The arena at my new barn which deserves the moniker Boarding Heaven, was very nice. There was room for a 20 x 40 meter dressage court with plenty of extra space for other riding. There are trees at the far end that create a shady corner for summer days. The footing was sandy. Nothing to complain about it.
The footing was a wee bit rocky, but I dealt with it by picking the rocks out of my riding area. The rocks were nearly all smooth with no sharp edges, but still ... rocks are rocks. Boarding Heaven lies in a river bottom so rocks are just part of the geography. RM, Boarding Heaven's owner, has worked on several plans for removing the rocks. The first plan was to remove them by hand. She keeps several buckets around into which we drop rocks. When turning out a horse, I'd grab a bucket and walk around the arena picking up rocks. She did the same. I viewed it as exercise.
Her next plan involved borrowing a large "screen" and tractor which would scoop dirt and drop it onto the screen thereby filtering the rocks from the sand. The sand would then be re-spread around the arena. This plan has been on hold because a screen and tractor with a bucket able to lift that high haven't been located.
Then RM saw an ad in an equestrian magazine for Rid "O" Rock. The company is based in Phoenix, Arizona so getting an estimate took some time. The price turned out to be right because Joe Chavez, the company's owner, was able to give an estimate one day and start the job the next. He travels America's Southwest with his rock-digging machine, tractor, and other accessories giving estimates and doing jobs. It seemed kind of like an ice cream truck!
Joe's website says ... Why Rid O Rock? We’re your rock removal solution! Our screening process begins by reconditioning your existing material removing debris and rock to a size of 3/8s minus. In a one pass operation the material is screened to a desired depth of 6 inches or more which creates a rock free base. After screening we harrow the arena so it will be perfect for horse and rider to go out and ride without risk of getting injured.
I didn't get to see the rock-removal machine in action, but I did get to check the thing out. It's the first photo down below (click for a larger view). The front of the machine, left side of photo, has a blade that digs into the ground. Joe said he went down twelve inches for this arena. Dirt and rocks are carried by several rows of rock-catching bars into the hopper at the rear. As the dirt and rocks travel, loose sand and dirt fall through the screen. Once the hopper is full of rocks, he dumps them in a designated pile. See the third and fourth photos. All of those rocks came from our arena. Yikes!
Once all of the rock is removed, the dirt is very deep, but also very fine. See the fifth photo. I walked out into the arena and sank at least six inches with each step. Joe assured us that when he was finished the footing would be well packed and perfect for riding. His next step was to use the harrow to repack the dirt (photos six, seven, and eight) He worked it for quite some time, but when he was finished, it was perfect. I walked out into the arena again and sank down only about an inch. I was able to ride after lunch and enjoyed a rock free, sandy surface! See photos nine and ten.
The best part of this whole endeavor was that we got a steady rain that same night. By Saturday morning, the rain had soaked down below the surface of the footing which was the final touch that was needed. Joe's system works like this: he cuts down into the dirt anywhere from six to twelve inches, depending on the footing. He removes the rocks and packs the surface as described above. With water (no sprinklers in our arena so the rain was truly Heaven sent), the bottom six inches of what he ripped will form a dense layer that he called a rock barrier. This layer will harden and prevent rocks from creeping up into the riding layer. Vibration from pounding hooves is what breaks rocks loose and allows them to enter the riding surface. With the barrier that he created, rocks won't be able to creep up into our arena. We hope, anyway!
Before Joe left, he repaired the fence where he had driven through. He even returned the arena boards that RM and I had removed before he came. He also finished adding the decomposed granite to the barn's aisle, a job that RM had been working on last week. He was so skilled with the tractor that he dumped the DG and spread it without a single spook from the horses. They stood in their stalls munching hay as though a tractor drives through the barn every day! See last two photos.
Click each of the photos for a larger view.