4 solutions for a dusty arena

Have a dusty arena? Here’s a look at some solutions – the good and the bad.

For decades, barn owners simply watered their indoor arena in an effort to keep dust under control. But as the horse industry grew to what is now over a million riders, most of whom want indoor facilities during the winter months, the freezing of wet footing quickly became an issue. People began to explore different options to help keep footing dust-free, and horse friendly. Let’s take a look at some of these options.

Calcium salts

Chloride was an original natural solution, and is still in use today. But it can dry out your horse’s hooves, corrode parts of your arena or equipment, and create footing disposal problems. Magnesium chloride is now in widespread use because it is considered less drying to hooves and is less corrosive in nature.


One of next solutions was used motor oil or recycled hydraulic lubricant, which has been used for years and is still found in many arenas today. This oil keeps the dust down, without question, much like an oiled road. And less watering is required, which means fewer freezing issues. But dust, oil and lungs are not a healthy combination! When you consider your horse requires up to 72 times as much air as his you do, you realize this can lead to problems. Originally used oils, usually blended with surfactants to allow them to dissolve in the water used as a thinner, contained a host of unhealthy additives and contaminants. And multiple drums could be required for a standard arena on an annual basis.

In the last few years, many suppliers have changed over to “virgin oils”. These are food grade oils, but still petroleum-based and can result in lung issues. Some suppliers use natural plant-based oils, which on the surface seem like a good idea, but some footing experts have indicated they have been known to go rancid. Some are adding preservatives to this water/oil mix, but then you get away from the intended natural solution.

Once the footing, which normally has about a ten-year lifespan, needs to be replaced it has to be disposed of properly – and any oiled footing may be considered a contaminant.

Loft agents

Wood chips are another popular add-in to sand footings. The theory is that the chips can hold moisture and help cushion the footing. When they are freshly applied, everything looks and smells great and seems to be effective. The difficulty is that wood chips are quickly reduced to small, dusty particles by the repetitive pounding of horses’ hooves. So the “solution” can soon create a huge dust and health factor.

Chopped up used rubber tires came into vogue some years back as a great way to recycle the millions of worn out treads. The fabric on the scrap rubber held some moisture and the rubber appeared to give footing an added cushion effect, which appealed to owners and riders. Unfortunately, the fabric breaks down to dusty particles over time and the eventual footing disposal problem again raises its head.

A few companies are offering clean, fabric-free tire chips that can be added to footings for cushioning effect, or that may be used as the total 4” to 6” inches of footing itself. These can be used in indoor as well as outdoor arenas and can come in a few colors, like what you now see in some shrub garden and lawn areas. These products will solve any freezing and dust problems. They’re quite pricey, but they do have a long life factor. Companies can also bind these rubber chips together to make rugged, long-lasting stall mats.


We have worked with zeolite for over 30 years now, and decided to look down that track for arena dust control. Few North Americans are well acquainted with the capabilities of zeolite. Europeans, on the other hand, know this product well and use it in health foods, gardens, composters and potted plants to help maintain moisture and control odor and ammonia.

Zeolite is a mineral formed millions of years ago when volcanic ash was deposited in water. It is almost a “miracle product” with numerous untold applications. You may have heard of its use in the medical field or agriculture, or in household products such as laundry detergent, cat litter, or aquarium filters.

Ground zeolite, which can act as a humidistat, may be fortified with natural biologicals and magnesium chloride to pull moisture from the air, resulting in a good all-natural dust control system.

Selecting a dust control product for your arena can seem like a daunting task. After all, you want to protect your horses and your arena. Good footing means comfortable, healthy horses and happy riders. Be sure to do your research to discover what dust control solution will work best for you.

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Bill Milne, a mechanical and aeronautical technologist graduate, has been considered one of the environmental recreational product leaders in the equine and marine industry for over 30 years. Bill’s Company Alex Milne Associates Ltd (alexmilne.com) develops and manufactures these unique products in Canada and sells them to the global market. He has also set up a series of Canadian environmental awards, OEF, Can-Am, Equine Canada etc, to help encourage everyone to raise the environmental bar. justaddhorses.ca