You’ve got the horses, you’ve got the riding skills, and now, you’ve decided to build your own arena.
What’s the best way to do it and where do you start? Just like buying a horse, there are a lot of things to consider before jumping the gun. Construction is as much art as it is science—there are many ways to go about it, but the final product is what matters most.
To help you avoid the common pitfalls and give you an advantage before you even begin, we’ve compiled the basics of what you need to prioritize and what you can leave for the coming years. Check out our handy guide below!
An arena is a huge investment for anyone and getting it right from the start is essential. Before you get involved with choosing finishes or consulting an architect, make sure to do your researchfirst.
A few of the things you need to learn more about are real estate, good arena foundations, drainage, horse driers, stable features, and long-term maintenance. Luckily, we live in the digital age where information is vast and mostly free—you can move from exploring equestrian websites or blogs to forums where you can read up on experiences of fellow owners who have put up their own arena.
Check out these good resources that can help you start the process:
Similar to buying a family home, arena real estate is all about “location, location, location,” if you want the best for your horses and good riding experiences. For example, while hedgerows and trees can provide shelter from wind, falling leaves and expanding roots can be a problem in the long run. It will be smarter to go for something simple and reliable for horse arenas.
It’s not just about the aesthetics as well—you need to take the condition of the property into consideration, too. Wetlands, low lying areas, state of the soil, and environment are just some of the things you need to check out. Look out for these key items when ticking off boxes in your checklist:
Location— How difficult is it to locate? How far is it from your home? Are there other arenas in the vicinity?
Property Size — How big is the land? Will it be a good investment and will it have good equity?
Climate — What is the usual weather in the specific district? Does it get too hot or too cold? Will there be a lot of rain?
Coordination of Construction — Will it be difficult to transport materials and manpower in the area?
Soil— Is it stony, free-draining, or sandy? Is it too loose or too compact to build on top of?
Water Supply — Will you be able to maintain the arena, grooming and feeding the horses with the supply in the area?
Community— Will there be neighbors, establishments or authorities to call in case of an emergency?
Foundation and Drainage
The base is undoubtedly the most vital part of an arena build. If it isn’t constructed properly, the arena surface will never work as intended and soft spots will eventually show. Something to note when searching for properties is that most durable bases are made out of clay and stone. Keep in mind that if your arena footing is too soft, you are putting increased stress on the horse’s tendons, while when it’s too hard, there will be jarring to their ligaments.
When it comes to drainage, limestone or granite work best because it needs to be heavy-duty. Apart from affecting ride quality, a loose drainage will lead to failure of the surface and its sub-layers. You want to avoid patches containing a hodgepodge of all the layers you had put in your arena especially during the rainy season—remember, foundation repairs won’t be easy on your pocket.
An average horse arena should be no less than 60' in width and interior heights ranging from 16' to 18' measuring ground up.
Unfortunately, there are no universal recommendations available for designing tracks as the intended use plays a big role in it. You really have to do your homework and ponder on what you really need—is it for jumping, reining, racing or performing tricks? Is it for relaxed, weekend rides or should it be equipped for heavy training? These things come into play when thinking of footing or surface attributes such as traction and depth of loose material.
No matter what type or design you choose to go for, a good rule of thumb to follow is that the riding surface needs to provide safety, build confidence between horse and rider, versatile for various uses, and enable high-performance runs in case you decide to switch from leisure to competitive riding.
Don’t forget this helpful tip: Shortcuts to save money might work in the present, but there’s a pretty good chance you’re on the path to problems if you skimp on materials for the riding track.
Apart from the foundation and drainage, this is one thing that you would want to invest on. Putting together wonderful stables won't only make your horse happy, but will make looking after your animals easier for you—and the space will be comfortable and safe for everyone.
Between adhering to building codes in your area and choosing the best materials, here are some things you can incorporate into your barn layout:
Bigger stalls and wider aisles to avoid difficulty in movement
Extra stables, in case you decide to get more horses
A good size tack room near the cross-ties
A shower in the bathroom for quick staff or owner clean-up
A decent size “lounge” where the staff or owners can rest
A horse wash stall for grooming indoors
Reasonable mat system for the comfort of horses when stabled
Big windows for natural light & ventilation to keep odors out
Drinking tubs and feeding bowls for horses
Pocket gardens, flower beds, and barn lounges aren’t “requirements” for building an arena, but if your heart is truly set on adding more homestyle features to your space, you may do so. It will make your arena a more family-friendly place where your loved ones can hang out and spend quality time together.
If you have the extra budget now, feel free to include it in your current construction timeline. If not, this is something you can explore down the line when you’re renovating or expanding your land. After all, arenas are something you will have for a very long time.
Similar to grooming your horses to keep them in top health, you need to take care of your arena well in order to avoid major, expensive restoration projects. General maintenance includes keeping the surface level consistent, water application, cleaning out the drainage, and incorporating footing additives when needed. Here’s a basic checklist you can follow:
Keep sand particles and additives mixed; pull migrating materials back in
Loosen the surface when it’s too compact or flatten it when it’s too loose
Level out the surface – divots, shallow, spots, hard spots, etc.
Eliminate ruts in high traffic areas
Minimize dust and promote drainage
Pull out the weeds before they grow roots
Drain the arena after rain passes
Some properties need grooming multiple times per day while others may be fine with quick clean-ups every week. Understanding how your surface performs is a key instrument in recognizing when your surface is in need of any type of maintenance.
From using pure sand topping to mixing wood chips with it, the process of building an arena has evolved over the years. However, mastering the basics and being well-informed will prove valuable once you start planning or even during construction.
No matter which route you choose to take, remember to invest in the basics and in good maintenance. The last thing you want to do is end up with a space that fails because getting it fixed won’t be cheap.