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Blog Article

How to select the right equestrian arena watering system: A guide

Editorial Team
How to select the right equestrian arena watering system: A guide
December 13, 2023

A recent installation in Ireland

The selection of an equestrian arena watering system is arguably one of the important decisions to be made when designing an equine arena, whether it’s an outdoor or indoor one. After all, moisture plays a critical role in maintaining optimal footing conditions for both horses and riders because it significantly influences the properties of footing sand and any additives like fibers.

Before delving into the specifics of different watering systems, it's essential to understand the factors influencing this decision. Remember, the ultimate goal is to provide a consistent, dust-free, and safe surface for both horse and rider. Uneven wetness can lead to inconsistent footing, potentially harming the horse’s performance and health. Here are the things worthwhile to consider when selecting your arena irrigation system: 

  • The size of the arena: Larger arenas may require more sophisticated watering systems to ensure even moisture distribution.
  • The composition of the footing: Different materials and footing sands react differently to moisture, affecting the choice of watering system.
  • The local climate: Climates with more extreme weather conditions might necessitate irrigation systems that can adapt to varying environmental factors.
  • The budget: More advanced systems may offer better control but at a higher cost.
  • Ease of Installation: A system that's easy to install can reduce initial setup costs and minimize disruption to arena activities.
  • Ease of Maintenance: Systems requiring less maintenance save time and resources, ensuring the arena is more consistently available for use.
  • Ease of Change of Footing Sand: Systems that allow for easy change of footing sand can be more cost-effective and adaptable to different equestrian needs or events.
  • ROI (Return on Investment): A system with a good ROI will justify the initial expense by offering long-term savings and efficiencies.
  • Sand Lifespan and Replacement Rate: Systems that extend sand lifespan and reduce replacement frequency can significantly lower long-term operational costs.
  • Utilization Rate: The higher the utilization rate of a system, the more value it provides, maximizing the arena's operational time.
  • Horse Safety: The primary concern in equestrian arenas; systems that enhance safety reduce the risk of injuries to horses and riders.
  • Control of Dust & Mud Without Additives: Systems that naturally control dust and mud improve the health and comfort of horses and riders without relying on potentially harmful additives.
  • Water Savings: Systems that use water efficiently are cost-effective and environmentally sustainable.
  • Drainage: Proper drainage prevents waterlogging and related issues, ensuring the arena remains usable in various weather conditions. 
  • Lifespan of Drainage System: A longer-lasting drainage system reduces the need for frequent replacements, offering better long-term value.
  • Ease of Managing Footing Consistency: Systems that simplify maintaining consistent footing contribute to safer and more enjoyable riding experiences.

With these considerations in mind, let's start with exploring the most common type of arena watering methods – overhead sprinkler systems. After that, we’ll delve into the most recent innovations in equestrian watering systems: subsurface irrigation, such as variations of Ebb & Flow and Capillary Hydroponics. Finally, we’ll have some concluding remarks and comparisons between the different types of arena watering systems. 

Traditional irrigation methods

While the word ‘traditional’ potentially sounds like it alludes to irrigation methods that aren’t used anymore, it's not. In fact, these systems are still the most common ones across equestrian arenas worldwide, and there are good reasons for it: They are competitively priced, fairly easy to install, and many times do a sufficient job. Here is a brief overview of the different overhead systems, together with some benefits and drawbacks with them. 

How to Water a Horse Arena using overhead Irrigation Systems

Overhead arena sprinkler systems are one of the most common arena watering methods. They encompass various forms such as ceiling and wall sprinklers, moveable sprinklers and manual hoses. These systems are often used as dust control sprinkler systems as well. 

Advantages: They are versatile and can be used in both indoor and outdoor settings. Ideal for dust control.

Challenges: These systems easily creates uneven moisture levels throughout both indoor and outdoor arenas, leading to overly wet or dry patches in the arena. Additionally, the arena can never be used while irrigating it, as well as shortly after irrigation is finished. Lastly, if the footing profile stays too wet for a prolonged period of time, it’s more prone to mold. 

What are ceiling and wall sprinklers in equestrian sand arenas?

Ceiling and wall sprinklers are employed in both indoor and outdoor equestrian arenas as part of the horse arena's irrigation system. These sprinklers, which are mounted on the ceiling or walls, spray water across the arena. Their primary role is to provide a means of efficiently  watering the surface and arena footing. But the catch is that though they are designed to consistently ‘release’ water, they do not guarantee that the water released will soak every inch of the arena consistently, and therefore cannot guarantee consistent moisture levels in the footing. In short, their effectiveness can vary based on several factors including arena usage, environmental conditions, and maintenance practices.

Maintenance and usage tips: While ceiling and wall sprinklers efficiently distribute water, it's crucial to regularly check their alignment and coverage patterns to ensure uniform watering. This can prevent areas of the arena from becoming too dry or excessively wet.

How do movable sprinkler systems work in equestrian sand arenas?

Moveable sprinklers are a versatile option in equestrian arena watering systems, and are used in both indoor and outdoor settings. These systems can be repositioned to target different areas of the arena as needed. Although moveable sprinklers allow for flexibility in watering, they do not ensure uniform moisture or consistent footing throughout the arena as their  effectiveness depends on their placement, frequency of use, and the specific needs of the arena surface.

Maintenance and usage tips: To maximize the effectiveness of movable sprinklers, it's recommended to regularly adjust their positions and monitor the uniformity of water distribution. This practice helps in maintaining consistent moisture levels across the arena.

How are manual hoses used in equestrian sand arenas?

Manual hoses are a basic tool used for watering equestrian arenas. This method involves directly applying water to the arena surface using hoses, allowing for targeted application. However, it is labor-intensive and lacks the means to consistently maintain footing or moisture levels as it relies on the judgment and effort of individuals, leading to uneven coverage and moisture distribution. Manual hoses are commonly employed for smaller arenas or as supplemental watering. Their effectiveness varies based on usage and the specific requirements of the arena.

Effective Use of Manual Hoses: When using manual hoses, a systematic approach to watering, like following a specific pattern or schedule, can improve the uniformity of moisture distribution, reducing the likelihood of uneven footing.

Subsurface irrigation systems for equestrian arenas

What is drip irrigation in equestrian sand arenas?

The use of drip irrigation in arenas is not an underground irrigation system per se, but has been adopted by some equestrian arenas to gain more control over regulating moisture levels in the footing sand swiftly. As a general rule of thumb it should be used in conjunction with other irrigation systems, such as regular overhead or more advanced underground ones - but never as a standalone system. 

What is the ebb & flow system in equestrian arenas?

The ‘Ebb and Flow’ system, an underground arena watering system, has emerged as an improvement to overhead irrigation systems, conserving water by irrigating from below the surface to minimize evaporation. Originating in Europe, this equestrian arena irrigation system employs underground pipes to supply and drain water, maintaining moisture in the sand and enabling real-time adjustments with advanced automated controllers available today.

However, this system faces challenges in maintaining consistent moisture levels across the entire arena. The ebb and flow system is also slower in reaction to changes of the moisture level, making it difficult to achieve total moisture control. It can take hours to change between desired footing conditions for different riding disciplines Moreover, it is maintenance-intensive due to the tendency of arena footing sand to migrate to the drainage pipes, causing blockages. Hence, the drainage system needs to be regularly checked and cleared of sand for it to function properly over a longer period of time. 

Enhancing the Ebb & Flow System: For effective use of the Ebb & Flow system, regular maintenance and inspection of drainage pipes can help prevent blockages and ensure consistent moisture levels throughout the arena.

Next generation underground watering system: Introducing CapillaryFlow’s subsurface irrigation and drainage system

CapillaryFlow irrigation and drainage system, the latest innovation in equine arena watering systems, offers the benefits of all the older irrigation systems without any of their drawbacks. We will explore how this system optimally waters indoor and outdoor riding arenas that have sand or grass surfaces. 

CapillaryFlow’s irrigation and drainage system isn't just an irrigation system; it's a forward-thinking solution designed to meet the complex needs of modern equestrian arenas in terms of both maintenance, moisture levels and drainage rate. The following section outlines why it is a leap forward in irrigation technology for indoor and outdoor arenas. 

How it works

Capillary Hydroponics uses a patented pumping system and ground layer profile to pump in water and air from below every 2-6 hours depending on the schedule the arena owner sets. It gives impeccable control of irrigation patterns. The system is embedded in the subgrade throughout the whole arena, why consistent moisture levels can be achieved throughout the whole arena footing and not just where drip lines are installed. Complemented by drip lines as well, the moisture levels can be changed swiftly based on preferred riding discipline. 

The Capillary Hydroponics system comprises several layers: an impermeable liner that sits on a cavity in the soil, drainage pipes, drainage gravel, a layer of Capillary Material, washed sand and finally sand or grass. The cavity is split into two equal parts. A control basin filled with water is placed on the outside and attached with pipes that feed into each cavity. 

At the core of Capillary Hydroponics is the Capillary Material. This patented and engineered polymer-based material (Polymers are long, repeating chains of molecules, come from both natural and synthetic sources and they form the basis of many materials) is the only building material that can rapidly drain water while also moving water up through capillary action. 

System overview of Capillary Hydroponics Irrigation and Drainage system

How it differs from traditional irrigation systems

Capillary Hydroponics marks a substantial advancement in equestrian arena watering systems. It doesn’t only tackle the issues encountered by its predecessors but has several additional advantages. Here are the two main differences with this irrigation system: 

Consistent moisture levels and infusion of air

By providing consistent moisture distribution from below an even moisture content throughout the whole arena footing can be realized. Compared to traditional ebb and flow systems with only driplines, causing spot irrigation by the drip lines only,  this is a significant advancement. Now inconsistent arena footing can be eliminated, and there won’t be any dry patches in your arena. The increased oxygen exchange in the footing sand prevents the formation of what is commonly referred to as the ‘black layer’ in ground profiles, a toxic, foul-smelling barrier in the footing material that is caused by anaerobic bacteria in stagnant water. Thus, the system helps maintain a perfect and healthy environment in the footing sand. 

Superior drainage without compromising your drainage system

With its patented ground layer profile, superior drainage can also be realized throughout the outdoor arena, while the integrity of the drainage system remains intact. Using a patented material and a grounds profile engineered to fit specific drainage requirements, the arena will drain with a rate of 100’’ per hour. At the same time, compared to conventional ebb & flow systems, a patented material is used to protect from sand entering into the drainage system, ensuring the integrity of the drainage system to remain intact over at least the next 15 years. 

Overall, this underground arena watering system guarantees decreased maintenance and optimal riding conditions for horses and riders alike. It is poised to enhance equestrian arena performance, offering a reliable alternative to traditional arena watering methods. Here is a more detailed breakdown of how it works: 

Footing sand that stays where it should be: in your arena

Keeping sand in its intended spot throughout the indoor and outdoor arena is sometimes challenging. Sand migrates down into the subgrade or accumulates by the outer perimeter. The structural integrity, density and robustness of our patented material ensures a perfectly flat and level base beneath the arena why sand won’t migrate down. Having the footing sand perfectly moisturized will also aid migration of the footing sand as it binds better to the other sand particles. All in all, sand will better stay in its place. 

Benefits of Capillary Hydroponics for equestrian arenas

Below, we dive further into the details of the benefits of installing CapillaryFlow’s underground arena watering and drainage system in equestrian arenas. The benefits include:

Precise moisture control: The system features an innovative design that enables precise moisture control through smart drip irrigation embedded in the Capillary material. This drip irrigation can be easily managed using a dedicated app. With the app, you can customize the top layer of the footing based on the riding discipline within a few hours. Since the app is accessible on your phone, you have the flexibility to adjust the moisture levels from any location. For instance, dressage riders may prefer a drier and slightly deeper setting compared to show jumpers.

Optimal performance: This is achieved by ensuring that the arena's footing sand is consistently and optimally moisturized at all times and seasons. This guarantees the riding arena provides ideal impact firmness, cushioning, responsiveness, grip, uniformity, and, ultimately, consistent safety for horse and riders over time.

​​Increased uptime: This is achieved through consistent and controllable moisture levels in the footing sand, reducing the downtime needed for maintenance and surface preparation between rides. This is because overhead sprinklers, which cause facility downtime, are not employed.

Superior drainage for outdoor arenas: The Capillary Material, which constitutes the foundation of the hydroponic system, provides enhanced drainage compared to a typical equestrian arena subgrade. It efficiently drains excess rainfall at a rate ranging from 4 to 6 inches per hour. This exceptional drainage safeguards horses and riders from frozen, slippery, muddy, and waterlogged arena footing. This is as close as you can get to an all-weather footing. 

No more muddy patches: Uneven watering of the arena surface, which is common when dust control sprinkler systems are used, often results in muddy patches that are a hazard for both horses and riders. Capillary Hydroponics’ even watering throughout the arena eliminates this problem, creating a mud-free riding arena experience. This makes sure to give you an all weather footing. 

Location and weather versatility: Whether in an indoor or outdoor arena, the system seamlessly adapts to both environments, ensuring consistent riding conditions in wet weather through effective drainage. Additionally, it maintains steady moisture levels in hot and dry conditions, eliminating dust thanks to the even moisture distribution in the sand.

No need for additives: While many traditional arena watering systems rely on additives such as microplastics, fibers, and dust control products to stabilize the footing, Capillary Hydroponics reduces or eliminates the need for such substances. This not only makes it more environmentally friendly but also safer for both the horse and rider, minimizing risks associated with inhalation and exposure to microplastics and chemicals. 

No unsightly sprinklers: A subsurface watering system keeps the arena looking clean and professional, without the clutter of visible overhead sprinkler systems. Additionally, the indoor climate is significantly improved with less air moisture. 

Dust control: Dusty arenas pose health risks to both horses and riders. Subsurface irrigation systems are more effective than dust control sprinkler systems, and significantly reduce dust, creating a safer and more pleasant riding environment. 

Works for both grass and sand arenas: Whether your equestrian arena features grass or sand footing, Capillary Hydroponics is a versatile solution that works well with both. The sand will be evenly moisturized either way. 

Water conservation: The Capillary Hydroponics system is environmentally sustainable, consuming up to 85% less water compared to traditional equestrian irrigation systems. It provides sustainability without compromising on the performance of the arena. Even in hot and dry conditions, minimum water is used because the riding arena uses continuous subsurface irrigation instead of overhead sprinklers.

Protects kick walls: Protects kick walls in indoor riding arenas from degradation. By using an underground arena watering system instead of an overhead sprinkler system, the areas surrounding the arena such as the kick board wall are protected from any water-related damage.

No water stagnation = no black layer: The CapillaryFlow system employs a patented airlift pump in the smart control basin to oxygenate water. This oxygenated water dynamically manages moisture in the footing sand by pushing water into the sand from below. Additionally, the moving water table ensures that fresh air is forced up through the sand multiple times a day as the water table shifts from one side of the arena to the other. Regular infusion of oxygen into the sand disrupts anaerobic conditions, preventing the development of a hazardous black layer. Capillary Hydroponics thus creates and maintains a perfect and healthy environment in the sand, providing a safer riding experience.

Long-lasting sand: Unlike other irrigation systems, the sand in a Capillary Hydroponics arena can be washed to remove accumulation of algae, organic material and other contaminants. This increases the lifespan of the sand and also makes it safer for horses to ride on.

CTA: Capillary Wash Box

Industry-leading lifespan and guarantee: CapillaryFlow offers an industry-leading 15-year structural and drainage performance guarantee on our patented Capillary Material when the Capillary WashBox is installed alongside any CapillaryFlow solution.


At CapillaryFlow we have a long experience of building arenas. Based on our vast experience, what would comparing all systems to the considerations we listed in the beginning of the blog look like? 

Considering these factors is not all though. To help making the right choice, CapillaryFlow recommend accounting for the following things as well, when selecting your next watering system. Here, we have also included our own grading of the different benefits of the various watering systems: 

Considering all factors in the tables above should help you to be confident in selecting the watering system that is best for your budget, climate, riding discipline, and desired riding conditions. 


To conclude, the selection of the right equestrian arena irrigation system is critical because moisture levels in the footing directly influence the performance and well-being of both horses and riders as well as maintenance costs of the arena. 

The many benefits of Capillary Hydroponics – optimal footing performance, increased facility uptime, environmental sustainability, reduced maintenance, water savings, a healthy footing environment, and its 15-year performance guarantee – represent a game-changing advancement in equestrian arena maintenance. For those prioritizing optimal footing conditions, a long-lasting solution, and precise moisture control of the riding arena footing, Capillary Hydroponics stands out as the top choice.

To learn more about Capillary Hydroponics for equestrian arenas, contact us by clicking here.


Want to know more about our products?

Are you interested in how you can create optimal footing conditions regardless of weather with the help of our irrigation and drainage system? Contact us!


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