Monday, October 17, 2011

Sand and Horses; Perfect Together!

If you've never wondered what works best for your horses' long-term health and happiness, then you probably have never owned a horse.  The rest of us are always looking for ways to take the vet out of the equation (sorry, Dr. Fazio) and get the most out of our horses for the longest time possible.  To that end, the following report is a very good bit of news indeed.  

I'll wait while you read.

Biomechanical analysis of hoof landing and stri... [Equine Vet J. 2010] - PubMed - NCBI

Okay?  So, you' re thinking, "But I don't own a Standarbred trotter, so who gives a hoo-hah about whether or not they like the beach?"  Right.  And I don't ever expect to transport my aging mounts to the Shore for a long weekend.  But the point here is that there is now scientific proof that sandy footing--deep sandy footing--allows Fuzz Butt to escape your days of fun with minimal impact damage to hooves and joints.  If that isn't good news, then I don't have a pile of samples of ridonculously expensive footing alternatives on my desk.  Seriously, $8K (yes, that's US$) for a singe truckload of ground-up sneakers..?  Paying top dollar for someone else's refuse seems over the top even for horse people.  I'm still smarting from the discovery that the horse vacuum for which I paid $100 many concussions ago was the identical model to the one on the shelf at the discount store for $49.95 with the sole addition of  horses printed on the bag. 

We really do have "sucker" tatooed in an obvious place.

Back to cases.  Sand, as it turns out, is cheap.  I have bought many truckloads over the years, so I am something of an aficionado.  The cheapest sand in my area is mason's sand.  Before you yell, no, it doesn't turn to concrete after the first rain.  It's the sand that mason's use to level the ground under stuff they're covering with concrete.  It looks like this:  
Mason Sand sans Mason

This was the very first sand I put in my outdoor ring over the mud, dirt, rocks and sawdust, some native and some put there in moments of idiocy on my part.  It's a nice sand, especially mixed with road grit.  If you live in the Northeast, any sand, once soaked with water and frozen, is a skating rink waiting to happen, so the road grit is a common local additive and even cheaper than the sand.  

Mason's Sand in White
 As you can see, mason sand comes in basic beige and white.

But this is not the be-all and end-all as far as sand goes.  The New Jersey company, ATAK Trucking, from which I borrowed the pics above, has quite an assortment, including...TA DA!...beach sand.  Which brings us back to the study.
Dakota looks askance at Lake Friedman.
Not one of my better efforts.
I am in constant flux when it comes to ring footing.  I've considered ground rubber, as it's truly wonderful and cushy, but the PtB require that I accept a full tractor-trailer load, which would fill my ring knee deep and cost a mint.  It's a tad hard to justify, even for me.  

Dolly carries Jess over something really tall in the nice
stone dust footing at Covered Bridge Equestrian Center.
If you have a quarry nearby, this is a great sand-alternative.
At the moment I have layers.  Somewhere at the bottom is granite, then Classic North Jersey rocks that three years of hand-picking and disking didn't quite eliminate, then the manure/sawdust remnants, and the mason's sand.  Then there's the road grit, the "washed sand" (aaargh!) that was my brilliant misunderstanding four years ago, and two layers of "equestrian sand", which defies definition.  I've been assure it's "nice sand with the silt removed" but not the same as "washed sand".  Uh....okay.  Guess you can ride in it but wouldn't want to eat off it.  

Occasionally I have at it all with the grade blade, York rake and chain drag,  and the resulting mix can be good or bad depending on the weather and my level of attention to detail.  Dunes are disastrous, and horses remember, believe me.  Dakota went nose first when his foot hit a dune during one memorable ride, and he's refused to go faster than a leisurely walk through deep footing ever since.  "Canter, canter, trot, trot, tippy-toe, tippy-toe, tippy-toe, canter" is not good for one's balance or sanity. 

Having read the study just as I was elbow deep in samples, I opted to have another load of "equestrian sand" delivered.  Seems all of the "remediations" required mixing with at least an inch-and-a-half of sand anyway, so why not start cheap and easy?  At $12.95 per ton, it's hard to beat.  It takes 50 tons to put a nice finish of about a half-inch on my 100' x 150' ring.  We can skip the part of the story where a sink hole opened in the sodden barnyard under the weight of the first tri-axle dump truck and its 25-ton load, precluding a second until we have a drought.  No one was harmed in the incident, and the Cliff Man already filled the hole.  The more important note is that if you don't have appropriate equipment for the spreading of sand (or other stuff), bulk delivery of 25 tons of anything is probably a mistake.  I have equipment.  I am Horse Woman, watch me tractor!   

You'll need a 4WD tractor with 3-point hitch, a quick hitch attachment if you're a lazy person like me who hates spending 10 minutes lining up equipment, a box blade, a grade blade, a York rake, and some sort of drag.  If you get the fancy sneaker remediation material they expect you to roto-till it into the sand.  Right. Not on my watch. 

Almost all sand is wet when it's delivered.  It's stored outside in humongoid piles. Duh.  Even with the best equipment, spreading wet sand is only a preliminary effort.  I always forget that.  It looks so nice and smooth and level and even when it's wet.  Then it dries.  Dakota knows where every deep spot is and refused to even venture forth until I re-spread the stuff to his approval.  Leo whined about how hard it is to get up a head of steam in half-inch-deep sand.  Zip and the others rolled in it immediately upon spreading.  So it goes. 

Still, even not-quite-even sand is better than rock.  Grass is better than rock.  So is dirt.  Do NOT spread manure as footing.  Seriously.  It is slippery and smelly and attracts flies, and you'll just have to dig it out and get rid of it.  Yep...been there, done that, lived to tell about it.  Sawdust is nice, but it breaks down really, really fast, and at $500 for 30 cubic yards, it's one of the more expensive options.  Mulch is popular around here, but like sawdust, it breaks down and nasty things like to live in it and it's not cheap and you have to count on the reseller to know not to sell you any black walnut.  I'm not that trusting. 

I still have a sample of "stabilized white sand" on my desk mixed with a tablespoon of my footing.  I'm not ready to commit, especially since I have no clue what about it is "stable" and am leery of having footing more stable than I am.  But at least I know if I were to work Standardbreds in my ring, they'd feel less stressed even without a beach boy bringing them apple juice with an umbrella in it.  

Ride on!

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