The Complete Arena Construction Guide
Building new or redoing your arena is a large undertaking and you want to get it right. While there are many variables to consider, we have put together a general guide to help steer fellow horse lovers. The details below speak primarily to outdoor horse arenas, however many (if not all) aspects will apply if you are planning to build an indoor arena.
Your arena footing consists of much more than the visible top layer. Residing underneath are the very important base and sub-base layers which provide a stable and consistent foundation for the footing to sit on, while supporting proper drainage.
The top footing can become deep, unpredictable and unreliable for you and your horse. Without a solid contained base, weather and usage will cause erosion and uneven surface. Below, we will discuss the sub-base (underlying ground) and then actual base materials.
Determining Your Arena Size
The dimensions of a standard dressage arena are 20 x 60 meters or approximately 66 x 198 feet. Some opt for a smaller dressage arena of 20 x 40 meters or 66 x 132. Others opt for a multi-purpose arena and build it to accommodate full jump courses.
In those cases, they elect for a 100 x 200 feet, or 34 feet wider than a standard dressage arena and a few feet longer. No matter the size you choose, the process will remain the same.
How to Select the Best Location for Your Arena
Once you have decided the dimensions of your arena, site location is extremely important. To reduce your costs when building you will want to locate an area on your property that requires minimal impact on the surrounding environment and the least excavation.
Also, look for locations that will allow your arena to run north to south so you can maximum the eastern and western sun exposure. This will allow more riding time as well as better support drying after a rainfall.
Arena Site and Ground Preparation
Once the site selection has been made, and you have cleared the size of your arena, preparing the subbase, or underlying ground, is very important. After leveling your subbase, it is recommended to install some type of containing wall around the sides of the arena. Possibilities include boards, fences or railroad ties. The subbase is typically made from clay-based local soil that has been built up as needed and compacted.
When building an indoor arena, the subbase and base will be flat, however with an outdoor arena, the subbase and base should be crowned with a one to two percent slope. Most arena builders recommend a 1 ½% slope. This is designed to allow rainwater and snowmelt to adequately drain towards the long sides of your arena. In some cases, drains may need to be installed along the edges to move water away from the sides and arena area.
How to Install Your Arena Base
Once your subbase is prepared, you will want to consider a geotextile fabric. We offer geotextile in large rolls and typically thicker than local retailers,
Roll out the geotextile over the subbase before installing your base. The non-woven geotextile fabric creates a porous barrier that allows water through, but blocks the base material from seeping into your subbase. For more information, see our page on geotextiles here.
Constructing Your Arena Base
Our recommended base materials consist of BaseCore™ and angular stone. You can read more here about BaseCore™ and installation instructions.
It is important to use angular stone that fills up the geocells and extends 2-3 inches above that. Then, using a 10-ton roller, you want to make certain it is fully compacted and still retains the 1-2% crown.
How to Install Your Arena Footing
The top layer is your footing. Proper footing will provide traction and cushion the impact of the horse’s feet. Using improper footing can cause injuries, lameness, reduce the amount of training sessions and impede performance. Around the U.S. there are many local options for footing.
Some areas have more access to stone dust, while others prefer sand. It is important to not only convey the type of footing you need but also the characteristics. Below, we discuss sand. Some of the information discussed can be applied to other materials.
All About Sand for Your Arena
The good news is that sand is one of the least expensive options to use for your dressage arena footing material. However, you will need to be specific. In your area, terminology may be different as well as availability. Sand is typically classified by its particle size, not its composition.
How exactly do you manufacture sand? Typically quarries crush rock into a variety of sizes ranging in size from 2mm to fine dust particles. Different names for this include: manufactured sand, man-made sand or stone dust, amongst others. These type of sand is very sharp, typically softer and it breaks down to dust more frequently.
It does provide great grip but it is likely to cause more wear on the horse’s shoes due to the abrasive quality.
Pros: Inexpensive, easily available, less dust
Cons: Less durable, increase in shoe wear, may compact too much and harden
Natural Sand is eroded rock deposits that are mined as they were naturally broken down. Natural sand is chemically hard and resistant to weathering and it breakdowns into granular shapes that are a mixture of angular and round. This type of sand will last longer as dressage arena footing.
Pros: longevity, potential mixture of round and angular
Cons: Limited availability, particle sizes could not be optimum
Why All Arena Sand is Not Equal
Sand is basically rock particles that are between .074mm and 4.76 mm. This is quaite a large range. Sand falls into three categories: coarse, medium or fine:
The sand you select is further qualified by the shape makeup of the particles of grain. The shape changes the characteristics of the footing and the benefits or consequences it can cause.
Round particles create more cushioning because they do not fully compact. Using only round particles however, can create instability and less traction as the particles can roll. Angular particles are ones with sharp edges that can provide stability and traction, but are susceptible to compression where they become extremely hard.
Sub-angular sand is typically found in natural sand where the sharp angular edges have been worn. They offer some compression but retain traction properties.
Which Sand Should I Use?
Variances in size and shape are the key to ordering sand for your arena. You want a mixture of round and angular particle shapes with a range of particle sizes. Also, when you are adding sand remember it is easier to add footing than it is to remove it.
Many times arena sand is too coarse, which translates to loose and shifting footing. This makes the horse’s job harder and puts more strain on their tendons and suspensories which could contribute to larger issues later.
The availability of different sand types and qualities does vary widely based on your location, and the exact sand type desired may be cost prohibitive with excessive transportation costs.
Research has found that you can get very similar properties in arenas with different materials, for example, adding other materials such as FoamFooting™ to sand. Also, the functional properties of sand are significantly affected by moisture content. This is why proper maintenance is paramount and just purchasing a recommended sand alone does not mean you will be maintenance-free.
Improving the Quality of Your Arena Sand
Once you have selected your sand, it is time to consider footing additives and how they can increase the benefits of your footing. FoamFooting™ has properties that increase cushioning yet remain stable. This improves the quality of your sand. One cost-saving measure is to purchase readily-available masonry sand and then mix-in FoamFooting™ to have an optimum top layer of footing. If you have additional questions about FoamFooting™, please contact us directly via chat, email or phone.