Building your own personal or commercial riding arena can be a very exciting time. Just like planning to build a stall barn, there are some important elements to consider before design and construction can begin on your new arena.
Zoning and Other Regulations
Early in the planning stage, one will need to determine what regulations or restrictions your state and local codes may have for your proposed project. These can include building codes, zoning and sanitary regulations, and easement restrictions to name a few. Generally, building codes set construction standards. Zoning prohibits the use of property for specific purposes and sanitary regulations are in accordance with public health, related pollution, and pest control. Other restrictions that may limit the use of property include deed restrictions and easements. Even if the equine riding arena is allowed in the area, you will need to determine if there are any covenants that need to be factored in. You won’t find that in the local county planning or zoning office as they won’t always know if there is a protective covenant that a homeowners association might have. These covenants might require a certain building size, siding, or roofing that matches other buildings in the area. In addition, certain areas will be more strict regarding manure and runoff, due to the potential water pollution. If you will need to compost manure, you may need an additional building.
Site Selection and Development
The building site for your riding arena should be well-drained, accessible and have a slope of about 5’/100′ away from the building in all directions to assure good surface drainage. Consider the grading and filling that will be needed for a well-drained site. Plan on using only clean soil, sand, gravel, or crushed rock for fill.
Topography of the site, particularly, affects the cost of site development; and site preparation should be completed before building construction is started. A nearly level site usually involves the least cost. Sites on steep slopes or rocky terrain or sites requiring considerable fill, are costly to develop, and may make compromises necessary.
Avoid sites that have serious drainage problems (such as steep slopes that concentrate surface runoff in the building area and wet areas caused by critical ground-water conditions) unless the problems can be completely eliminated. You will want your riding arena to be out of the natural drainage water path as much as possible. It’s important to think about the flow of water—where it’s coming from, and where it’s going to go after it leaves the roof of the building.
Other factors influencing the selection of a building site are:
- Size or operation: In addition to room for the planned buildings, the site should provide space for other planned facilities and areas. It should also provide for future building and paddock expansion and for good traffic patterns for safe and convenient handling of animals, vehicles, equipment, materials, and potential snow removal.
- Accessibility: This deals with the access of vehicles, large equipment, and horse trailers in and out of the building. It is generally agreed to not set the building too close to the road.
- Utilities: An adequate, alI-year water supply of the quality needed must be available at the site, either from a public water system or from convenient ground-water and surface water developments, as well as electrical service.
- Windbreaks: The natural protection from the elements provided by wooded areas, knolls, hills and ravines is a consideration in site selection.
- Existing buildings: Existing buildings may be a determining factor in site selection, but only if their size location and physical condition fit into the overall plan.
- Building layout: This may be a deciding factor in selecting the site, but the site chosen may affect both building layout and building style.
Riding Arena Size
- Riding arenas can be as narrow as 42′ for such training requirements of Tennessee Walking Horses or wider to an average width of 60′ for most training and exercise programs.
- Widths of 66′, 72′ and 81′ are not uncommon. However, local needs based on competition-sized arenas should be verified to select proper width. Morton’s hybrid truss system provides clear-span widths up to 150’.
- Overall, the height of the arena is dependent on the size of the horses using it. Riding arenas should be a minimum height of 16′ for horse and rider. This height is sufficient for most training activities and pleasure riding. When extensive training in jumping techniques is required, the arena should be higher than 16’ to allow for clearance of the horse and rider.
- It should be noted to take into consideration the hanging height of large fans, lights, or speakers when determining the appropriate height of the arena.
- Arena length should be a minimum of twice its width. Certain types of riding and training activity may require other minimum sizes, and it is best to work with local riding clubs or organizations to obtain these guidelines. You will need to account for the tapered liner and building wall thickness as well. Common minimum dimensions for riding arenas are 66′ x 132′ or 66′ x 198′, but these dimensions would not be sufficient for a regulation-sized Dressage arena.
Arena Ventilation and Insulation
Equine arenas, like stall barns, require roof insulation and ventilation to help control summer heat gain and to reduce condensation during cool seasons. To further control condensation, the arena should have vented overhangs, power cupolas and large endwall or sidewall sliding doors, which also aid in summer ventilation.
Vent doors, when used, require mounting at a minimum of 10′ from the ground to bottom of the door and need special hinge pivot placement so the vent door does not protrude into the arena. Some may want windows; however, they can create shadows which could cause a horse to shy. Windows need to be mounted high in the wall, or awnings may be required to control shadows.
Roof skylights with a vapor barrier can be utilized at various positions on the roof surface. A minimum of one skylight per 18′ of ridge length can be used. Spacing could also be 15′ or 12′ for increased lighting. They can be on one or both sides of the ridge. Another row of skylights can also be placed down from the peak at half the distance from the peak to sidewall on the same frequency as the skylights at the peak.
If roof skyIights are not desired, a continuous sidewall skybelt just under the eave line can be utilized on one or both sides of the arena. A combination of roof skylights and sidewall skybelts can also be used.
Because artificial lighting will be needed for night riding, it may be necessary to limit the amount of natural lighting skylight panels and opt for an appropriate type and number of electrical light fixtures. Most every arena will have LED lighting. Lighting layouts should be configured to reduce shadows, which can cause a horse to spook. Because of the diversity of available types, an electrical contractor should be consulted for the best type available based on customer preference. Ordinary fluorescent lighting tends to flicker at temperatures below 50 degrees. Specialized, cold-start fluorescent units, which are more expensive, should not flicker.
Riding Arena Liners
An arena liner provides protection for the horse and rider against the exterior wall of the building. Most liners are tapered into the building at the bottom to allow a safe pattern of riding away from the building wall. Common height is 4′ with some using 6′ or even 8′ heights. The liner cavity should be closed at the top for safety and to prevent the collection of debris.
If an organic footing is to be used, you should consider installing an overhead automated dust control system. Synthetic dustless footing can also be used, especially if a stall barn is attached to the arena.
It’s important to consider the type of horse that will be utilizing the arena when planning a tack room. For example, the tack room for warm-blooded Dressage and Jumpers will be completely different from the tack room of the Quarter Horse. The Quarter Horse rider is typically going to have a tack room only for saddles and bridles. The Hunter Jumper may want to make their tack rooms more like a lounge, with air conditioning, sinks, or even small kitchenettes. They might have hardwood or laminate floors. Western-type Quarter Horse riders need to have a larger door because their saddles are larger and more cumbersome to carry.
Other elements to consider when planning to build a riding arena:
- What are your long-term plans or future expansion areas?
- Would you like the arena heated?
- What pitch roof are you looking for?
- Do you have ideas for interior finishing of the arena?
- What, besides expected use, do you intend to store in the building? You may need to plan on adding storage for equipment, hay, feed, and bedding, or a horse trailer.
- Will you need a viewing area or lounge?
- Will you need a grooming and mounting area?
- If the arena will be used for physio-therapy, will you need a hydraulic ceiling suspended lift or ramp?
- Will you need restrooms?
The Morton Buildings Advantage
Morton Buildings has extensive experience designing and building equestrian facilities of all types. Whether you enjoy horses for recreation, sport or companionship, Morton has a building for both you and your animals. Keeping horses safe and comfortable is the No. 1 priority when constructing a new equestrian facility. But you also want a stylish and functional building that is durable and can withstand the demands of housing and enjoying your equine companions. Proper planning can help achieve both goals.
Visit www.mortonbuildings.com/projects/equestrian to explore our equestrian barns and building projects.
By Dennis Lee
Equestrian Product Line Manager at Morton Buildings