Building the perfect riding arena is like a dream. If you’ve given it any thought, chances are you have an idea of what you’re looking for. However, there are a lot of details and planning that go in to building a horse-riding arena. It’s easy to focus on the big picture, but the reality is bringing your dream riding arena to life requires making good decisions on things like the base of your riding area, something you probably don’t have in your dreams.
We’ve compiled a list of all of the key things you need to know in order to make your dream a reality. Do yourself a favor and do your research before you start construction. As you already know, building a custom riding arena is an investment. You want to make sure you don’t cut corners that cost you more in the end.
Start a Budget
If you’ve decided to move forward with building the perfect riding arena, you probably have an amount in mind that you want to spend. Make sure you do thorough research and are educated on everything you’ll need (this blog post should help!).
As you move through the process, this simple number should evolve into an itemized budget. If the bottom line is too much, then you can go back through, line-by-line and see where you can cut costs. For each item on that line, do yourself a favor and check with a few vendors for pricing. Then, compare numbers. It’s kind of like bargain shopping for your riding arena. While some products, like troughs or gates, may only vary slightly, larger line items, like arena installation, can vary by thousands of dollars!
Another way you can make things more affordable is to build your riding arena in phases. Obviously what each of these phases look like will vary greatly depending on what type of facility you’re planning to build, but it’s definitely something worth exploring with your design professional and builder.
Check Township Ordinances
The first step you should take is researching your township ordinances. Township ordinances contain laws regarding what you can and cannot build on your property. Assuming you have approval to build a structure, they will include guidance on how far from the property line your structure will need to be, if there are any size restrictions and whether or not you’ll need a permit to build. They may even have guidance for how much area you’re supposed to have per horse.
If you aren’t sure where to look, begin by searching online. If you can’t find them online, search for the township office’s contact information and ask them for a copy of the ordinances. You want to make sure you know the rules before you go any further in your planning.
Hire a Design Professional
There’s a chance you may need to have a design professional (architect, engineer, etc.) create the plans to ensure that your arena meets all of the building codes and requirements. Even if it isn’t necessary, and will cost you some extra money, it’s worth it. If for nothing else, to make sure your riding arena is structurally sound and able to withstand the weather elements. You can’t put a price on that peace of mind.
Another reason you should hire a design professional is that you could spend hours trying to think of how to layout something that a design professional could do in a matter of minutes. Not only are they trained to anticipate challenges, but they’re also problem solving experts. Find one that has experience in designing horse facilities, and that’s the best-case scenario. You can give them a budget, your list of requirements and talk to them about everything you’re hoping to use the property for. They’ll combine that with their experience to deliver a plan that has everything from paths of travel to trailer turnaround space.
Select an Area with Natural Drainage
Once you’re familiar with the ordinances, laws and requirements for building, it’s time to begin mapping out your arena. If you’re considering building a riding area, chances are you already have the space for it, even if you aren’t exactly sure how big you want it to be. But what is the land like? You may think that you don’t need to worry about water drainage with a covered or enclosed riding arena, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Building a horse-riding arena on a low-lying area that doesn’t drain well can cause it to fail.
While flat land may seem like the ideal space, you’re going to need to build on higher ground that drains naturally or you may need to add a budget line item for drains, which can be expensive. If you don’t have land with a natural area for drainage, take into consideration what excavation it would require to get it to that point. If all else fails, you can use drains.
Think About Adding a Barn to the Arena
If you’re thinking about building a covered or enclosed riding arena, chances are one of the reasons is to protect it (and you) from the elements. If that’s one of the goals, have you considered building an enclosed arena with space for a barn in it? That way, you have one place to go and don’t need to fight with rain, snow or wind to get from the barn to your riding space.
If a barn sounds like a good idea, how many stalls will you want? What will you want the layout of the barn and riding area to be? In addition to these questions, deciding to add a barn brings a whole new series of questions, as you’re now providing a living space for your horses. What will you do with the manure? Do you have a water supply? If so, does it include hot water? Where will the hay be stored? What kind of material will you use for the aisle floors? Do you want to include a wash stall for the horses? How about including bathroom facilities for yourself? Haven’t thought of all of this? Don’t panic and don’t rush to come up with answers. This is a big investment, take some time to consider your options.
If you like the idea, but aren’t sure you can afford it, you could always consider leasing a few stalls to help pay the bills.
Determine the Size and Shape
The choices for the size and shape of your riding arena are endless. If you already have a riding area, you probably have an idea of how big of a space you need for riding. If this is new to you, rather than deciding with a pen and paper, map it out. Take stakes, spray paint, bails of hay or some other marker and map out a space on your property for riding. Spend a week or two riding in that area – do you feel cramped? Could you bring the markers in a little bit? Repeat the process if you need to, so you are sure you have a space comfortable for riding in.
Remember to Leave Room for Equipment
You’re going to need room for equipment both inside and outside of the arena. While you may have determined the size and shape of the area, are you sure there’s enough room to store your riding equipment? Outside is there enough room for you to turn your horse trailer around? Remember that you’re eventually going to be transporting horses and taking or bringing equipment, so you want to leave yourself plenty of room for that, as well.
Choose a Material
Have you given any thought to whether you want a wood or steel riding area? There are pros and cons to both. Usually wood provides a more affordable option up front, but steel often requires less maintenance over time. If you need a large amount of clear space for your indoor riding area, steel buildings can accommodate a wide span (often up to 200 feet!) without supporting columns, which get in the way of riding. While a steel structure can include insulation, wooden riding arenas have better natural insulation.
Maintenance on steel structures is often minimal. Choose the right company, and you could get a 25-40 year warranty on the exterior panels. However, water hitting that steel covering can be loud without additional insulation – something you don’t have to worry about with a wooden structure. These are just a few of the pros and cons to get you started – make sure you do some of your own research.
Decide on Covered or Enclosed
You’ve probably been envisioning one or the other – but have you evaluated both? Usually a covered arena works best in warmer climates, where you may just need a space that’s out of the sun. The open sides provide an easy way for the air to flow in and out. If you’re leaning toward a covered riding arena, just make sure you extend the roof overhang to maximize the amount of shade you have.
If you live in a place that has cold winters, and are looking for a space that enables you to ride all year long, then you should consider an enclosed arena. Of course, if you’re envisioning combining your barn with your arena, an enclosed area is also your best bet. An enclosed area gives you the opportunity to ride regardless of what the weather is like. If you choose to add a barn, you’ll be really spoiled – being able to move from stall to riding area without stepping foot outside.
If you decide on an enclosed riding arena, ventilation is key – it can’t be an afterthought. If you don’t plan for ventilation, you could end up with moisture on the ceiling, which leads to much larger problems.
Yes, having doors and windows to encourage airflow is important, but there is more to ventilation than that. This is something a design professional or builder can help you with. Usually the answer is to strategically place openings in the roof that let air escape and flow through the arena. The addition of cupolas is another strategy to keep air moving.
In addition to these techniques, larger buildings, heated buildings and insulated buildings may require mechanical ventilation systems.
Consider Energy Costs
Energy costs are only going to be necessary to consider for enclosed riding arenas. Remember, you’re probably going to need something to light the area and at least move the air around. Don’t forget to think about the costs of lighting. You can incorporate skylights into your roof to get the most out of the natural light you have. In addition to lighting, consider how many plugs you’ll need and where you’ll need them.
In the summer, an enclosed arena would benefit from fans to keep the hot air circulating throughout the space. If you have frigid winters, you’re going to want to make sure you have some level of insulation.
Don’t Forget About Maintenance Costs
Why do you have to think about maintenance costs when you haven’t even broken ground? Because chances are, you’re only focusing on the costs of getting the structure in place. Obviously, that’s important, but what’s even more important is the cost to maintain the building once it’s built. For example, if you choose to build a wooden arena and years down the road have a problem with wood rot, you may need to invest quite a bit of money in repairs, or worse, replacement. Choosing a steel structure could have prevented that maintenance cost.
Decide on a Fence or a Kick Wall
Fencing may not be one of the first things that comes to mind, but choosing the wrong fencing can result in terrible accidents. If you decide on a covered riding arena, you may have more fencing than an indoor facility. Regardless, you need to put some serious thought into the type of fence you’re going to purchase. Go for the traditional wood fence – either post-and-board or post-and-rail. Alternatively, try cable fencing with plastic insulators that will release if your horses get tangled.
If you’ve decided on an enclosed riding arena, you’ll want to decide on a kick wall. A kick wall is a wooden boarder, three to five feet tall, along the bottom of the walls of your riding arena. They’re slanted, so the bottom is wider than the top. So why is a kick wall a necessity? There are a few reasons. First, these walls keep your horse from riding tight along the wall, which saves your legs from taking a beating. Second, the wider bottom of these kick walls prevent the base and cushion (footing) from building up around the walls of the arena.
Select a Base
The most important part of your riding arena will be the materials you use to cover it. The sub-base is what you’re left with after excavation – if it isn’t clay, consider having a layer of clay put down. Next is the base. It’s hard to justify spending money on a layer that no one will see, but it’s vitally important you don’t skimp on the base materials. The base’s job is to stabilize and weatherproof the area, in addition to protecting the surface from any materials that may creep up from the ground. Without applying enough of the right materials to the base, you’re riding area will be vulnerable. Usually a layer of a dense graded material such as stone dust, limestone screenings or decomposed granite is best to use.
Pick a Cushion
The cushion is the top layer of material on the riding area. While you want the base to be firm, the cushion isn’t meant to be a hard surface, hence the name. There is some leverage here, as some people prefer a soft surface, while others prefer something firmer. It would be great if our horses could tell us what they prefer, but unfortunately, they can’t. Therefore, to be safe, you’ll definitely want to avoid anything overly hard or too soft. Yes, there is such a thing as too soft – a surface that is too soft can cause stress on a horse’s tendons and muscles.
The most common choices are sand, sawdust, shavings or bark mulch. While sand is the most durable, using unwashed or dead sand can cause a significant amount of dust. If you’re searching for an affordable and environmentally friendly option, try a mix of sand and organic material. Organic materials could include sawdust, peat moss or composted manure. While the sand provides traction, the organic material holds moisture.
Determine Which Accessories You Want
It’s tempting to put the accessories off until the last minute, but it’s important to put some thought into the latches, grates, blanket bars, stall doors, light fixtures, fans, etc. All of those costs add up and can significantly impact your bottom line. Sure, you could put many of the accessories in yourself, but that’s hard work. Make sure you’ve thoroughly considered whether that’s something you want to take on yourself. We recommend calculating these costs early, and leaving it up to the professionals.
Find a Lender
If you can’t afford to pay for everything out of pocket, you’re going to need to find a lender. Banks can shy away from loans for non-residential buildings, but do yourself a favor and research lenders that understand the agricultural industry and will work with you to find the best loan for your situation, whether it’s a part of a business or for pleasure.
Choose a Builder
While it isn’t necessary to choose a builder with experience in building a custom riding arena, it certainly helps. A builder with experience has built several of these and will be able to give you insight that you wouldn’t get from a builder that hasn’t worked on one before. It’s important to ask and check references for builders if you or someone you know hasn’t worked with them before.
While you’ll probably completely focus on evaluating the builders ability to follow through on the plan you have and stick to your budget, there is something else you should take into consideration. How messy will they be? Don’t get us wrong – construction is always messy, you should expect to have your lawn torn up and dust to be on everything. But it’s important to talk to your builder about things like trash removal and how they clean up after themselves onsite. We don’t want you to expect a clean slate
At MBMI Steel Buildings, building custom riding arenas is one of our specialties. We’ve worked with enough customers to know that no two customers have the exact same needs. That’s why we focus on the customization of our products. We work with you to understand exactly what you’re looking for in your new riding arena and then we map out the perfect steel horse-riding arena to meet those needs. We can even refine our steel riding arenas with paints and finishes to blend in with your home and other adjacent structures. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you build the riding arena of your dreams.