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Budget Friendly Arena. Is it possible?

I’m sure there have been threads on this but I haven’t been able to find any very informational. I have a fairly large pasture that I am looking to turn into an arena for basic western things and barrel racing. We are on a budget for the most part as we don’t have loads of money sitting around (I wish). Have any of you had experience with putting in a cheap arena? I have no clue where to even start. Some of the cost will be gone since the pasture already has fencing. It drains pretty well and there don’t seem to be any puddles or such after a big storm. Not quite sure what is in the soil but we live on the east coast of the US. If anyone has any tips or cost-friendly footing ideas, let me know. Thanks!

Our friends right up the road from us just tilled and harrowed up their dirt. It’s a beautiful red dirt. They put in continuous panels. It’s roping size and they set up barrels, do whatever ranch reining stuff with their horses etc.

I think it depends on the soil! I know an area we use to rent in CA. It was all sandy loam. Most amazing stuff to ride on.

I honestly just ride in our pasture. Granted I think you need better footing for barrels etc. I try to not ride if the ground is super hard.

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We put in an outdoor arena; 230 x 100. Cost for excavation was $40k. Big expenses involved material. We had to first level the area, strip off topsoil down to base. Then we added crusher run (6") levelled and rolled, then stone dust (3") levelled and rolled, then topped it with sand. The entire arena is sloped 1 degree for water runoff. Lastly added a french drain around the arena. Net net, the arena is level, solid, and drains quickly. Our boarders have access with an hour of a heavy rain. Extra costs included posts, gates, and fencing.

We do not have a ton of dough…even less now that we put in the outdoor arena…but, we do have a great safe place for people to ride. Live in upstate NY

We put in a 100x200 arena, dug the fence holes ourselves, put every post and rail in ourselves and hubby plowed up the area with a plow, then disked it and then leveled it; wasn’t the best footing but it was okay. Cost was just the materials for the fence, cost for rented a post hole digger and then a lot of labor.

Honestly I would invest in something to maintain an arena before I spent a bunch of money on footing.

We rented a skidstear to level the area for the arena. I was using my truck and a spike harrow to drag but the best thing we did for our arena is buy a tractor with a rototiller. The implement will depend what your soil is like. We have clay here so the arena is down when its wet and gets very hard when it dries.

I suppose we could have put that 10k into footing but I just felt better about something we could take with us.



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First, define “budget.”

Second, define “what we want to do is…”

On the first point, set a dollar limit. That becomes a “hard line” that you do not cross. Right now money is cheap. If your credit is good then now would be a good time to borrow what you can afford to do your project. Taking a second mortgage for a construction project is not a bad idea (it’s a deductible amount in most circumstances) and should add some value to the property. But be hard on yourself in asking this question and plan for over-runs. I’d set at least a 10% J-Factor to cover the inevitable extra costs. If you bring the project in under budget just return the money to the bank in the form of an extra payment. Make sure your mortgage does not include “pre payment penalties.”

On the second point, why are you doing this? What is the Object of the Exercise? This is actually part of the the budgeting process, also, but here assumes center stage. If you’re mostly a trail rider why do you need more than a covered round pen? Or maybe just one with an all-weather surface? If you want to do competitive dressage then you’ll need a 20m x 60m space. If you want to Event then you need to up your arena size some to permit more realistic training. This is true whether the arena is indoor or out. So the discipline will have a major impact on your design. All-weather, cover, indoor? Again what will your budget support?

Using a word I don’t like because it’s often abused, this is a “synergistic” process. If you set rigid budget lines then you must be flexible while moving inside those lines are you consider the cost of facilities. Some see that budget line as a “soft target” or “guideline” and will move it, as well as things within it. If you are flush then this is OK. If you are not then it can lead you into places you don’t want to go.

This is a complex question and can have multiple answers. One of those answers can be “we don’t have enough money to do this job right so we won’t do it at all until we have the money to do it right.” That can mean putting up with mud, lost training days, and the general inconvenience of substandard facilities while you accumulate the funds you need. Only you can decide the answer that will fit your circumstances.

Good luck in your project.


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The OP already said “basic western things and barrel racing”.

I saw that. It’s a thought that should be made a bit more specific.


I can tell you that most barrel racers want/need specific footing or else horses will fall a lot going around the barrels and/or break/damage themselves. YMMV.

OP, where do you live? That factors in a lot and can change your price by tens of thousands of dollars. You live someplace where the native soil can be tilled and softened and used as footing? Lucky. Or something place where the same thing plus some sand additive? Lucky. Me? There is no way. I have clay. Just walking in the winter means skidding around, and in the summer you would be injecting joints left and right because it’s as hard as concrete (I’m already doing that with one just out in his pasture in the summer, ya-ya’ing around).

However, I can link several “budget, DIY arena” threads that are between 6 mos and three years old with lots of info that you are asking for and claiming you can’t find.

ETA: I’m putting in one this spring/summer. Small, 70x150ish, 50/50 budget and space considerations. Dirt work will be extensive as it will be excavating out the topsoil and down several inches to level (thankfully not too hilly where it is, might even be able to leave my water line in touch wood), then bringing in rock/screenings and compacting the crap out of it, putting in a french drain on three sides, then footing. This will cost, I hope, in the area of $25-30k but no more. I found someone locally who bought a newish 10-acre sheep farm that was cross-fenced and doesn’t want it, so they are pulling out all these very nice posts and selling for 1/3 cost new, so that’s helping with fencing the arena and keeping those costs low. The rest of the fencing will be Centaur or other flexrail system, which I should be able to get through either TSC or HD, gates through my co-op so I get some of that cost back in stocks, and done. I kinda want to get the fence posts put in by someone else because it’s a pain in the butt but we’ll see. If I can finish the whole deal under $35k I’ll be tickled pink.

We have a small alfalfa farm and grow a lot of crops on our acreage so we have most of this equipment already.

What I’m getting from everyone is that if you have a clay based soil, its no good. But if you have a more sandy soil then it could work? If we put road rock or another base compacted and then put a fine sand on top, would that work? What type of sand? We live in Delaware.

Angular sand. Quarries have different names for it, but it needs to be angular.

A clay/sand mix makes good footing for an arena and isn’t so dusty. A local riding stables where we lived used a mix that was clay and sand.

When it comes to arena cost, sky is the limit, lol.

Since budget is a serious consideration, I’d suggest that you start with the cheapest option. That is, just start riding on it. Actually even if you have a big budget, I still suggest that you start from this. You will find out pretty soon, whether that is the right location, or whether you need to do a lot of improvement to make it work. My very first arena was like this, not even leveled.

For my current arena, since I have sandy loam soil, what I did was removing the vegetation, compacting the native soil, and leveling and grading it. I then bring in two inches of angular sand as footing. This is specifically for a dressage arena for one person usage. It has worked very well for me.


“East coast” doesn’t tell us anything about your soil type, there’s huge variations in that general area.

I know a couple barns in central Ohio that just scraped off the topsoil/grass, compacted the soil/dirt, and dumped angular sand on top, and those arenas work just fine for them for most of the year. Whatever soil type that is, East of Columbus.

I know someone in central Florida who just tilled up a few inches of her ground as her footing, did no other site work, and it’s working just fine for her. There’s zero chance I could do that on my farm, a mere 25 miles away. I am sand, sand, sand. Dig it up here on my farm, it’ll just keep getting deeper and deeper the more you ride on it - unless you only ride right after a huge downpour. I’ve been told I could try mixing in clay with it, but I’m not about to spend money on a “try” and end up losing all the clay down into the sandy depths because there’s no compacted base to hold it in place. Plus, even though clay is commonly used here (either as the base or a clay/sand mix footing), I refuse to use it in my arena. I hate clay.

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My neighbor is working up an estimate for a basic arena for me right now. I had a quote from a ring specialist and it was going to be about $17k all said and done (not bad, but I have so many projects that I can’t justify dumping that much into one thing).

I’m in NJ on silty loam. No clay, most areas drain well some areas have crappy topsoil and don’t dry out as fast. If I baby the crap out of my grass riding area I can ride in it, but it’s pretty unlevel. If I didn’t need quite as much grading I’d probably just scrap the topsoil and dump stonedust myself (we did that for our drylot and it has held up very well so far).

It’s just me so I’m aiming for affordable but practical and only have a 75x150 space to work with. We’ll do a few inches of stonedust as a base then mix angular sand with loose stonedust for the footing.

”‹”‹”‹”‹”‹”‹My husband & I will do the fence ourselves and already have the material. Expecting (hoping?) to keep grading and stonedust under $7k.

If I lived about 30 minutes south this would not work - there is heavy clay down there.

Hi everyone. Thank you so far. I have just figured out that I have a sand and clay loam soil. Would it be okay if I took off the vegetation, compacted it, put in a few drains and put angular sand on top? Or do I need a base like road rock?

Here’s what I wrote down in another thread a few years ago:

So here is how DH and I did our DIY outdoor arena. First we bought the USDF Underfoot book. Then we scraped off the topsoil using our tractor and box blade. We then let it sit for a few months as no money for anything else.

We then added stone dust (screenings some call it) and again let it sit but also rode on it. At first, it feels/looks like sand. Eventually, it got very hard and I used a chainlink harrow to try and soften it up. I secretly thought we didn’t need anything else put on top at that time. We used the arena for probably a year, maybe more, just riding on it, harrowing it, etc.

Then I finally got sand, river sand I think, and wow did that make a great difference. We had it dumped and DH moved it around with the FL. So now, it’s been about 15 years that we’ve had the arena and it’s held up very well. No holes, not slippery when wet, etc.

However, if I could do it over again, I would try to figure out the level better, even using a laser, so it would have better run off as there are places where the rain pools. So to summarize, we used our tractor, box blade and FL, time and money. Good luck!

What type of soil do you have?

Clay soil. As a supplement, after 15 years, I am just now adding some top sand. Good luck!