Choosing the right equestrian surface

Well kept turf is the ideal surface for training and equestrian competitions, it is the traditional footing for all equestrian sports.  However, in situations where turf cannot be sustained, all-weather surfaces for horses allow them to train and compete in different situations and weather conditions.

There are two main types of surfaces for horses available in the UK - wax coated (often referred to as all-weather), and dry sand equestrian surfaces which are mainly sand topped up or blended with other materials.  These days PVC and rubber are less popular choices as they tend to “ride deep” in dry periods and disposal legislation is becoming restrictive; so structural fibres are becoming the norm.  Finally there is Wood Chip.

Leading equestrian surfaces supplier, Martin Collins Enterprises has put together this simple guide to help you decide which is best suited for your purpose:

1.    Wax Coated equestrian surfaces

choosing the right equestrian surfaceWax-coated equestrian surfaces will give you the closest equivalent to turf, without the need for “managed rain fall”.

– these equestrian surface solutions:

  • Function in a wide range of temperatures (-12 to + 40 Celsius)
  • Provide consistency
  • Provide a safe surface in all conditions
  • Are easy to care for
But, remember:

  • These will incur higher capital costs (in excess of £20,000 for a 40m x 20m school) but they are the obvious choice due to high performance and greatest durability.  They are well worth the outlay expense if you have the budget available
  • Correct maintenance is important to ensure optimal performance and durability
  • The durability of the surface is dependent upon the purity of the coating.  Make sure you use premium surfaces where the wax is molecularly bonded to the raw ingredients and suitable for your specific use and micro-climate.
  • Other, less costly coatings are available – such as wax blends, gels or oils - but these require more frequent regeneration (in terms of adding more material and/or more coating more frequently), leading to higher future costs

2.    Dry, Sand-Based Surfaces

Dry, sand-based surfaces refer to equestrian surfaces made up of sand, mixed or topped with another material such as PVC, rubber or synthetic fibres. This addition of fibres to sand is becoming the most commonly used equestrian surface in the 21st century.

  • The fibre provides a root structure which allows the horse to work on top of the surface and also improves the moisture retention properties
  • The capital investment required is less, making it the most affordable solution for a surface offering year round use.
But, remember:

  • This surface will be more susceptible to freezing
  • Consistent and regular maintenance is required
  • If the surface is allowed to dry out or become deep, horses are at increased risk from soft tissue damage
  • It is more difficult to manage the “going” as these surfaces are more affected by changes in the moisture content and maintenance levels

3.    Wood-Chip equestrian surfaces


  • It is the least expensive of all the ‘man-made’ equestrian surfaces
But, remember:

  • Nowadays the wood fibre available is invariably a soft wood which means frequent costly top-ups are required.  These costs will, in a short space of time, outweigh the higher initial costs of a dry sand and fibre surface
  • The biggest concern is safety, as the chips are prone to slide, especially on corners, and when making tight turns, for example when in a jump off.   Furthermore the surface will not provide any limb support, so larger, big movers, ie dressage horses, are at an increased risk of injury.
  • It does not wear well and replacement is needed every 2-3 years
  • For the reasons above, a wood-chip surface is not usually favoured other than for walk back tracks (on training gallops) or where the budget is very restricted

What next?

Installing an equestrian surface is a significant investment and it is important to make the right decision.  The team at Martin Collins can help you select the surface best suited to your needs and budget, you can discuss your options with the specialist surface manufacturers and can help you identify existing sites in your area for you to visit.  You can take a look at the different types of equestrian surface solutions available from Martin Collins today. Why not call 01488-71100 or email us now on  for some initial, informal advice.

Download our at-a-glance surface comparison chart
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