How to Build a Horseback Riding Arena
Even if you have an immense property with miles of trails, you can still benefit from having an arena to practice new skills in a contained environment. If you’re considering building a horseback riding arena on your property, there are several things to keep in mind.
How can you build a riding arena at home? If you have a space that is approximately 60’x100’ or greater, you can build yourself a riding arena. You will want to make sure the space is flat, or that it can be graded if it has a gentle slope. You can use a variety of materials for both fencing and footing. If you would like an indoor arena, you will need to consider the type of building you would like and what’s the most cost-effective for you. Building a basic riding arena is fairly simple, and can bring lasting benefits to you and your horse.
When it comes to building an arena, the more money you spend, the more quality an arena you will get; however, you can still build a sufficient arena on a budget. To learn more about aspects of building an arena, keep reading!
How Large Should a Riding Arena Be?
A riding arena should be at least 60’x120’. This is enough space to canter your horse in figure-eights and practice jumping; however, it may feel like a tight squeeze. This is a great size for a smaller horse farm or building an arena on a budget. The smaller the arena, the cheaper it will be to build.
Whether you decide to use these dimensions or go larger, you will want an arena that is longer than it is wide. If you are building an indoor arena, you will also need to keep in mind that the roof should be a minimum of 16’ above the ground.
You may decide that having a larger space than the minimum will benefit you and your horse if you have the room to spread out a bit. If you have a more narrow arena, larger horses may have more difficulty making the turns. Setting up a complete 10-jump course may be improbable in a smaller arena, but basic courses and gridwork would be doable.
An average-sized riding arena ranges from 80’x150′ to 100’x200′. These arenas will be easy to navigate and can fit numerous obstacles and jumps while also being big enough for multiple horse and rider pairs at once.
Do You Need to Add Footing to Your Riding Arena?
bringing in footing for your riding arena will depend on what you’re already working with. I’ve seen arenas that use the dirt that came with the property as footing. If you’re doing this, you’ll need to rake it with a tractor whenever the dirt becomes compacted. I’ve also seen sand used as footing; if you go this route, make sure that you use coarse sand instead of fine sand so as not to damage your horse’s respiratory tract.
I would advise asking those around you with arenas what they use as footing. When I was in the process of building an arena, I got a very high quote to bring in sand as footing. When speaking about this to my hay supplier, he told me about a company he uses that recycles rubber mulch and sells it for $50 – that is a flat fee for as large a trailer as you can bring. He uses this for his riding arenas and speaks highly about it. You never know what kind of deals may be available to you unless you ask around.
Riding Arenas Have Different Layers
Most people don’t realize that riding arenas have different layers to create adequate and safe footing for the horses. Simply adding sand over a dirt base can create an unstable surface that could cause your horse to get injured. The most expensive arena footing will usually have a solid sub-base of dirt or clay, then a level of drainage stone, and then a compact blue stone layer under the soft footing.
For those more on a budget, creating a solid blue-stone base over clay soil can be sufficient support for your horse’s footing. If your property doesn’t naturally have clay soil, you may have to bring in clay dirt to fill the arena space.
What if You Have a Slope in Your Riding Arena Location?
Some regions of the country have endless flat land, farther than the eye can see. In other regions, just about every property is covered in steep slopes. So how flat does a riding arena need to be? As you can probably guess, a riding arena needs to be flat for both your horse’s and your own safety. If your property is one big hill, you may not be able to engineer an appropriate riding arena. However, if your property has a gentle slope, you may be able to have it graded.
I had a 90’x120’ area I wanted to build a riding arena on, but it was sloped. I got quotes from three different contractors to level the area, ranging from $3,000 to $11,000. Two of them (including the highest quote) were going to bring in dirt from off of the property and move it around until the area was “level.”
The third contractor was going to grade it in lifts, which is necessary to keep the new dirt from washing out as soon as the rain starts. I say this to tell you, that yes, you can level a gentle slope and build a safe riding arena, but make sure you get several quotes and ensure that it will be graded properly.
If you have tractor knowledge or access to a skid steer or backhoe, you may be able to grade a gentle slope yourself. I have enough farmer friends that I found someone who could grade my property for relatively cheap compared to a contractor.
Indoor Arena vs. Outdoor Arena
The first thing you will need to decide is whether you would like to build an indoor or an outdoor arena. Building an indoor arena will be more expensive because, at minimum, you will need a roof and posts to hold it up. Budget aside, your climate will be the biggest deciding factor between an indoor arena and an outdoor arena.
If you live in sunny California or another temperate climate, you may find it unnecessary to have a roof over your head while riding. If you live in an area that receives significant rain or snow, you may decide that building an indoor arena is well worth your time and money. Whichever you decide, you will need to make sure you have adequate space for the arena.
Adding Lighting to Your Riding Arena
If you’re building an indoor arena, you will want to allow as much natural light as possible to enter the space. If you are going to enclose your arena completely, make sure to account for as many windows as is feasible for your situation. For even more natural light, you can also include a skylight or use a clear polyethylene roof instead of a traditional tin roof.
Of course, natural light will only be helpful to you if you’re riding in the daylight. If that is your preferred time to ride, you may not need any additional lighting at all. If, however, you would like to have the option of riding after the sun sets, you will need to add electricity to the arena. Overhead lighting is ideal in this situation and is an option when building an indoor arena. If you are building an outdoor arena and would like to add lights, you’ll need to include tall side lights around the border of the space.
How to Contain Your Riding Arena
A riding arena is by definition contained, so you will need to decide how you will build your arena. If you’re building an indoor arena, you will probably want a steel structure so that you can hold up your roof without beams and posts in the middle of the riding space. The sky’s the limit when it comes to indoor arenas – I’ve seen some that are completely enclosed, with windows and HVAC units. I’ve seen others that are simply corrugated roofs held up by steel posts (similar to a large carport).
If I were building an indoor arena, after deciding on my budget, I would look at pictures online of various designs to gain inspiration. Once I knew what I wanted, I would reach out to a few different contractors for estimates. Obviously, the more amenities included in the arena, the more you should expect to spend. Most people don’t have the equipment to build an indoor arena themselves and will need to hire someone to help them.
While in most cases outside help will need to be acquired to build an indoor arena, outdoor arenas are much simpler in terms of construction and can often be done as a DIY project. I’ve seen outdoor arenas built with pallets, wood fencing, and pipe fencing. I personally like to add a rider guard to my arena plans, but that is purely preferential. If you would like to add rider guards, you can do this simply with lumber, or you can build your fence to angle outward at the top. If your ground is level, and you’re handy with a saw, you may be able to get your outdoor arena built in as little as a weekend.
Building Your Own Riding Arena
The construction of a riding arena is a big project to tackle, especially if you want it to be completely enclosed. While the project may seem daunting, I don’t know anyone who has built a riding arena and later regretted it. As a rider, I will always strive to improve my skills.
Even the best competitive equestrians in the world seek out trainers who will help them grow. If you are always planning on working toward a new goal (and who isn’t?), it is very beneficial to have a contained space to do that. A riding arena, whether outdoor or indoor, can provide that safe environment for you.
If building a full-blown riding arena is out of reach right now, you may want to start with building a round pen. To learn all you need to know about round pens, visit my article Buying a Round Pen Guide: Pricing, Size, & Footing.