An all-weather surfaced area for training and exercising horses can be very useful, many would say essential on a horse property. It all depends on what you do with your horses. Here are some considerations and tips to help you decide and plan a suitable arena or training yard for your situation. They should be seen as a guide, because you will also need advice from local earthworks experts.
At the planning stage you should think about the following factors:
- How often will you use this all-weather surface? Will it be once or twice a week or will you use it on a daily basis for many hours a day?
- Will this area be used solely for riding and training or will it also be used as a surfaced holding yard?
The latter is an important consideration if you have a limited budget and/or space is at a premium, as is the case in most small horse properties, having a multi-purpose arena makes a lot of sense (and will be discussed in more detail later).
- Are you planning on having a riding arena or a training yard, or both? You may be able to manage with just one area or you may need several, each fulfilling a different purpose.
- Is it going to be outdoor or indoor? Will you start with an outdoor all-weather arena surface and put a roof on it later?
- Are you planning on having all the work carried out by a professional company or, are you planning to do some or all of the work yourself, DIY?
You will need to do some research before starting your project. As mentioned before, when planning and building any horse facilities, it is a good idea to talk to other people who have carried out similar projects and see what you can learn from them. If possible, have a look at their all-weather surface.
Ask questions about the construction of it, for example:
- Did they construct the all-weather surface themselves or did they employ a contractor?
- Have they had any problems with the base or the surface?
- Have they changed or added anything to the surface since it was constructed?
- Would they like to change anything?
- Did they encounter any problems during the construction?
The answers to these and any other questions you can think of will be invaluable in helping you make decisions.
Keep in mind that the weather conditions vary from area to are and materials from one quarry will not be identical to materials from another, therefore, just because a particular base and surface has worked well in one instance, it does not necessarily mean it will work in another.
Many of the issues when planning and constructing an all-weather surface are the same for both, a riding arena or a training yard, but some are different. At the planning stage you need to think about what size and shape the all-weather surface will be and what the top surface will be made of.
You also need to think about whether it will be fenced and, if so, what with. You also need to think about the positioning of an all-weather surface.
Check with your local authority prior to the planning and construction of an all-weather surface, as there are often considerable earthworks involved that could impact on the local water catchment, on protected trees or have other environmental implications. There may be other council regulations relating to personal vs. commercial use, which you should find out about before you start building.
Do you really need one?
If you are a professional coach or trainer or you train your horses regularly, then a proper all-weather surface is likely to be essential for you. On the other hand, many horse people think they need an all-weather surface when, in fact, they can manage without one.
For example, if you already transport your horse to lessons or riding club facilities, you may not get enough use out of having an all-weather surface to warrant the expense. If a neighbour already has one and is happy to let you use it (for free or for a fee), this may be better (and cheaper) than building one.
On average, a privately owned all-weather arena is used for less than seven hours a week if the owner works off the property and only has time to ride after work. On the other hand, on a commercial property, arenas are used for many hours a day and without them, the business would probably not be viable.
You need to decide how much expense you can justify, because a dedicated all-weather surface can be costly. Can you also justify the large amount of space this area will take up?
Work out the costs and benefits, taking into account how many hours a week you ride/train, bearing in mind this figure may increase once you have a proper all-weather surface to ride/train on.
Can this area be multi-purpose?
If your budget is limited or space is a factor, it may be easier to justify an all-weather surface if it can be used for more than one purpose.
There is no reason why a properly constructed all-weather surface cannot also be used as a surfaced holding yard. (See our previous articles on The Equicentral System).
A surfaced holding yard can be quite expensive to construct - as can an all-weather riding/training surface, therefore, it makes sense to, where possible, combine the two.
If you plan to use an all-weather surface as a surfaced holding yard, then a feeding and watering area can be constructed at one end or down one side. Large rubber mats can be used for feeding on so that hay and other organic matter does not get mixed-in with the surface.
In addition, large hay feeders, hay nets or both can be used. Smaller individual holding yards can be build around the all-weather surface for confining horses when the surface is being used to work a horse. These smaller surfaced holding yards will also be useful for feeding any concentrates to individual horses.
If your budget allows it, a large roof can cover the smaller individual holding yards and the hay feeding area, and can also extend partially over the riding/training area so that you have a partially covered all-weather surface.
You will find that, even though horses have access to the whole area, they spend most of their time loafing where the hay and water is, especially if they can see human activity from the same spot. Horses soon learn that human activity means there may be about to have their hay topped up, or better still, be fed some tasty concentrates! This is the main reason why horses that are fed supplements spend hours standing at the gateway to a paddock, even when there is grass. So, when planning, make the feeding/loafing area closest to the house or feed storage area.
You can also put a retractable electric fence partway across the arena if you feel you need to confine your horses to one end and this fence can then be retracted when you ride/train.
Other uses for an all-weather surface include using the area for occasional stock work with other animals such as cattle. You will need additional facilities such as a race, crush, ramps, etc., But once again, it is possible to double up and save expenses.
Riding arena, training yard or both?
If your budget or the available space will accommodate an arena or a training yard but not both, you need to think carefully about which would be best.
A training yard usually costs less to build than a riding arena due to its smaller size. You can do a lot with a surfaced 20 x 20m square training yard. Conversely, if you do construct a larger area, you have the option of reducing its size to make a smaller area if required.
For example, even dressage riders can usually manage with a standard dressage arena 20 x 40m rather than an Olympic size one 20 x 60m. For the occasions where you need to practice a competition test, you can always mark out the area on a flat piece of grass, or you could travel to nearby facility - which has the added advantage of getting your horse out and about, and used to going to new places.
Indoor or outdoor?
The climate in which you live also has some bearing on the answer to this question, although if you do not have the huge budget needed for an indoor arena (and that includes most of us!), Then this is probably a redundant question, even if where you live has extreme weather conditions.
As well as protection from inclement weather, a roof protects against the sun in hot climates. Again though, unless your budget allows for such an expensive structure, you will have to time your outdoor pursuits so that you are not working your horse when the sun is overhead or it is pouring with rain.
If you think you may be going to put a roof on your all-weather surface in the future, you need to research roof truss sizes at this stage, so that you will not have to make alterations to the size and shape of the surface later.
If you do plan to cover your surface, keep in mind that a half or partly covered arena or training yard can work really well, is cheaper and gives you the best of both worlds.
It means you will have somewhere to retreat to in inclement weather and, on days that are really wet you can simply stay in the area that is under the roof.
An indoor arena or training yard is, of course, out of the budget of many horse property owners but it may be that, even though you cannot afford to roof the area now, you may be able to in the future, so keep that in mind when planning this facility.
Sometimes, a good compromise is to have a riding/training surface that is partially covered. For example, if you are planning on having a combined riding surface/surfaced holding yard as described earlier, a large roof that provides shelter for the surfaced holding yards may also provide shelter for the all-weather surface.
All-weather surface size and shape
Size and shape
A riding arena can be any size or shape you like but, there are certain sizes and shapes that are commonly used.
- A standard dressage arena is 20m x 40m and an Olympic sized dressage arena is 20m x 60m. If space is at a premium, you may decide that the standard size is fine for training and you will hire a full size one for practicing the full test before a competition if there is one you can travel to from your area.
- For jumping, an arena will usually need to be at least 40m x 60m or as large as 60m x 100m. It all depends on how seriously you follow your chosen pursuit. Again, you can have a smaller, everyday training area and travel to a large arena for certain activities.
- For driving, an arena about 40m x 60m will be required.
- Western pursuits require about 30m x 60m for reining and 40m x 60m for roping. Campdrafting arenas need to be much larger.
These arena sizes are just a guide. Unless you are already experienced in your particular chosen pursuit, it is important to speak with a professional (such as your coach) about what makes a good size and shape arena for your particular discipline. As well as the size and shape, the surface and fencing requirements change across different disciplines too, so find out as much as you can before making any decisions.
Training yard size and shape
Training yards can be round, square or a blend of the two. A ‘round yard’ is often used for ‘starting’ horses. For this purpose it is usually quite small - about 11m diameter. Unless you ‘start’ horses professionally, a training yard of this size is usually too small for general use. A more useful size for a training yard is between 18m and 22m diameter.
As a guide, an 18 meter circle is roughly the circumference required to lunge a horse. Some people find a similar sized (about 20m x 20m) square training yard more useful because then there are straight edges for certain exercises, particularly close contact ‘in-hand’ ground work.
A square training yard can be easily made round if necessary by using panels or rails to temporarily round the corners off. Yet another alternative is to have a training yard that is a combination of round and square with one or two right angle corners and the rest rounded off, or four straight sides with rounded corners. Such a training yard can be very versatile.
Remember that this is all a guide. You will need to ask around and do more research. If you are planning on creating an all-weather surface yourself, you are better off starting with a smaller area, perhaps an area that can be used as a combined holding area and riding/training area.