There are many important aspects of keeping horses that stable owners have to keep track of, from pest-free feed storage to secure fencing. In comparison to these concerns, having a little dust floating around from all of the hoof traffic might not seem like that big of a deal, as most stable owners choose to water their arenas in order to keep most of the dust down. But even if watered correctly, dust can still manage to work its way up into the air, and failing to control it better can lead to some pretty serious issues for both horses and riders.
What Causes Arena Dust?
The dust floating around your arena comes from small particles trapped in the arena’s footing, which are lightweight and easily kicked up into the air when disturbed. If your footing is made of sand, these particles can be from clay, silt, or organic material, which some suppliers fail to wash out of their sand. Even if you pay extra for washed sand, dust will still eventually be an issue. The sand will be slowly pulverized by the horses’ hooves, breaking it down until the particles eventually become small enough to go airborne when disturbed.
Another contributor to arena dust is manure, which can happen in two ways. Firstly, if manure isn’t cleaned up from the arena frequently enough. Because it is fast to decompose, manure can release particles into the air in just a few hours during hot months. Some stables even choose to use composted manure as a footing, which also leads to manure-based dust.
Underneath your arena’s footing is a base layer, which is typically made out of clay or stone dust. Over time, these materials can work their way up through the footing, and get kicked up with other particles. This is especially true in cases where the base layer was not compacted enough when installed.
Risks of a Dusty Arena
When it comes to dust, the smaller the particles are, the worse they are for you. That’s because these smaller particles can lodge themselves in the lung’s alveoli, which are the microscopic sacs that take the oxygen you breathe and transfer it to your bloodstream. Once in the alveoli, the particles inhibit your lungs’ ability to effectively transfer that oxygen. This can lead to many different respiratory diseases in humans, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, persistent inflammation of mucous membranes, and pneumonia. And in stables where composted manure is the footing of choice, it was found that people had a 25% higher chance of developing bacterial pneumonia than in arenas that chose a different footing material.
For horses, the risks of dust inhalation are very similar to what people experience. Dust in a horse’s airways can cause inflammation, equine asthma, and recurrent airway obstruction syndrome, also called heaves, a chronic and incurable lung disease. All of these conditions inhibit a horse’s ability to transfer oxygen to the bloodstream, which in turn decreases their ability to perform physical activities.
Many Solutions Ineffective
The most popular method to reduce dust in arenas is to water the footing, but there are a number of reasons that this tactic doesn’t always solve the problem. Firstly, the water must be applied generously enough to soak at least the top two inches of footing. This can be difficult for smaller areas that don’t have access to a water truck or a sprinkler system installed, as they must do the watering by hand. Different weather conditions can also make watering difficult. For arena owners in drought-prone areas, watering can be an impossible option when water is scarce. And in areas with cold winters, watering is largely impossible during periods of below-freezing temperatures.
Other arena owner has chosen to mix in additives, typically made of wood or fiber, to their footing, in order to help prevent sand particles from breaking down as quickly. While this approach works in the short term, these additives eventually break down as well and become dust.
Options That Work
For many years, a popular option for dust control at arenas was to add calcium chloride, which attracts moisture from the air and acts like a barrier layer that prevents small particles from becoming airborne. Over time, however, calcium chloride was found to be too damaging, as it caused metal corrosion on arena equipment and dried out horse hooves and tack.
Recently, magnesium chloride has been gaining popularity as an effective dust control method. It works in the same manner as calcium chloride, but lacks its corrosive qualities and is significantly less damaging to horse hooves. Simply brushing off a horse’s feet and legs after a workout are enough to ensure the health of their hooves when using magnesium chloride. It is readily available and cheap, making it one of the most cost-effective dust control options, with particularly long effectiveness in covered arenas. Magnesium chloride also helps in cold climates, by lowering freezing temperatures and allowing the footing to be watered further into the winter.
Prolonged exposure to dust can lead to serious health issues for both people and horses, which is why investing time into adequate dust control is an extremely important consideration for arena owners. Water alone just isn’t enough to keep dust at bay, which is why magnesium chloride makes for a great option to keep everyone at your arena healthy.