Footing Solutions for Dressage Horses with Hilo Nick

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2017

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Riders and trainers understand the importance of sound footing for performance horses to keep horses successful in their training. is pleased to have had a rare interview with Footing Solutions consultant Hilo Nick who travels around the world building arena footing. 

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Watch a segment of the Interview with Hilo Nick discussing arena footing.

On this rare occasion, Hilo stands on a newly completed 16,000 square foot indoor dressage arena where a crew took four days to install a drip watering system within a grid base and then another four days adding silica sand with geotextiles on top.

The result is a world-class riding surface that maintains the perfect moisture and resists decomposition.    “All we are trying to do is copy the structure of turf, “ says Hilo.

This interview takes place in British Columbia, Canada where Hilo shares her 5 considerations when it comes to footing.  

  1. Consider the Cost to the Horse

Hilo explains the variety of soft tissue injuries that occur with deep, unstable footing.    Conversely, a hard, unforgiving surface can cause splints and jarring of joints.     Slippery surfaces can cause horses to loose confidence and dusty environments can impact respiratory health.  

  1. Consider the Base

In this arena, Hilo shows the grid system that is placed under the mixture of sand.   “It is a life long separation layer between your base and your sand.”  The flexible grid adds “bounce” and prevents subsoil materials like rocks and clay from migrating to the surface. 

  1. Consider the Footing Material

Hilo explains that her top choice of footing material is silica sand.  She shares that silica sand is a very hard sand but it does not decompose or decay into stone dust.   “Even if it were to get dry, it would never get dusty”.  It has a very long life and it never changes it’s structure.   Other sands such as concrete and river sand are not as resilient and organic materials like sawdust and wood chips will break down over time.

  1. Consider Geotexiles

Geotextiles are now a common additive to arenas.   “Selection has to be done very carefully,” says Hilo.  “We like the one with a thick fuzzy looking polyester felt.” The felt provides both cushioning as well as the fibers release over time and knit and hold the sand together much like turf.

  1. Consider Moisture

Moisture is crucial for maintaining footing structure.  “The moisture is easily tested,” says Hilo as she reaches down and takes a handful of sand and compresses it into her fist.  “Just grab a little bit of sand and squeeze it and it should stick together.”  

Hilo provides details on the state of the art watering system installed at this specific site: a drip irrigation system.   Installed below the sand, a timer releases small amounts of water, which hydrates the footing from below.   Far less water is used and even distribution of water is achieved with minimal maintenance.   “It’s a new way for arena irrigation,” says Hilo.    “The capillary effect of the sand pulls the moisture up.  You won’t feel it you, won’t hear it, you have perfect moisture throughout.”

Hilo reminds us to consider expert advice when considering your arena footing and maintains that there are solutions for every budget using any footing material.  

Her final message is to cross train our horses as footing at show grounds will be different though creating a safe home training surface for our horses is vital.  “That’s the place at home where you train on and ride your horse the most.”

Thank you Hilo for your invaluable knowledge.

To watch the full interview with Hilo Nick, click here.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, email 


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