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Designing a horse arena

The right arena design and construction makes a huge difference for the safety of all involved

Building a horse arena gives you functional space for all kinds of equine activity.  The size you need depends on your discipline, but any solid, safe arena starts with good site preparation. Start off with as level a piece of land as possible, which helps reduce the cost of grading. Also be sure there’s adequate drainage so water doesn’t pool.

Agriculture Engineer Eileen Fabian-Wheeler at Penn State University says once the location is ready, the most important part of the whole project comes next – the base material.  It’s the foundation that makes-or-breaks a sound facility.

"The safe bet is to contact a quarry and ask for road base mix," says Fabian-Wheeler. "And it’s an aggregate of various sizes gravels and sands and silts that all go together into a material that’s packable into the hardest thing you can imagine. Packed almost to the density of asphalt itself.  It’s the easiest way to go about it."

The top layer is the footing, and the cushioning for the horses' feet. Be sure the material is good quality. Sand-based products are the best, but it has to be a hard, angular, washed sand. It'll be more expensive, but the cheap stuff is dusty and may not be suitable for riding.

How much you put down depends on how the arena will be used. Will one horse use it for just a few hours a week or will it be pounded on by many horses? At the bare minimum, the base depth should be four-to-six inches.
 
As you’re laying down the base material, don’t forget to extend it several feet beyond the rail.  Fabian-Wheeler says this is a step a lot of people forget.

"It keeps the edge from crumbling off. Most people ride their horses right near the rail along the perimeter of the fence for a lot of the training, and so you have most of the weight and the concussion rate there where it’s gonna break off," says Fabian-Wheeler. "We extend that base a little bit beyond the rail to protect that edge."

Find more information on recommended arena sizes and designs

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