Farm life

The Arena Project That Will Not End

I have only one piece of advice for any would be farm owners: either buy a place with no arena and budget to put one in or buy a place with a pristine arena. Never, ever buy a place with an arena that needs renovated. The work never ends.

When I last left off I had been raking by hand for like an eternity, ok it was closer to 20 hours but it felt like an eternity, and cashed my chips in to hire a professional. Professional came on a weekday when I was at work and dug everything up removing the big clumps as he went.

When I got home the arena looked like this

And we had a new play area for Wyatt

Yup. That’s all the garbage he took out of the arena. No way I was going to get that out by hand raking before I died. He charged us just over $1,000 and left me with an arena free of major clumps and needing some grading and smoothing work. Since our groomer does that, I didn’t really want to pay him to do it.

The next weekend I got in there with the groomer and had a semi finished arena that was smooth, but still needed some leveling work as the extra footing he added was too thick in one region and the entire rim by the fence was pretty thin.

If you look closely you can see where I piled up the extra footing and planned to move it all towards the left side of the arena where it was pretty sparse.

Except then I needed to mow the pastures and we only have one tractor which meant taking the groomer off and changing it out for the bush hog. After 10 days went past I saw that while 3/4s of the arena still looked gorgeous, the far left side from front to back was back to growing grass.

I muttered many choice words about the old owner not dragging the damn thing in six years and went about spending three hours putting round up on the grass. Two days later I went back in with the groomer to rip up the dead grass and move footing around.

Then it rained me out and it is about 90% done as of today. With thunderstorms in the forecast the rest of the week this thing won’t be getting done anytime soon. The good news is that while there are a few deep spots and thin areas, the arena is 100% rideable and since I now know every inch of t like the back of my hand it is really easy to go around the few remaining deeper areas.

I started the renovation back in March. It is now May. I won’t have it done to the point that I want it at until June. And even then I have the feeling that we will be fighting this for years until I can afford to just rip the entire thing out and have someone come in and redo it all. The biggest issue is that I don’t think it was put in correctly in the first place. There is no true “base” with drainage and gravel. The good thing is that the arena dries up very quickly and doesn’t really puddle anywhere. Even after a hard storm it is dry and rideable within a day. But the lack of a true base allows vegetation to grow pretty quickly.

I think the old owners just graded a section flat and smothered it with sand figuring nothing would grow through it all. Wrong.

But I have a working arena again and a safe place to ride. Well, minus the massive hole in the arena fence where I may have ran the bucket on the tractor through it. We won’t talk about that though.

Now if the rain could just go away until I’m back at work I could ride the new guy in there!

Farm life

Arena Renovation Part 2

Yard work doesn’t bother me in general. Weeding, mowing, planting, cleaning stalls. I can find pleasure in it all.

Except raking. I despise raking. Not only is the actual act of raking annoying but then you need to pick up all those piles and figure out what to do with them. Raking is a never ending project. I hates it.

Once the arena was fully torn up, it was time to tackle all those clumps of grass and weeds. They needed removed and this has to be done by hand. With a rake.

No joke, literally 20 hours of hand raking through all the clumped sand to pull out the grass and weeds left me with all of 1/32nd of the total arena done. It looked super nice in the tiny corner I finished. At that rate I might have a workable arena again by next spring. If I’m lucky.

The bottom left corner of the arena is what I accomplished in 20 hours of raking. I still needed to go back through the corner again to rip up the remaining grass. It was disheartening. 

This wasn’t going to work. Sure the footing was looking amazing and I was getting some baller abs from all the raking, shoveling and scooping, but every time I looked up and saw the hundreds of hours still ahead of me I wanted to die a little.

It was time for a plan B: use the front loader of the tractor and just scoop the crud out.

While this method proved to be quick and way less work, it also was removing too much. The entire effort was in retaining as much of the sand footing as possible while still removing the crud and this method was removing everything.

I hopped off the tractor and sighed. Not going to work.

It was on to plan C: use the grooming fork part of the drag to break up the clumps of sand as much as possible in an attempt to lessen the amount of raking.

This proved a good compromise. The rake broke up the major piles and spread them thinner so it was quicker and easier to hand rake through. I started attacking the arena with a new vigor.

Then 10 more hours later I looked up and saw I had completed roughly 1/16th of the arena and the other half I had yet to touch at all was regrowing grass as my pulled up clumps had re rooted. Add in a ton of rain killing off days or weeks at a time where the arena couldn’t be worked and this entire project was seeming a bit daunting.

On to plan D: call in a professional.

Farm life, Uncategorized

Arena Renovation Part The First

When we bought the farm we knew we would need to purchase two big pieces of equipment and put another on a wish list: a new mower, an arena drag, and a manure spreader (on the wish list). Once the arena started turning green we needed to make a decision to either help it go all grass or bring it back to its intended sandy state.

Gross an not particularly safe either

While I don’t mind grass arenas when done right, this one wasn’t built for that and I was growing increasingly concerned with the footing getting compacted down with each progressive flooding rain and drying out. Her prior hoof prints were starting to be like cement and it was only a matter of time until the footing became unsafe to ride in. Gem is sound and happy but she is also going to be 20 this year and I want to protect her legs and feet as much as possible. I was dying to get in there and fluff up that footing.

But first we needed the equipment. Dusty did all the research. I just signed the 1 year loan papers. He chose an ABI TR3 E series arena drag due to its ability to not only drag and groom the arena, but allow us to do the renovation part as well.

Fresh out of the shipping crate

It showed up Monday afternoon and as soon as I got home I hopped on the tractor and headed to the arena. Probably not the smartest move since rain was forecasted all day Tuesday and the arena would be out of action for a while, but it needed done and I was too excited to wait.


The drag has five different parts all used for different reasons. It came with an awesome little book that went over the set up, the parts and how to use it for all sorts of reasons. Thankfully it had a whole section on removing vegetation, just what I needed to do!

All parts needed raised so that only the very front bar was in play and it recommended setting it to a depth of 1″ to remove the grass at the roots but avoid any penetration into the base layer. We followed the protocol and I held my breath as I engaged it hoping I wasn’t about to ruin everything.

The first pass through had me grinning like a fool. I have no idea why this sort of stuff makes me so darn happy. The bar was doing exactly what it was supposed to: remove the grass at root level.

The first swipe through all that ugly weedy grass. You can see Pete in the background coming to investigate the open arena gate. 

It took a bit of playing around to figure out how to best maneuver the drag and deal with the build up of grass and dirt as it collected on the bar. At first I tried stopping, raising it up, and then backing up but this just left huge piles. I finally perfected when to raise it up and for how long to let it slowly drop the clumps over a larger swath which was easier to then go back over again.

Cutting right below the root system to remove the grass and leave the footing mostly intact. 

It took 4 hours to do the entire arena to my level of satisfaction. Overall I am very pleased with the outcome. The more mature and solid grass in the corners didn’t all come up, but I wasn’t really expecting it to. The directions specifically said to kill it with Round Up first which I obviously didn’t do. We have a disc we can hook up to the tractor for those areas and I’ll go over them again.

And then all three entered the arena, of course with Nash staring at me the entire time. In retrospect I probably could have put them in the arena for a few days first to eat it down and then got busy…but impatience. 

Next up will be going over it with the grooming rake to collect the clumps of grass and get rid of them. I’m not looking forward to that at all. It will take a ton of wheelbarrow loads to get rid of it all.

The end product: clean sandy foot
Thankful I had lights to work under. You can see the tracts the blade made and the build up between them. This process was solely aimed at getting rid of the vegetation

After we pick up all that loose grass and deal with the corners, it will be on to step 2: grading

Looking more like an arena now. It did cross my mind when I was about half way through that summer, when I don’t ride due to the heat, may have been a better time than spring. But the footing was really starting to worry me, so I had no real choice.