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Border around outdoor dressage arena?

I’m in the first stages of building an outdoor Dressage arena on my property. It’s in my horse’s pasture, but he has 8 acres and the barn is also technically inside his pasture as well. I am working with someone who specializes in riding arenas and he has done the initial base work and has graded it. It sits on a natural incline but he has done work around the edges also to act as kind of a french drain.

Anyway, he suggested that I put a short fence around the edges to keep the sand in before I have the sand delivered. This is a few months away due to winter weather, but I wanted to do some research and plan ahead so I can be ready for spring riding.

My question is: what type of fencing is best? My trainer doesn’t have fencing around hers at all and the sand stays put because the grass around it hold it in somewhat - and she works it frequently. My neighbor uses railroad ties, but those are crazy expensive to have delivered all the way out where I live. I’ve found some rubber landscaping edging that’s 5" tall but I’m not sure if it’s too short for what I need. I’m trying to decide between that and wooden boards. Or maybe it’s not needed at all? Does anyone have suggestions? Thanks in advance!!


First thing I had to do when I rehabilitated the arena here was get rid of all the boards at the bottom that held in water. I would not choose to put anything along the edges that may turn the arena into a wading pool. I also had to get rid of all the footing that was in there (not sure what it was but it was hideous). Then replaced with appropriate amount of sand and have not lost much in the past few years, or at least not enough to worry about, and we have had some incredible rains in the past two years.

You will find that unfortunately sand likes to migrate, many people grade an area bigger than the standard arena size, place the arena proper within it, and then periodically toss the escaping sand back into the arena. Using grass as an edging means that the escaping sand tangles with the grass, and over the years you will build up a ridge, but sand will still escape,

Bathsheba, I see you are still taking every opportunity to criticize the way the farm, paddocks, and stalls were designed, as well as how far one had to hack (eek, without being safely fenced in!!) to get to the ring. Just to clarify for you, the “hideous” footing that was in there was 400 tons of carefully selected #10 screenings (or CR-33) from the Marriotsville quarry. The arena was constructed in 1993 by a very good excavator (Eaton Excavating) who has built many lovely arenas in the area. The boards on the edges, plus the 2% crown in the center, directed the water to first to the long sides, then to drains in the corners which went into the swale at the top short side and drained down the hill. Over the years, Stewart refused to pay for maintenance such as regrading and adding footing as that broke down, as we all know footing will do when it is ridden on by boarders and therapy students. Those of us who cared about the footing and the arena did our best to maintain it with the equipment we had available (the 50-60 year old Deutz tractor which I believe has since been retired, a chain-link fence drag), but without devoting some money to keeping it up, any arena would need to be redone after 20+ years. I’m glad for sake of the land, of which we are only stewards for our time there, that you have been successful in getting your husband to finance maintenance and improvements. Plus, if you don’t have very much activity in the arena it will last longer.

Yes, good idea to get back to the OP: Some kind of borders to keep the footing in are important. Check with any experienced professional arena builder. And yes, I agree–if you don’t fence the horses out they will go into the arena and do what the poster below says.

Leaving the drama and Back to the OP.
Here in Florida many folks use railroad ties. There is sometimes an issue with water retension in the arena if it rains alot, but it depends what your base it. My trainer has RR ties, and the arena is a sand/clay mix, over a clay base. It may have some standing water after a REAL Florida rain event, but a few hours later it is in fine shape. There are small spaces between the Ties that allow water out.

We used landscape timbers! We attached them to each other with plates and screws. They are only a few dollars each for 8’ long. We waited until the annual sale in spring where they go on sale for like $1.50 each! I got bulk fastening plates on EBay and with the timbers at $1.50 it was like $150 to do the FEI sized dressage ring! They held the sand beautifully and are safe if horses step on them while working. We were worried about twisting ankles on a narrow little liner fence. I can send you picture if you want! Just PM me your email :slight_smile:

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If you can grade an area bigger than the arena and put a moveable fence inside that it will make it much easier to prevent the dreaded edge berm and keep the whole area level, as you can simply remove the fence once or twice a year and do a really good job of dragging and leveling as needed.

We used railroad ties with gaps for water drainage - it was expensive. I only used them on the “low side” of the arena. I can tell you that the sand WILL wash away over time. Every time we have a heavy rain, I lose some sand. Every year or two, I have to add another load of sand - although we’ve been in a drought for 4 years now, so my sand has stayed put:cool:

I would recommend putting a fence around it to keep your HORSE off the arena! If it is in the middle of the pasture, your horse will be tempted to hang out, roll, poop, pee on the sand. And in the long run, that will be hard on your arena footing…

I dislike borders such as rail road ties or things of that nature. If you crash onto the ties it isn’t pretty. A friend just recently came off her horse and landed face first on one of the ties. Broke her nose and the sunglasses were shoved up under the brim of her helmet causing a big cut above one eyebrow.

A friend of a friend came landed of her side on a rail road tie, her horse bucked hard and she landed hard. Broke several ribs and punctured a lung.

I vote for a full fence or a shrub border. The fence would help with keeping your horse out. Like someone else posted, your horse will end up hanging out in the arena.

I vote for a full fence or a shrub border. The fence would help with keeping your horse out. Like someone else posted, your horse will end up hanging out in the arena.[/QUOTE]

With an 8 acre pasture?

Yes they will love the arena, they will roll in it, paw at it, take a nap on it… I fenced the field around my arena for pasture during a drought. They had a great time. Took a lot of rework to fix all that rolling!

My arena is in the middle of my 15-acre pasture. I used 6x6x8 landscape timbers anchored with rebar, but this really does not allow adequate drainage some of the time (most of the time it’s so dry hear that is not an issue).

But… yes the horses love to roll in there and mess with my stuff, take things out of the mounting block compartment, etc.

A full fence would be better, but one can hurt oneself falling on one of those just as badly, if not worse, than falling on timbers … wait for it … ask me how I know.


A full fence would be better, but one can hurt oneself falling on one of those just as badly, if not worse, than falling on timbers … wait for it … ask me how I know.[/QUOTE]

Yep, was having the same thought when I read Gestalt’s comment. AND - I’ve had those very injuries and worse just being thrown on plain ol’ flat ground.

I made my arena larger then a court - because the footing is always thinner and “iffy” on the edges, then bought a “partial” light weight vinyl dressage court to outline my corners (within the bigger arena). It is actually just vinyl fencing on plastic stands. Falling on those is harmless. Being thrown into a fence or bushes is not so harmless. You can lose an eye in bushes!

Basically, there is no such thing as “safe” when dealing with horses:o

OP, you will need something to keep your horse off the arena too - the least expensive solution is either (a) vinyl fencing, or (b) t-posts and hot tape with a solar charger. Of course you will also need caps on the t-posts if you go that direction.

Wow! Super flattering to have someone follow my comments and opinions after all these years! Becky does make mention in her narrative of one important consideration, which is a plan for ensuring you budget for maintenance along the way. It’s a curious sidebar to OP’s original question that I think I responded to, but perhaps worth reiterating, only because it is not quite cost-free to keep an arena in good shape. I myself keep a fund for farm maintenance that I add to regularly so I can keep fences repaired, arena maintained, fences standing, and tractors operating, etc.

Well at least if you come off and hit the fence you haven’t dropped an additional six feet or so! And yes, safe and horse sometimes don’t work well in the same sentence. :slight_smile:

I wonder what the injury rate is for landing on cavaletti vs a regular jump. Just musing out loud.

There is a barn with about five acres that has the dressage arena in the field. It is surrounded by some type of low green shrub with an opening where the white letter boxes sit. Gosh it’s beautiful. But it does take up quite a bit of space. Very attractive, though probably extra work to keep the short hedge in shape.

My outdoor ring was put inside a fenced pasture. We left grass around it with no boundary. We did not have a problem with sand drifting and we did not have a drainage problem. 12 years without a problem. I eventually put an indoor over it.

The really nice thing about an open ring is it is easy to harrow. You don’t have those problems getting into corners.


Thank you so much everyone! This helps a lot! :slight_smile: I’m going to look into the options for landscape timber and vinyl fencing in my area and go from there. Happy new year!