How to Construct a Horse Riding Arena?
Constructing a horse-riding arena is not always an easy task; the arena has to be designed and built to manage the adverse weather conditions and preserve the properties of the riding surface.
Luckily, with our guide, the construction process will be much simpler, as we thoroughly wen through all the steps, and included the mistakes you should avoid:
- Choosing the best site location
- Site preparation
- Drainage preparation
- Installing drainage and base woven membrane
- Installing stone drainage sub-base
- Fencing & gate specification & installation
- Top non-woven membrane
- Surface installation
Mistakes to avoid
How to maintain horse riding arenas?
The first steps, before you even start planning to construct the horse arena, no matter if it's a private, commercial or lunge arena are checking fro permits, planning the right time for construction and choosing the right size.
What to consider before constructing the horse riding arena?
Time, place and permissions
Check with your local authority, planning permission may be required. Extra consideration should be given to water discharge from drainage channels, especially if depositing into local watercourses.
Plan to do the works in the drier months to avoid heavy lorries making a mess of your paddocks. Plan your arena in a location that has good access to construction traffic. A good location could reduce your cost by up to 30%, saving in smaller machinery hire and labour.
Choose the right size of the horse riding arena
Size is usually dictated by your budget, but you can't go wrong if you build a big horse riding arena. You can’t build an arena too big but you can make it too small.
The standard sizes for horse riding arenas are:
- 40m x 20m - novice dressage (actual size 39.6m x 19.8m, using 3.6m rails)
- 60m x 20m - advanced dressage
- Minimum 25 metres wide - showjumping
After you planned, you are ready for construction.
2. Choosing the best site location
The best possible location for a horse arena is ideally a well-drained area that requires minimal soil movement. Avoid low-level areas where drainage could be an issue and examine the natural lie of the land and identify the direction for a suitable outfall.
Once you have chosen the site you want, the length of the arena should run north to south for maximum sun from east to west, allowing you more time to ride and more drying time for your arena.
Try to avoid exposed areas, however, if that is not possible we recommend using an MP windbreak (NET110) to prevent your valuable sand topping from being blown away.
3. Site preparation
In order to give contractors room for installation, mark out a boundary one metre larger than the size of the arena required i.e. 40m x 20m arena would require 42m x 22m.
Install four corner pegs and run a string line between them and check that it is square by measuring the diagonals. If they are identical then you have got it square.
To keep costs down, excavation should be kept to a minimum. Remove the topsoil and vegetation to expose the subsoil which could be anything from 25mm to 300mm (never build on topsoil as the organic matter is prone to waterlogging and has poor load-bearing).
The topsoil can be kept for final landscaping. Level the area with appropriate falls towards your drainage area, ideally using a dual grade laser level.
4. Drainage preparation
When you're investing in a horse riding arena, one of the most important things is drainage preparation.
Unless you have exceptional free-draining soil, we recommend installing a ‘Herringbone Pattern’ style land drainage system to carry away surface water. These drainage channels should be dug as below guidelines before the base membrane and the land drainage are installed.
IMPORTANT: Drainage and base layers are a key process to get right at this stage and should not be compromised.
No matter how much you spend on a top surface, if you get this wrong it will not drain.
Dig a central channel to take the 100mm diameter central collecting pipe (spine) which should run down the centre of the arena vertical or diagonally towards your discharge location, of either a ditch, pond, stream or soak–away. This channel should be 30cm wide and have a varying depth (minimum 40cm). Larger spine pipes can be supplied if drainage is an issue.
The spur trench channels should be dug off the spine at 45 degrees at 5-metre intervals. The depth at which the drainage channels should be installed will be dictated to, by your discharge point. Start at the highest point and keep as shallow as possible whilst still retaining a fall. The spine pipe should be lower than the spurs.
To retain a well-drained perimeter, in order to protect the timber posts and provide a safe standing for pedestrians, we recommend installing a perimeter trench outside the arena to take any run off from adjacent land. (This is an extra to our standard kits, please ask at the time of ordering)
5. Installing drainage and base membrane
Once the above excavation and channels have been dug the whole arena should be covered in a strong MP woven geotextile membrane which is basically tapes of polypropylene woven together.
Our membrane supplied has good permeability to strength ratio which enables good drainage without compromising strength.
This membrane layer will prevent the intermixing of existing subsoil and the new clean sub-base stone, whilst allowing water to penetrate through the drainage channels. The drainage channels should also be lined using either the full rolls or smaller rolls supplied in the kits.
Push the membrane into the channels ready to take the flexible land drainage. Lining the trenches will reduce your drainage channels from silting or blocking up from the surrounding sub-soil. Joins in the membrane should be overlapped by a minimum of 30cm then sealed using a suitable strong tape, glue or heat sealed.
Before laying in the pipework put a bottom layer of clean washed 20-40mm shingle then add the drainage pipe.
Connect the pipework in a ‘Herringbone Pattern’ above ground for ease, then gradually lower into the channels. Install the 100mm diameter central collecting pipe (spine) cutting the spurs in as you go.
The 80mm land drainage spurs should be laid at 45-degree angles off the main spine, using the MP supplied Y junctions will make this job easier.
Once the pipes have been installed in the trenches you can backfill the trenches with the remaining shingle so the site is now level again.
6. Installing stone drainage sub-base
The sub-base layer is the foundation of your arena and will act as an important drainage system, coping with any excessive downpours, allowing your drainage system to cope.
Calculating your stone requirements, a standard 40m x 20m horse riding arena at a depth of 150mm would require approx. 220 tonne of stone, whereas a 60m x 20m arena would need nearly 50% more stone, 330 tonne.
There are many aggregate/gravel calculators online to assist with your calculations.
Create a 150mm (6”) drainage base layer using a 40mm-75mm quality clean, washed, frost resistant angular stone. Avoid any stone that has not been washed or contains fine dust or soil, these will only end up clogging your new drainage.
To test your stone is frost resistant simply knock together if it breaks, dusts or cracks it’s not frost resistant.
There are regional variations in the choice of sub-base materials, and the most popular options are:
- recycled railway ballast
- granite or
- crushed concrete.
All these materials will compact down whilst still being free draining.
A 250mm uncompressed surface will compress down to a working surface of approx. 150mm. The sub-base layer should be compacted using a vibrating roller and laser level.
The sub-base drainage layer should exceed the arena size by approx. 50cm, to allow for water run-off beyond your arena, especially if installing a perimeter drainage channel, this will help protect both the perimeter boundaries and fencing. The fencing can now be installed.
Timber species and quality
All our sawn timber is responsibly sourced from FSC certified producers. All our in-ground contact timber known as UC4 is supplied in kiln-dried pine/larch only, pressure treated to BS8417 and identification branded for full traceability. Beware of cheaper spruce or poorly treated softwood timber that will not offer the same longevity.
Our in-ground contact timber conforms to the below specification:
- Redwood (Pine/larch) only used.
- Packs battened between layers for better drying and treatment penetration.
- Slow grown timber.
- Kiln-dried to the adequate moisture content in line with BS8417.
- Pressure-treated with market-leading chemicals to BS8417.
- Identification branded as proof of manufacturer and full traceability.
- Guaranteed to give the desired service life of 15 years.
- Initially light green in appearance, weathering honey brown colour in external use situations, which will gradually fade to a silver-grey.
Our standard kits use the most popular cost-effective post, rail and board sizes; however, we can offer heavier, larger rails and longer and larger posts if required.
We can offer the same specification but in heat pressure creosoted timber finish. More detail can be found on the Health and Safety Executive website.
NOTE: It’s the user’s responsibility to comply with the restrictions on
the use to which creosoted timber will be installed.
7. Fencing & gate installation
Subject to your size and layout this will dictate the quantity and size of products required. The most popular design is a three-rail sawn post and rail design with kick/ retaining boards at the base, however, there are many other combinations stocked.
The kit contains enough common materials for a standard 40m x 20m arena, these materials can be increased in size and performance to suit customer’s requirements and arena size.
First, install corner posts by concreting in and measuring as you go to make sure in correct location.
Intermediate posts should be spaced every 1.8m if using 3.6m rails as standard in our regular kits, or every 2.0m if using 4.0m rails.
NOTE: If using half-round or machined rounded half round rails instead of sawn rails, please make sure you double-check the provided lengths as most half round rails come in 3.66m (12ft imperial) rather than 3.6m (11’10”) which is what the sawn rails and retaining boards are supplied in. This is only a problem if the posts are installed to suit the rails, if they are installed to suit the retaining boards then the rails would have to be shortened.
If concreting we recommend you make sure they only have a concrete sleeve, not boot i.e. creating a boot will accelerate the rotting process, where-as a sleeve will allow the moisture to escape. In most cases subject to the soil conditions and length of post there may not be a requirement to concrete in every post.
Our standard stock length in our kits is 2.1m which will give you a fence height of 1.4m, that allows 450mm in the ground, plus 150mm in the sub-base, then 100mm of the top surface. If a taller perimeter fence is required or you require a stronger fence line, longer and larger profile posts can be supplied.
Rails should be nailed or screwed to the inside of the posts to provide a softer internal line which will reduce the potential of injury to horse or rider.
Rails should not be butted up but allow an expansion joint between the rails to compensate for movement in variable climatic changes.
Rail ends should be alternated between rails so the joints are not all in one post, this makes for a stronger fence.
Retaining/kick boards should also be screwed or nailed to the internal face of the posts, these will help retain the top surface. Our standard kit has two 15cm deep boards providing 30cm depth, with three rails above, some customers prefer an extra board and one less rail, which can also be accommodated.
As with the rails, kickboard joints should also be alternated to provide a stronger fence.
Our traditional five rails universal design softwood pressure treated gates come in a semi-prepared finish. All gates are hand-made using responsibly sourced certified kiln dried joinery grade pine.
Although the most popular width supplied in our kits is 3.6m wide, we can supply alternative lengths. Our gate posts are all UC4 pine 175mm x 175mm with pyramid weathered tops, again you can upgrade to the heavier 200mm x 200mm posts. All the fittings are hot-dip galvanised for longer life.
Our standard kit comes with a traditional spring hunting latch, we can also offer alternative safe latches such as taller extended hunting latch, D striker and auto catch or Kitch catch. We also stock a range of different sized steel gates which we can offer as an alternative.
8. Top non-woven membrane installation
The top non-woven membrane is a different material to the base layer woven membrane. Non- woven membranes are spun-bonded fibres of polypropylene, needle punched for water permeability, ours is also thermally bonded for added strength.
NOTE: Be aware of thermally bonded membranes which tends to be used in the furniture, bedding and automotive industries.
It has five main tasks:
- Prevent the sub-base stone from migrating to the surface.
- Filter surface water efficiently and quickly, whilst retaining topping.
- Prevent the upper surface from migrating downwards, clogging the drainage sub base.
- Eliminates movement when horse’s hooves apply pressure on the surface.
- To rip if horses hooves make contact, reducing the possibility of injury which may occur if the main topping surface is not maintained.
If a fine Silica sand topping is to be used, then we would recommend using our premium non woven for the top layer.
This will prevent the finer particles of the sand filtering down through the drainage sub base layer, eliminating the loss of your surface and blocked drains.
This soft yet strong sheet of polypropylene is provided in 4.5m widths in our standard kits, however wider and thicker material rolls can be purchased.
Each roll is needle-punched, making it highly permeable, which provides excellent drainage. As with the woven membrane, this membrane prevents the intermixing of your topping from the sub-base.
When installing, it is crucial to make sure there is adequate overlapping and ideally glued or taped to prevent any lifting, the slightest gap or hole will eventually allow the top surface through and lift your membrane.
Make sure you have adequate overlap over the retaining boards, once the top surface has been laid these can be trimmed back.
We offer a choice of membrane qualities; our standard kits come with a suitable membrane in 4.5m widths, however heavier and wider membranes can be purchased. Should you require a better performing, heavier membrane for arenas that will be used for jumping or will have constant use then we would certainly recommend upgrading to a heavier membrane, please enquire at the time of ordering.
Important: Since conditions of use and location are beyond our control, our products are sold, without guarantee, purchasers must accept responsibility for satisfying themselves that the product is fit for their intended purpose and location before purchase or installation.
9. Surface installation
We don’t supply the top surface but can direct you to a supplier in your area. There are so much choices and variable costs.
Whichever type of topping you choose, consideration should be given to the depth required, this will be governed by the material chosen.
Remember, you need a suitable depth so that you do not expose the top membrane. When installing the topping, start at the gate and work backwards this will prevent the construction traffic running over the membrane.
10. Mistakes to avoid when constructing a horse riding arena
If you followed all the steps we provided, your horse arena should be ready. Nevertheless, it is always good to summon the most common mistakes that occur during the construction:
- Choosing the wrong location, such as poorly drained areas.
- Not installing adequate drainage or getting the correct fall.
- Using the wrong quantity and quality of the stone.
- Using an unsuitable membrane.
- Poor access for larger vehicles increases installation costs.
- Erecting the arena at the wrong time of the year, this could leave your ground irreparable.
- Avoid exposed areas especially if using silica sand topping, wind is prone to blowing your topping away.
- Make sure you order the correct length of post to suit requirement and conditions.
- Avoid buying spruce timber for in ground contact fencing or gate posts.
How to maintain horse riding arenas?
Horse riding arenas are exposed to weather, so keep your mind to:
- Remove weeds quickly before they penetrate your membrane layers.
- Harrow regularly (once a week, subject to usage) to maintain a level surface and stop the topping from migrating to the edge or the centre.
- Allow surface water to clear before using.
- Top up topping as and when required
The tools you require are:
- Roller - twin drum ride - these can be hired
- Posthole auger either manual petrol or tractor/mini digger mounted
- Cement mixer
- Laser & spirit level
- String line
- Tape measure
- Mini digger (subject to location or requirements)
- Spade, shovels and rakes
Products to be sourced elsewhere
- Washed clean drainage shingle 20-40mm
- Base layer angular clean, washed, hard 45-75mm stone
- A topping of your choice
Additional products that may be required
- Perimeter land drainage
- Plastic paver or rubber grass mat walkways
- Barrows and JFC trailers
- Grass protection mesh
We hope you found our guide useful. If you have any more questions and would like to speak to a member of our experienced team you can do so by calling 03330 050115 or by getting in touch online.
Disclaimer: The information contained herein is to the best of our knowledge accurate in all material aspects, however since the circumstances and conditions in which this information and the products mentioned herein can be used may vary and are beyond our control, no representation or warranty, express or implied of any nature is or will be made and no responsibility or liability will be accepted by us, or our affiliates or our or their respective directors, officers, employees, or agents in relation to the accuracy or completeness or use of the information contained herein or any such products and any such liability is expressly disclaimed.
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