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  • October 18, 2021 7 min read

    After years of saving, I was finally able to afford a horse riding arena. I've wanted to build a place where I can train privately at any time for a long while now, but it took me a lot of penny-pinching to be able to do it. 

    Of course, the benefits of having your own riding arena are many: You can ride in all weather conditions, spare your grass from unsightly hoofprints, and use more area for grazing. Plus, having my own place saves my horse from the stress of travelling every time we need to have a lesson, and me the hassle of loading him in the trailer to drive to a nearby farm.

    However, I felt hesitant about actually building my own arena. Horse riding arenas are an expensive investment. And the costs to build and maintain it can skyrocket quickly without thorough planning. For example, imagine using poor drainage that leads to a soft and uneven surface—needing constant, costly maintenance. Another terrifying thought is using the wrong base or footing materials that can easily lead to equine injuries.

    So, before I got started, I did some research and consulted with experts to learn what to look for and avoid when building riding arenas. And below is a detailed summary of what I learned:

    Your arena depends on your riding discipline

    Each horse riding discipline will need a specific type of arena. A dressage arena, for example, is a standard60 meters long and 20 meters wide and needs a surface that provides good grip and stability. On the other hand, jumping disciplines will need a larger arena and firmer footing mixtures to absorb the impact of heavy landings. 

    You could spend your entire life in pursuit of the perfect arena, but you need to design it according to your horse riding needs.

    Your location matters

    Your location influences each phase of your construction. If you're building near high-traffic areas (like a highway), you should know that these locations can easily spook a horse. You might have to look for other sites. In contrast, if you plan to construct in a very wooded area, you’ll have to factor in the growth of tree roots that can contribute to the deterioration of your arena.

    Here are some of the things you should consider about your location:

    • What are the local building restrictions that you need to observe? Remember that every township has their own set of rules and regulations.
    • Where is the site located, and how accessible is it?
    • Is the site on uneven ground, like on a slope? Flat locations are ideal for building horse riding arenas. And while it’s not impossible to flatten a hill, the process will require a bigger budget.
    • What are the weather conditions of your target site? You’ll need to build extra facilities to protect your arena depending on local weather conditions (like an indoor or covered arena).
    • What’s the soil type of your location? The kind of soil will influence the base materials you’ll need to build on top of.
    • Can your property size fit the ideal arena size for your training? If the property is too small, you may want to look for a bigger one that fits your budget, rather than spend a lot of money to be stuck with a space that’s too small for your needs.

    The last point is particularly important, because you needa lot of space to train your horse properly. Anyone who’s ever exercised in a 20x15m arena knows just how annoying it is to constantly be doing tight turns, or never being able to set up a proper course of jumps. Plus, constantly working your horse on a tight circle can cause extra stress on their joints. 

    You can’t compromise on your arena size

    While having a smaller property can be easier on your budget, it can also impact the quality of your training and even increase the chances of injuries to you and your horse.

    Below is a list ofminimumarena sizes, depending on your sport:

    • Dressage: 60 x 20 meters with a fence that’s 30 cm high
      • Note: An indoor dressage arena boundary must be at least 2m away from the wall
    • Showjumping
      • Indoor: 1,200 sqm, with a minimum short side of 20m 
      • Outdoor: 4,000 sqm, with a minimum short side of 50m
    • Eventing: The typical arena size for eventing is the standard 60 x 20 metre dressage arena.
      However, since eventing competitions include both jumping and dressage, you’ll ideally have an arena that can accommodate both dressage and showjumping.

    You can read more about arena sizes and marking requirements on the official website for theDepartment of Local Government, Sport, and Cultural Industries in Australia.

    Your base layer depends on your location

    A suitable base material is crucial for your arena, because it provides a solid, stable, and consistent foundation for your footing. It also allows for good drainage, which prevents water from accumulating and forming soft patches, which could strain your horse and increase the chances of injuries.

    However, the correct base material largely depends on the makeup of your location grounds. For example, if the soil doesn't contain gravel, you’ll need to spend extra to purchase and transport it, because gravel is essential for arena drainage. One expert recommends looking fornearby suppliers who sell the materials you’ll need to cut down on transportation costs.

    Here’s a quick rundown of the steps for the typical construction of a base layer for riding arenas. Remember that this process will not apply to everyone, so I suggest that you work closely with experts who can give you sound advice on your particular situation. Once you know what kind of surface you want for your riding area, here are your next steps:

    1. Excavating the ground to a compact soil (usually clay)
    2. Adding a 100mm layer of compacted gravel and sand
    3. Placing an optional layer of granite to improve drainage and durability
    4. Putting in the final layer of footing (or surface) material, which I will discuss more in the next section

    The right footing material is vital for your safety

    The process of choosing the right surface for your riding arena is complex for a reason:you and your horse’s safety heavily rely on it. Choose a footing material that’s too soft, and you’ll strain your horse’s tendons. But a footing that’s too hard will stress their ligaments.

    Here are the different types of footing that you can choose from (or mix and match to suit different purposes):

    • Sand
    • Wood chips
    • Rubber
    • Waxed footing
    • Other synthetic fabrics

    Although sand is the most popular footing material, you can’t buy just any kind of sand from stores. There are over1,000 types of sand, and choosing a high-quality one is paramount to your horse’s health.

    According to TechSpan Building Systems:

    Not all sand is made equal. You will want to look at the sand’s quality. Is it too fine? If so, it could be blown away in a windstorm. Finer sand is also slower to drain, which means it can run the risk of holding water and be unusable for days after heavy rains. 

    If the sand is coarse, is it round or sharp? Round sand can move too easily under your horse’s hooves, whereas sharp materials can be too abrasive on your horse’s feet and shoes.

    Thus, you need to study your surface carefully and consult with experts before choosing the footing material for your arena.

    Optional things to consider for your arena

    Now, we’ve covered the most basic and essential elements to consider when building your arena. But there are also other things you may want to add to your riding arena if you have the spare room and budget. These include:

    Fencing and kickboards

    Placing fences and kickboards around your arena not only keeps you and your horse safe, but also those outside your arena. 

    Kickboards are used in indoor arenas to prevent you from banging your knee against the wall, and to keep your horse from injuring itself by hitting a structural element of the arena. In outdoor arenas, they also help prevent your surface from blowing away in the wind.

    Meanwhile, fences for outdoor arenas make sure that you’re still practising within the set boundaries of your area while it prevents outsiders from accidentally getting too near your practice area. The types of fences you can use include heavy rope, plastic wire, steel, and hardwood. Experts recommend arena fences to be at least1.2 meters high.

    Storage

    While not many articles and experts talk about storage for arenas, it’s good to include this in your design. You’ll be using equipment that you don’t need every day, and having a place to store them will make things more convenient. 

    Think of how you’ll keep materials like poles, blocks, wings, buckets or jump cups, etc. Also, ensure that the storage area is covered and secure.

    Stable

    If your arena is quite far from your stables, transporting them to and from different locations can put them under unnecessary stress. Instead, think of including stables as part of your arena plan. It’s relatively easy to add a single or double row of stabling alongside your arena if you’re already building an indoor.

    If you decide to add stabling to your indoor arena, consider adding extra stables for additional horses in the future, rubber mats for your horse’s comfort, drinking and feeding tubs, a horse wash stall, etc.

    Indoor vs. outdoor arena

    Indoor and outdoor arenas have their own set of advantages and disadvantages, and the choice ultimately depends on your budget, preference, and location. Indoor arenas last longer because your flooring and equipment are safe from snow, rain, wind, and extreme heat. But it’s more expensive to build, and will probably have more building regulation requirements.

    Outdoor arenas, on the other hand, can be as big as you want and are more budget-friendly. However, you’ll need to maintain it more often, as it will be vulnerable to extreme elements. And it means that in inclement weather, you might miss out on a few days of riding (unless you don’t mind getting you and your tack wet). 

    No one-size-fits-all arena

    While building a horse riding arena is an expensive endeavour, cutting corners will cost more in the long run. It’s also important to remember that not all riding arenas are the same: one person’s ideal arena may not be the right one for you, and vice versa. So it’s important to understand all the factors that go into planning and building instead of going straight for the most affordable one.

    If you’re thinking of canvassing for equipment for your arena, you can start with our online store. We have hundreds of types ofequine and equestrian equipment for all riders and disciplines. We also have horse supplements, vitamins, feed, and more, to help keep your horses in top shape. 

    Give us a call to find out more.

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