leaves the problem of what to do with this small paddock.... Not too worried about spoiling the grass in there, as it's fairly non-existent anyway!  Just want something we can walk and trot on to keep the neds exercised.... and it will also get used for turnout for the stabled ponies.  We're in a bit of a pickle this year because we're losing (at short notice) the use of the big field where the ponies graze, so we will have to keep more in stables than we would normally.

I have a small area of 'waste' ground (between my bottom garden and my semi-derelict polytunnel which is also destined for repair).  It has had quite a bit of 'rubble' on it in the past and there is a drain (ditch) across the bottom of the garden so I've got a little man with a grader coming to smooth it ( it will still be slightly sloped) then I'm going to spread hardcore on top in the hope that this will make a reasonably all-weather turnout area (it's handy to the stables.)  We're also doing the same to an area below where the new stables are going (WHEN I can find someone to put up the building!!!)  Don't know if it will work - but if it does stand up to our lunatics bucking their way around it in the winter ....  I'll let you know!

I think the important things are: 1) Surface drains above the area - to take away run-off water; and 2) lifting the level of the ground.

I suspect if you just put sand on top the sand will squelch in.  A couple of lorry loads of hardcore first (well rolled down) with some shavings on top might work as long as it wasn't TOO heavily used.

Our yard tried woodchip to soak up wet  to make up a pathway to the furthest fields as it got so deep and muddy. (it was free from someone doing a forestry work job
IT worked for  a while, and whilst frosty but once the woodchip had soaked up the wet, it ended  worse than mud, as it sank and rotted and made the muddy path every squishier. We tried sand for inside our gates and field shelters, but by January it had got churned up into the mud, and did not make a lot of difference as no drains.

Whatever you put down will get poached into the mud, unless drained, or built up and kept in  place with retaining board edges.
And if we have a winter like last year, there will be plenty of mud.
So I would go for something that will not absorb the water, but will help firm up the mud.  If you need somewhere for turnout - mooching about, and a bit of walk and trot exercise, can you get any ash/fine gravel type material. to lay on top. At least then as it gets trodden in, it will be a firmer surface.

Yeah, I quite like the ash/fine gravel idea.... does anyone have any clues about how much we would need?  Or how much it costs?  Presumably I need to try a builders merchant....

Try your local power station for ash or ring National Ash on 0800 7312865. I work for a building company and we buy ash in 20t loads for about 7.00 per tonne, but I would have thought you will be able to have smaller loads.

Just as funny as greys rolling in ash:
Greys ( in 20's so white grey) rolling in bright orange cheap sand in gateway!  
Not mine, so quite funny.
Even funnier, new livery ignored old hand's advice and left her light grey out in field when nearby air display c/w Red Arrows, With red white and blue smoke trails, Came low over fields nearby, up wind. Result- red, grey and blue stripey horse!

Re ash, anyone remember the old ash outdoor arena at Wembley- what .where did they get that from?

IF you can get use of heavy tractor with bucket attachment  to move, level and bash them down,  and there are any road works nearby, see if you can get the tarmac scalpings from when they scrape off the old tarmac. Once rolled in, it makes a firm non-slip surface.

Know what you mean about the chicken and egg quandary.
Our school needed to be made bigger and the surface completely renovated for this winter as there were more liveries and more of a focus on competing etc so facilities needed.
Our livery yard has done it by upping our livery since July (VERY unpopular) and are now getting going on doing the school. It did mean we had to kind of pay up front for it (which is not ideal) but without doing it that way it would never have been done.
We've had to install drainage, with hardcore and limestone and membrane on top and then surface. I hasten to add they've only managed to do the drainage so far so there are a lot of complaints about the fact we've been paying more livery for 3 months with the proviso of having the school for winter/onset of dark nights. No ideal solution on that front I think.

It is a quandary that I have at the DIY yard that I manage - we are ideally situated for loads of local people - only 1 mile from the local town - but - everyone moans because there is no arena! BUT I can't convince the landowner to put one in if I can't get the liveries filled - and I can't fill the liveries until I get an arena!!!!


Do you have a local quarry?  We're lucky, as Clee Hill is only 8 miles away (transport is the expensive killer.)  You're going to need at LEAST 20 tonnes - probably more - so builder's merchant probably not the place to go.

You will also need a man with a machine to spread it - and good idea to level the area first so you don't end up wasting stone filling dips.  Ideally, you should spread coarse stone first (say up to 3 inch diameter) and then a load of finer gravel or ash - probably 3 inch thickness of each is about the minimum - depending on your subsoil.


Well, that brings us back to where we started with the sand idea! Cos Leighton Buzzard is the sand capital of the world.... we actually export sand to Saudi Arabia!!  And the off road riding that we have is round a disused sand pit that has been landscaped over the last twenty years or so.....
Which means I could get a large delivery of untreated sand fairly cheaply, although we'd have to sift through it to get the bits of sandstone out.... but the general consensus seems to be that this wouldn't work unless we had already dug out the paddock, and laid drainage/foundations... which is going to be too expensive!
Unfortunately we don't have any stone quarries around here, nor do we have any power stations.  

I phoned National Ash, and the good news is you can buy suitable clinker for 10 per tonne.... and the bad news is it comes from North Yorkshire, so they'll charge another 25 per tonne to deliver it!!!  And the really frustrating thing is that the same clinker is produced at Didcot, which is much nearer, but one of the builders buys the whole output.  So if you live 'oop North' then you may well be able to get ash for your schools, but I'm afraid it's back to the drawing board for this Southerner.


Straight sand might work as long as its really deep and well compacted.   I get it "as raised" for around 7/8 delivered and dumped for gateways and use around 17 - 20 tons per gate.  The 1st one I did is now 6 yrs old and still working.
Mine does come with big stones mixed in so you would need to sort it but maybe you could use these as the stone base!
If you were going to try it I reckon you would need at least 100 tons and probably more, a tractor to level it, a way to squash it flat and a roller to keep it flat - as soon as hooves go through it your losing the battle.
good luck

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