Arena Building 101, Presented by FutureTrack

Congratulations! You’ve finally gotten the piece of land you want to keep your horses … but now it’s time to add the infrastructure. Building a riding arena is no small investment of time or money, so it’s important to do it right. 

Arena building in progress at Poplar Place. Photo courtesy of FutureTrack.

You’ve finally bought the piece of land you’ve been eyeing and all systems are go to build your own facility — congratulations! It’s a big step to bring your horses home or to create riding facilities at your home barn, but the initial investment can pay off in terms of money saved on boarding or having that much more time to spend with your horses.

But just like anything worth keeping, it’s important to start at the bottom and work your way up when it comes time to put in your arena. Building an equestrian riding arena is no small investment of time or money, and there are a lot of common mistakes that arena builders see often.

To help you avoid these pitfalls, we’re pleased to present a six-part series with FutureTrack Footing, which offers full arena building services in addition to a 100% white nylon product fiber footing for stable, high-quality riding surfaces. We’ll answer some common questions about horseback riding arena construction and wrap up the series with a building checklist you can save for future reference.

FutureTrack is owned by the father-son team of Jack and Michael Pollard and is based out of Dalton, Ga.

What are the most important considerations when planning to build a riding arena and budget?

Location: Poor placement can affect your arena in the long-term – though there are ways to improve an existing arena that has been poorly placed – so consider a few factors when creating your site plan. A low area of the property may experience drainage from higher up. Placing an arena right next to a main road may cause issues in terms of lighting placement. Consider the type of soil – will it be rocky or full of roots from nearby mature trees? These will add extra costs during the excavation process.

Purpose and Size: What will you use this arena for? If you’re planning to jump and do flatwork, consider adding more width than a standard dressage arena width. How many horses will be in the arena at any given time?

Contractors: A common issue FutureTrack co-owner Michael Pollard says he sees often is, through no fault of their own, grading contractors may not understand the special needs of an arena intended for horses. “There will always be someone who comes in and will put an arena wherever they’re told to, but they simply don’t know that these things do affect the horses,” he explained. “The base of an arena is a lot more than what a house foundation would need. And once the base is bad, it’s really hard to make it ‘good’.” Michael recommends doing your research and finding a grading contractor experienced with grading specifically for riding arenas.

Drainage and Base: We’ll dive deeper into drainage in a future column, but this is also something to consider when building a riding arena. Here, again, the grading comes into play; for example, an arena on even a slight slope will encourage water to run downhill, building speed and creating more erosion over time. At the same time, while an arena requires proper drainage, it also requires proper levels of water retention – a balancing act, if you will. In addition, there are new options for bases, including mats and grids, for future shock-absorption.

Surface: What will you put on top of your base? These days, the options are endless. Many facilities now opt for additives or additive-based mixes for footing, as these provide a greater level of stability and cushion for the horse.

Ongoing Maintenance: Every arena will require a degree of maintenance. Having the right maintenance equipment and the understanding of what your arena needs will be key to keep your investment in top form over time.

In part two of this series, we’ll take a closer look at arena foundations and considerations for laying the right base.

Did you know that FutureTrack Footing offers free estimates and full arena construction services in addition to high-quality fiber footing? Click here to learn more and request your quote.