February 18, 2021

Top Planning Tips for Building a Riding Arena

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, check to find out what various regulations and restrictions may have on the proposed project. Find out if your state and local codes have any restrictions on equestrian buildings:

  • Zoning regulations
  • Building codes
  • Sanitary regulations

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. 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, physical condition and inside arrangement 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

Width:

  • 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. Our hybrid truss system provides clear-span widths up to 150’.

Height:

  • Overall, the height of the arena is dependent on the size of the horses using it. Riding arenas should be a minimum height of 14' 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 16' or higher to allow for clearance of the horse and rider.

Length:

  • 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. For example, a regulation-sized Dressage riding arena is 66' x 132' or 66' x 198'.

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. A plywood or Oriented Strand Board (OSB) roof with felt and shingles should provide the same effect as a metal-insulated roof. 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.

Arena Lighting

Natural Lighting:

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.

Artificial Lighting:

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. These range from cold-start, fluorescent to high-pressure sodium units, which have certain advantages and disadvantages over each other. 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 is angled at door openings, or it can be built into hinged panels that swing in for easy access to and from the arena. The liner cavity should be closed at the top for safety and to prevent the collection of debris.

Tack Room

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 carpet on the floor, 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.

Watch a video of Renee’s Riding Arena to view some arena design features!

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? 4/12 and 6/12 are standard for a Morton riding arena.
  • 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?
  • Will you need restrooms?

When working with Morton Buildings, you have several choices when it comes to the style and size of your riding arena. Our open-framed design offers structural rigidity and a sense of openness. Visit our riding arena project page for more design inspiration or contact your local Morton sales consultant to get started on your riding arena today!

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