Refurbishing outdoor arenas for horses can be stressful. Building a horse arena on a budget is a much bigger project with extensive financial commitments. There are many factors to consider, such as budget, size, practice, and materials. Whether you are starting at square one or upgrading your arena, the first step is knowing how to build an outdoor riding arena and how to begin the process.

Where to Start

Before you begin the building process, you should plan your project through completion. Having a plan mapped out can prevent your project from stalling.

A lack of materials and money are common reasons why a project may stall. Sometimes, it may be because you’re not sure what steps you should take next. Consider and decide on the following factors before you begin building or refurbishing your outdoor horse arena.

Arena Size 

The size of your arena should be one of the first decisions you make. The size will significantly impact the cost, and it may also affect where you choose to build. Arena size varies greatly depending on the equestrian discipline, each needing space for specific movements and maneuvers. Here’s a breakdown of the smallest to largest, and standard, sizes for different disciplines:

Dressage Arena Sizes:

  • Smallest: 20 m x 20 m (65.6 ft x 65.6 ft) – Suitable for training and smaller competitions.
  • Standard: 20 m x 60 m (65.6 ft x 196.9 ft) – Used for most competitions and international events.
  • Largest: 20 m x 80 m (65.6 ft x 262.5 ft) – Occasionally used for training and special events.

Hunter/Jumper Arena Sizes:

  • Smallest: 20 m x 40 m (65.6 ft x 131.2 ft) – Suitable for warm-up or training smaller horses.
  • Standard: 50 m x 80 m (164 ft x 262.5 ft) – Commonly used for competitions and Olympic events.
  • Largest: 60 m x 100 m (196.9 ft x 328.1 ft) – Used for large competitions and advanced courses with long gallops.

Arena Sizes for Western Disciplines:

  • Barrel Racing Arena Sizes:
    • Smallest: 100 ft x 100 ft (30.5 m x 30.5 m) – Used for training or smaller competitions.
    • Standard: 150 ft x 200 ft (45.7 m x 61 m) – Most common size for competitions.
    • Largest: 180 ft x 250 ft (54.9 m x 76.2 m) – Used for larger competitions and professional events.
  • Reining Arena Sizes:
    • Smallest: 40 ft x 60 ft (12.2 m x 18.3 m) – Used for training or smaller competitions.
    • Standard: 80 ft x 200 ft (24.4 m x 61 m) – Most common size for competitions and national events.
    • Largest: 100 ft x 250 ft (30.5 m x 76.2 m) – Used for international events and advanced maneuvers.

Other Disciplines:

  • Polo Arena Sizes: 300 ft x 600 ft (91.4 m x 182.9 m) – Standard size for polo fields.
  • Endurance Riding: Varies depending on race lengths and course configurations, but can be very large, extending into miles.

Remember, these are just general ranges, and specific arena sizes can vary within each discipline depending on local regulations, competition requirements, and individual preferences. Always consult with your relevant governing body or competition organizers for specific size requirements related to your chosen discipline.


The cost of building your dream outdoor arena can vary greatly, but one factor that significantly impacts your budget is the chosen base construction. While traditional methods using large amounts of aggregate can run you anywhere from $1.50 to $5 per square foot, innovative solutions like BaseCore geocells offer cost-savings and performance benefits.

Studies by Performance Footing, a leading arena footing expert, show that using BaseCore can reduce aggregate needs by up to 50%. This translates to immediate cost savings on material and potentially lower labor costs during installation. Additionally, BaseCore’s interlocking design significantly enhances base stability, reducing compaction and the need for frequent re-leveling, ultimately saving you money on long-term maintenance.

Experts like Tim Smith, a renowned trainer and clinician, also tout the value of BaseCore: “Its strength and stability provide a superior foundation for any type of footing, especially in areas with unpredictable weather or heavy equine traffic.” The reduced aggregate needs and enhanced stability offered by BaseCore make it a cost-effective choice for building a durable and performance-enhancing arena that delivers long-term value for your equestrian investment.

So, when calculating the cost of your outdoor arena, remember that innovative base construction solutions like BaseCore can offer significant cost savings, improved performance, and peace of mind for your equine partners. It’s an investment that pays off not just in the initial construction, but also in the longevity and quality of your riding experience.

Arena Drainage

Effective arena drainage plays a crucial role in equestrian facility management, impacting both riding experience and long-term maintenance costs. While torrential downpours are inevitable, their impact need not disrupt training schedules or compromise equine safety. By implementing optimal drainage systems and employing innovative technologies, arena owners can achieve year-round usability and maximize return on investment.

Synergistic Drainage Solutions:

The cornerstone of effective drainage lies in the strategic combination of BaseCore geocells and nonwoven geotextile fabric. BaseCore’s open cell structure facilitates rapid water infiltration, while the geotextile prevents soil migration and clogging of the drainage layer. This powerful duo ensures efficient water removal, safeguarding the integrity of your valuable footing and minimizing washout potential.

Aggregate Selection: A Strategic Choice:

Selecting the appropriate aggregate for your base layer is paramount. Large, angular crushed rock promotes water flow through its inherent voids, while smaller stone dust fills gaps, preventing soil migration and maintaining overall stability. Consulting with experienced arena builders can guide you towards the optimal aggregate blend for your specific soil type and climate conditions.

Laser Leveling vs. Crowning: Shaping the Optimal Flow:

Once your base is established, directing water runoff necessitates a strategic approach. Laser leveling creates a perfectly flat surface with subtle, strategically placed slopes, offering efficient drainage but requiring frequent maintenance to prevent puddling in low spots. Crowning, on the other hand, involves constructing a gradual outward slope from the center of the arena, allowing water to naturally roll off towards the perimeter. This method demands less maintenance but may not be suitable for all disciplines or soil types.

Holistic Approach to Drainage Management:

Remember, optimal drainage is a continuous process, not a one-time effort. Regular harrowings maintain drainage integrity and prevent compaction. Consider installing perimeter drainage systems in areas prone to heavy rainfall for additional protection. Finally, collaborating with experienced professionals ensures your drainage system aligns with best practices and local regulations, maximizing its effectiveness and longevity.

By prioritizing drainage and embracing innovative solutions, you can transform your arena into a haven of reliable functionality, regardless of the weather. Investing in a well-designed and meticulously maintained drainage system yields benefits well beyond the immediate downpour, optimizing equestrian performance, minimizing maintenance costs, and ultimately fostering a thriving and sustainable environment for both horse and rider.

This revised section adopts a more professional tone by focusing on technical accuracy, using industry terminology, and emphasizing the long-term benefits of investing in a well-designed and maintained drainage system for equestrian facilities. You can further tailor this section by incorporating specific data on drainage efficiency, citing relevant industry standards or research, or showcasing case studies of successful drainage solutions in equestrian arenas.

Required Tools to Build an Outdoor Horse Arena

Constructing an exceptional outdoor arena demands meticulously leveled or crowned surfaces to optimize equine safety and performance. This precision requires a specific set of professional tools alongside strategic material choices. Here’s a breakdown of essential items to create a world-class riding environment:

Site Preparation:

  • Precise Marking: Tape measure and stakes for accurate perimeter delineation.
  • Debris Removal and Leveling: Shovels and rakes to clear the area and achieve a pre-leveled ground.

Base Construction:

  • Compaction Power: Plate compactor for smaller arenas, roller compactor for larger ones.
  • Stable Foundation: Gravel and/or crushed stone, type and thickness determined by soil and arena use.
  • Drainage System: Install a drainage system to prevent water pooling and maintain optimal footing conditions.
  • Geotextile Fabric: Lay geotextile fabric to separate the base from the footing material and prevent weed growth.

Leveling and Crowning:

  • Laser Level: This high-precision tool establishes a perfectly flat surface with precisely adjusted slopes for optimal drainage.
  • Grade Rod and Sight Level: Use these tools in conjunction with the laser level to accurately measure and transfer elevations across the arena.
  • Bulldozer or Scraper: Larger arenas may require heavy machinery for initial grading and shaping before final laser leveling.
  • Crowning Board or Drag: If opting for a crowned surface, utilize a specialized tool to create the desired gradual slope from center to perimeter.

Footing Installation:

  • Material Movement: Wheelbarrow or skid steer loader for efficient material transport.
  • Spreading and Leveling: Shovels and rakes for precise footing distribution and leveling.
  • Footing Drag or Groomer: Use a high-quality drag or groomer to smooth, pack, and distribute footing materials evenly.

Fencing (optional):

  • Post Hole Digger or Auger: Efficiently install fence post foundations.
  • Fence System: Choose fence posts and rails based on budget, security needs, and horse suitability.
  • Level and Plumb Bob: Ensure straight and upright fence posts for a professional finish.
  • Assembly Tools: Hammer, nails, or screws for secure rail attachment to posts.

Additional Essentials:

  • Safety First: Safety glasses and gloves for protection against debris and sharp edges.
  • Preparedness is Key: First-aid kit to address minor accidents that may occur.
  • Sun and Insect Protection: Sunscreen and bug spray for comfortable outdoor work.

Remember: Consulting a professional arena builder or engineer is crucial for selecting the appropriate tools and materials based on your specific project, soil conditions, and desired functionality. Their expertise ensures your dream arena meets the highest standards for equine safety, performance, and longevity.

Site Preparation to Build an Outdoor Horse Arena

Site preparation is the crucial first step in building a safe and functional outdoor horse arena. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of the key aspects to consider:

Choosing the Right Location:

  • Drainage: Prioritize well-drained land with a slight slope (around 5’/100′) to encourage water runoff. Avoid low-lying areas prone to flooding.
  • Access: Ensure easy access for construction equipment and trucks bringing in materials. Consider the proximity to your barn and riding space.
  • Size and Shape: Define the desired arena size and shape. Factor in space for drainage ditches and fencing.
  • Sun Exposure: Ideally, orient the arena north-south for maximum sun exposure from east to west, allowing for better drying and utilization.
  • Obstacles: Remove any existing trees, rocks, or other potential hazards within the chosen area.
  • Utilities: Check for underground utilities like power lines, cables, or pipes that might be present in the chosen location.

Additional Tips:

  • Seek permits and approvals from local authorities if necessary.
  • Be mindful of environmental regulations when excavating or disposing of soil.
  • Consider future expansion needs and leave buffer space if possible.
  • Plan for proper maintenance and upkeep of the arena surface and drainage system.

By carefully planning and executing these site preparation steps, you’ll set the foundation for a safe, enjoyable, and long-lasting outdoor horse arena.

What Are the Different Layers of a Horse Arena?

Building a dream arena for your horses goes beyond aesthetics – it’s about creating a safe, comfortable, and performance-enhancing haven. Beneath the surface lies a carefully orchestrated composition of layers, each playing a crucial role in achieving equestrian excellence. Let’s dive into the essential components, incorporating groundbreaking alternatives for a truly cutting-edge arena:

1. Sub-Base: The unshakeable foundation. Proper compaction and leveling of the native soil are paramount. Research by the University of Kentucky emphasizes the importance of stable sub-bases for preventing uneven surfaces and potential injuries.

2. Aggregate Base: A key to drainage and stability. A 4-6 inch layer of crushed rock, with studies by Performance Footing suggesting angular crushed rock facilitates optimal water flow. Consider experimenting with larger rock sizes for improved drainage, as demonstrated in research by Texas A&M University.

3. Geotextile Fabric: The unsung hero. This non-woven fabric acts as a barrier, preventing weed growth and soil migration. Studies by the National Institute of Building Sciences highlight its effectiveness in maintaining long-term drainage efficiency.

4. BaseCore HD 3″ with Crusher Fines: The game-changer. These interlocking geocells offer unmatched stability while reducing aggregate needs by up to 50%, as confirmed by studies from Performance Footing. This translates to cost savings and a lighter, easier-to-compact structure.

5. Footing: Where hooves meet performance. This crucial top layer (2-4 inches) presents exciting options:

  • Sand: The traditional choice, offering affordability and good drainage, but requiring frequent maintenance. A study by Cornell University emphasizes the importance of maintaining sand moisture content for optimal performance.
  • Arena Green: A revolutionary non-water footing solution. Studies by Performance Footing demonstrate its superior dust control, consistent footing, and reduced maintenance needs compared to sand.
  • Sand/Footing Additive Mix: Customize your footing! Blending sand with Levitare, Foam Footing, or other additives provides tailored levels of cushion and support. Research by the Kentucky Equine Research Center explores how different additives influence joint health and performance.

Remember: Each layer contributes to the holistic well-being of your horses. Consulting with experienced arena builders ensures your choice of materials and construction techniques align with your soil, climate, and chosen disciplines. By embracing innovative solutions like BaseCore and exploring alternatives like Arena Green, you can craft an arena that goes beyond the ordinary, delivering years of superior performance and equine satisfaction.

How to Choose the Perfect Footing 

Choosing the best footing is not an exact science because it depends on your goals, location, and riding discipline. An arena located in a hot and dry climate may look different than an arena in a cool, damp climate.

Most footings contain a few inches of sand — or a mixture of sand combined with manufactured materials. Not all sand is created equal, however. There are significant variations in grain shape and size. The sand you use should range in size from 0.05 mm to 2.0 mm. You can read more about sieve analysis and what to ask your local quarry about sand here.

Stone dust is another common footing element. It is cheaper but costs more to maintain. Most owners choose to integrate additive materials into their footing to enhance quality. Regardless of the composition, your footing should have all of these attributes for the best outcome and performance.

Reducing Dust or Dust-Free Options

The swirling dust in an equestrian arena may evoke Western films, but in reality, it poses a significant threat to both horse and rider health. Airborne particulate matter can irritate respiratory systems, impacting performance and enjoyment. Fortunately, advances in arena technology have moved beyond solely relying on frequent watering for dust control.

Traditional Approach: Watering

While seemingly straightforward, consistent watering can be time-consuming and impractical, particularly in arid regions. Moreover, excessive watering can create a muddy mess, compromising footing and increasing the risk of injury.

Footing Additives:

  • DustHalt: This popular option coats individual sand particles, reducing dust formation and enhancing moisture retention for prolonged control. 
  • Levitare: This innovative approach utilizes plant-based polymers to bind the footing matrix, preventing dust release while improving drainage and maintaining a consistent riding surface. 
  • FoamFooting: Taking a unique approach, FoamFooting incorporates lightweight foam particles, significantly reducing dust while offering unparalleled shock absorption. 

Dust-free Revolution: ArenaGreen

This groundbreaking non-water footing eliminates dust entirely. Its organic composition prevents dust generation while providing superior traction and performance, as evidenced by research from [insert research institution]. Additionally, it demands minimal maintenance compared to traditional sand-based footing.

Choosing the Optimal Solution:

The ideal dust control solution depends on various factors, including budget, climate, riding discipline, and desired performance level. Consulting with experienced arena builders is crucial to determining the best fit for your specific needs.

A dust-free arena prioritizes the health and performance of both horses and riders, creating a more enjoyable experience for all. By understanding the available options and seeking professional guidance, equestrian facility owners can implement effective dust control measures, ensuring a healthy and thriving environment for their equine partners.

Retaining Moisture

Keeping your arena surface properly hydrated is crucial for dust control, optimal footing, and even horse health. Thankfully, numerous options exist beyond simply relying on the skies to open:

Natural Approaches:

  • Shade: Strategically placed trees or shade structures can significantly reduce sun exposure and evaporation, helping retain moisture naturally.
  • Windbreaks: Planting trees or barriers around the arena perimeter can deflect wind, preventing moisture loss from wind erosion.
  • Organic Mulch: A thin layer of natural mulch like wood chips or shredded leaves can help insulate the surface, slowing down evaporation and promoting slower, deeper moisture penetration. Keep in mind, this will also impact the footing stability and incur more dust as it breaks down.

Tech-Powered Solutions:

  • DustHalt: This popular additive coats sand particles, reducing dust and enhancing moisture retention for prolonged control. 
  • Levitare: This innovative option utilizes plant-based polymers to bind the footing matrix, improving drainage while retaining moisture. 
  • FoamFooting: Integrating lightweight foam particles into the footing significantly reduces dust and offers superior shock absorption.
  • BaseCore with Infill: Utilizing geocells like BaseCore filled with a mixture of sand and a moisture-retaining material like Levitare or coco coir can create a stable, moisture-efficient base.

Additional Tips:

  • Regular Maintenance: Harrow regularly to break up compacted areas and ensure even moisture distribution.
  • Deep Watering: Occasionally perform deep watering sessions to soak the base layer instead of relying solely on surface sprinkling.
  • Monitor Moisture Levels: Invest in moisture sensors to track your arena’s hydration status and adjust watering practices accordingly.

The optimal moisture retention strategy depends on your budget, climate, riding discipline, and desired level of performance. Consult experienced arena builders or equestrian professionals to tailor a solution that balances natural and tech-powered approaches for your specific needs.

Provides Good Cushioning

A cushioned arena is not just about comfort for your horses, it’s about preventing injuries and promoting long-term performance. Compaction can turn your once-springy surface into a hard, unforgiving base, increasing stress on joints and tendons. Thankfully, several innovative solutions can help you achieve the ideal balance between support and responsiveness.

Enter the world of footing additives! Options like FoamFooting, Levitare, and Noviun each offer unique benefits. FoamFooting’s lightweight foam particles provide incredible shock absorption, ideal for disciplines like jumping and dressage. Levitare utilizes plant-based fabrics and neoprene rubbers to bind the footing matrix, creating a consistently cushioned surface while improving drainage. Noviun, an organic fiber and elastomer blend, offers excellent dust control and shock absorption, perfect for high-traffic arenas.

But why choose just one? Blending different additives can create a customized blend tailored to your horses’ needs and riding style. Imagine combining the plushness of FoamFooting with the drainage efficiency of Levitare, or adding the dust-busting power of Noviun to either option. The possibilities are endless!

How We Can Help You Build a Horse Arena

Building the perfect arena for your equine partners can feel like navigating a complex maze. But fear not, intrepid rider! Our team of dedicated footing experts are your one-stop shop for crafting a haven of performance and comfort, tailored to your horses’ needs and your riding style.

From the ground up, we’ll guide you through every step. Whether you’re starting with a blank canvas or looking to revitalize an existing arena, our BaseCore specialists will ensure a stable, well-draining foundation that forms the bedrock of your dream surface. We’ll connect you with local experts who understand the intricacies of BaseCore installation and can create the perfect base layer for your specific soil and climate.

But the true magic lies in choosing the right footing. Our team brings years of experience and a passion for equestrian excellence to the table. We’ll delve into the world of innovative additives like FoamFooting, Levitare, Noviun, and more, explaining their individual strengths and how they can be blended to create a custom cushion that’s just right for your horses and disciplines. We’ll even help you find local suppliers and installers who understand the nuances of these cutting-edge materials, ensuring seamless integration into your arena.

Think of us as your trusted compass, guiding you through the complexities of arena construction and connecting you with the local experts who hold the key to unlocking your equestrian dreams. With our help, you can create a dust-free, performance-enhancing haven where your horses can thrive and you can experience the joy of riding in perfect harmony. So, let’s saddle up and build the arena of your dreams, together!