If you are building your own equestrian facility, chances are that you have a lengthy action plan probably filled with a lot of do’s. But what about the don’ts?
The following is a fairly comprehensive list of simple things to be mindful of when you are building a horse arena from the base up. It’s not to say that this will guarantee you a five-star experience but it very well may save you and your wallet from being overextended.
The number one thing you can easily get wrong is the location of the ring. How many times have you driven past a fancy farm or show facility and you see the arena right next to the road, or even worse… train tracks? Cars rushing by, young drivers who feel compelled to honk horns at the pretty ponies, the 9 am train all can undue even the most seasoned horses and riders. Consider the surrounding area layout carefully for your ring is going to be with you for a very long time.
If you are running a teaching program, you may want your arena close to the barn so you don't lose valuable time getting horses and riders in and out of the ring. A ten-minute walk to the far meadow may sound like an ideal warm up but multiplied by ten horses coming and going is a good chunk of your billable time.
Always remember to site your arena North/South so that the sun will never be in your eyes as you come down the long side. It’s not just your eyes that will thank you but the horses’ as well.
Lastly… carefully consider the trees. Do they interfere with the riding area or offer a bit of shade during the hot summer? Tree roots close to the arena may grow into the base causing all kinds of havoc down the road. And branches and leaves not removed quickly can also shorten the life of the footing.
The worst thing you can do about your drainage is nothing. That will pretty much guarantee pools of water, soft spots and eventually an uneven surface. How much rain do you expect in a year? Plan for more than you expect. If you are in a high rainfall area, talk to your footing professional about installing French drains. If you are in a low or moderate area for rainfall, you may well be able to get away with a good base and doming the footing so the water runs off easily. Just be sure that you have areas where the water can go and not take the footing with it.
If you are installing baseboards around the arena edge, make sure that there is some kind of drainage built into them so water can flow evenly out, and not too quickly. A watertight baseboard may cause water retention, something you want to avoid.
3. The Base
Just like you can’t make a great loaf of bread without good dough, so is a base to the success of the arena. This is the one phase of the construction you really never want to skimp on because it will come back to haunt you. When you first break ground on your horse arena, make sure you take away all the organic material. You don't want any roots down there to raise their heads after you install the footing. Make it as clean as you can.
Then use the very best materials that your budget will allow. If you have a substandard base, even the most expensive footing in the world will fail. So, do it right he first time. Make sure that you have enough of the materials as well, the proper amount of rock, or whatever you are installing as your base. If there is not enough support in the base, soft spots will develop and you will have an uneven surface in no time.
Pay close attention that the base is perfectly graded and sloped. If your ring has been properly sited and graded, you are well on your way to arena nirvana.
4. Getting the Fall Right
The footing in the arena should be sloped to so that there is a 1.5% fall. Anything less can lead to standing water, and too much may lead to the footing being swept away. If you are unsure about your fall it’s best to call a professional footing company.
5. The Top Layer aka Footing
For years, sand has been the top choice and the main or only ingredient in horse arena footing. A common mistake is when the new arena owner decides to call the local quarry for a recommendation on sand thinking they might save some money. The nice fellow on the other end of the line will be very happy to help you but chances are more than good he hasn’t a clue about horses, how horses’ hooves wear, or what happens to a horse’s biomechanics if it is worked consistently on the wrong kind of sand.
Footing professionals, like Attwood Equestrian Surfaces, can help you source the correct sand for your footing. Make sure that it is the proper depth for the kind of work your horse is doing and ensure the correct amounts of additives are chosen and mixed in evenly.
6. Poor Maintenance
Good footing needs good care. If you don't water enough, the additives and fibers will separate and blow away.
If you don't drag it enough, the footing will become uneven. Packed tight in some areas and completely worn away in other areas, it can be quite concerning for the horse working on the surface.
Manure is enemy one for footing. Not removing the manure can greatly shorten the lifespan of good footing. It breaks the footing down, causing a dusty mess.
7. Building During the Wrong Time of Year
Always build during the most temperate time of year wherever you are located. Trying to build a base on frozen tundra is an absolute nightmare. Installing footing in monsoon conditions is also something to be avoided at all costs. Things do not always go according to plan so don't be in a rush, make sure your contractor and materials are available when you are ready to greenlight your horse arena construction.
8. Perimeter Fencing
If you are dealing with young horses and or inexperienced riders, it might be a good idea to put a fence around your new arena. Make sure that the fence is high enough that a horse will respect it. Too low, and your average horse is going to just pop over it at the worst possible moment because that is what horses do.
9. Attention to Arena Specifications
Pay close attention to the arena specifications. Adding or subtracting to the length and width can change up the amount of footing you need. The end goal is a consistent application of materials. Any changes made on the fly can leave you with the incorrect amount of footing or base materials.
10. Using the Wrong Drag for Maintenance
This last reminder is for when the arena has been finished but it’s such an important part of having a successful arena that it has to be on the list.
Because you have spent considerable amounts of time and money to build an arena, don’t let it fail you because you have the wrong drag.
Simply put, every arena is different. From the type of footing in the arena, to the watering needs of the chosen footing, to different climates and weather patterns, the arena has to endure to the discipline it’s used for. It’s never a case of comparing apples to apples and one drag fits all.
While chain drags are popular because they are cheap and easy to use, they are often highly ineffective.
Consult an arena specialist on what would work best for your arena. A good harrow can transform your footing in a matter of minutes back into a safe, reliable surface your horse can trust.
Your riding arena is an investment of a lifetime. Take the time to research all your options and work with the best professionals you can find. An arena is much more than a price per square foot. It is the place where your dreams do come true.