Where to start on building an arena?

We recently purchased a couple acres and want to put an arena on it for jumping. It is all grass, after reading things online I’m confused where to even start. If someone could explain how to get started on the process and all the components that would be a big help. Thanks!

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might want to check with whatever governmental agency has jurisdiction over the land often there are specifics as to what can be built and how it should be built

We are in a city that restricts the number of structures and then the percentage of lot coverage. There are specific minimum setback from property lines, height restrictions and if over a certain square footage size requirements for fire sprinklers plus a host of other requirements including water run off and how it is be addressed . Then there permits, plan with engineering seal that must be approved

Even if you are in an area that does not care there may be State or Federal Agency requirements specifically regarding water flow.

Whatever the case keep a log/diary of what was done when and who approved it

I assume you are referring to an outdoor arena? First of all get your planning commission and check to see if there are setback rules or similar.

Then, you have to take a look at your region. The base is 100% going to determine your success or failure. There’s a very good pamphlet put out by USDF called underfoot. Get your hands on one. Make your contractor do exactly what they say. This actually needs to be in the contract. My contractor gave me a contract that stated they would follow the protocol from the pamphlet underfoot. My arena failed after the first rain. I had to have an engineer come out, and do a weight test on it and dig down to see how many inches of what material had been used. He was able to state that they did not follow the protocol I requested. The contractor had to come back and redo the entire damn thing on his dime

I would also find the better barns in the area with good outdoor arenas with excellent drainage and see if they will let you pick their brains.

DO NOT Go with some guy with a bunch of equipment who will do a cheap job and who has no references for doing any other functional arenas in the area. Just don’t. Start asking around and find out who installs all weather outdoor arenas in your area, ask them for references , then follow up and talk to the references

On my next Farm, I put up an indoor arena. Then you really have to make sure that you were within specs for the county. Don’t let anybody tell you that you don’t have to get the base right in an indoor. You do. It needs to be unbelievably compacted and the right material. Again, start asking around and horse community about who has built what and what the problems were. Go door to door to nice barns if you need to


It doesn’t matter where you want to put it. The leveller driver says nope you need to put it over here.

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It isn’t impervious cover, so the constraints will not be as challenging as they could be.

You need to decide what you want on the property other than a ring, or consider what is already there. House? Barn? Depending on the size of the ring, and the property, you will probably need an NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit. This is a DEP thing, so it is National. Your local ordinances may vary. How close the arena is to your property lines, etc. will play a role.

Once you identify a likely spot, you need to consider what kind of excavation you need to do- the cuts, and fills, and drainage issues. It’s never simple, and you need to be sure to do it right the first time. It is not something you want to go back and remediate.

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Just a note about size. You reference a couple of acres. I recently put in both a jumping arena, retaining the rolling hills on the site. My goal was to have visitors over to practice mock combined tests. The standard dressage arena space was laser graded as part of site preparation. My jumping arena is one acre, and the dressage arena occupies 1/3 acre. The warmup jumping area is another half acre. Arenas do eat up a lot of land…

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There have been a few threads about problems with neighbors over dust from an arena. I would be a good neighbor and give some thought to locating your arena in such a way that it doesn’t bother the neighbors … and the neighbors don’t bother you. Some things to think about include the following:
Prevailing winds. Which way do they blow the dust?
Vegetation which can help your design. You need to have space for it. For example, if you want a row of evergreen trees or shrubs to catch dust or to provide privacy, make sure there is room to plant them. You may have existing trees or plants you want to keep and design around. Or move them. Someone on the forum talked about the downside of having a hedge too close to her dressage arena on one side because it caused spooking issues.
Lighting. Do a search on lighting issues with arenas and properties. Some have had problems with neighbors shining annoying yard lights into their spaces or homes. Your arena lights may create a similar issue and there may be ordinances against their use, brightness, location, or number of lights.
Future changes. If I were building an outdoor arena, I might locate it in an area with the proper setbacks which would allow it to be converted to an indoor in the future. At least I would look into this scenario.
Noise. It’s hard for me to imagine that your arena will create annoying noise that will bother the neighbors, but I’m sure it has happened. What I have read about more than once in this forum are problems that horse owners have with noisy neighbors who spook their horses when in the arena, sometimes on purpose. One (at least one) poster complained about a neighbor’s dog who would run the fence next to her outdoor arena and viciously bark and snarl the whole time she was riding. Another Cother had a neighbor who would turn on super loud equipment right next to the fence when she was using her arena. Then there were the neighbor kids who would race their four-wheelers or dirt bikes around and spook the horses. Some of these are a combination of noise problems and lack of visual privacy, but you get the picture. Locating the arena with a good buffer between it and the neighbors would help.

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also if it an uncovered dressage arena would they consider that the same as a parking lot? Often paved lots may have water run off restrictions necessitating a hold pond. They might see no differences in the surface of a dressage arena and a parking

I didn’t run into any problems with that, with my first arena…an outdoor.

Knowing your Zoning is a really big thing. In my county, if you buy EFU (exclusive farm use) land, All you have to do is bring in a detailed foot by foot map of the entire property, a schematic of structure down to the inch (you can do that yourself, I did), and how your structure is going to sit on the site. You have know the setbacks, etc. I did it with a very long measuring tape and two glasses of wine.

Somebody looks at it, approves or disapproves, and that’s it. You don’t have to have anything done by an architect, you don’t have to have engineered. Nothing. There is no final other than the electric. So of course I bought EFU, and put up an indoor arena with 12 stalls.

One county over and this is complete fiction. You would need both an architect and and engineer to put up any structure at all

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Where to start is learn what is required and know what you want and need.

Our county didn’t require any permits or approvals for my indoor arena project (and barn).

I do have quite a story on the excavating. This COTH board recommended a soil engineer and I had an experienced quasi GC and a good excavator and they both poo-poo’d needing that. Said not necessary.

So the pad gets built and the builder is in a terrible car accident and the whole project gets delayed over winter. Most pads would do well to sit and crust over. Not our pad.

Our soil is such that the pad absorbed water over winter and while it looked good and seemed very hard do you know the day the semi’s show up with all the materials and the builder goes to drive his forklift crane vehicle up onto the pad… IT SANK TO THE AXLES. Whole project delayed and the pad had to be dried out and recompacted. The soil engineer said had they been involved and known about the delay they would have recommended the pad get covered like a baseball field.

What would have prevented the whole problem was spending a couple hundred dollars to have a soil test done and an engineers opinion. Money very well spent. So do that.

Your sub base, base, and footing are critical to having a good surface to ride on. The slope, the grade, having the arena sit up higher than ground level depending on your soil and how it handles water. Consider harder rains in the future - climate change.

I have another crazy story. A local very well known trainer used an excavator for his arena surface and I went to visit him and see if he was happy and how the project went. They didn’t bring the sand they had agreed on and what they brought was round and so unstable he couldn’t even ride on it. They had to remove it all. Of course, I did not use that excavator.

Ideally you find someone who does arenas or builds roads. It’s not rocket science but doing it right seems to be a challenge from the stories I heard and my experience. You must be there for the work to see it being done right. You need to confirm the sand that gets brought in is right before they put it down. Not only did I go get a sample of the sand that was coming but when the trucks came I confirmed what they brought and had them sling a little and confirm it was right.

I just had an order of rubber deliver and do you know they brought the wrong product. Had to refuse delivery. It’s crazy what all goes wrong with these projects. That trainer I visited also built a barn and arena and said had he known how stressful and problematic the project would be he might not have done it.

Find the right people who really know what they are doing.


From my arena file :cowboy_hat_face:

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Best place to start (besides zoning) would be to find someone in your area with an arena like you want, that has had it a number of years and likes it still, and ask who they used. Then consult with those people from there.

Another bit of advice. When considering an arena surface person, look for either someone with a lot of experience, or in lieu of that some considerable time working and training with with an experienced arena crew

Second, a relatively new “arena builder” may be learning on the job at your expense, and may not yet have accumulated the mass of equipment that goes into good arena construction, Avoid the person who is going to do everything with a swiss army knife approach using one tractor and a box blade for the entire job. Ask what equipment he has. In my opinion, a person needs a bulldozer, a tractor, and a skid steer with laser grading attachments at the minumum… I like to see it all hauled in and parked on site to minimize down time, not moved around from job to job to try to keep several clients happy.at the same time. Small new guy may have an arena a your place, a gravel driveway across town, and a parking pad in the next town that he took on at the same time.

Most arena builders are small or even one person operations, and if he’s operating equipment somewhere else your arena is being delayed.

Is the “couple of acres” also expected to include a house, barn, and turnout spaces? If so, I suggest doing some planning on graph (or otherwise scaled) paper to see if your plan is at all realistic. A typical 100’x200’ jumping arena will eat up approximately 1/2 acre. Add in a house and small barn, and there goes over half your property before accounting for any yard or paddocks. Where I live, the general rule is 1 horse per 1-2 acres of PASTURE space, not total land.

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Yes, dedicated arenas will eat up (pun) valuable grazing pasture spaces. Another option is to build a jumping course on an active grazing pasture. That is what I have done. You don’t end up with a nice flat 8 jump horse show type arena, but I like the terrain changes and there are enough almost flat spots to set up cavaletti. The horses are not bothered by the jumps when grazing, though they do sometimes nose the poles out of their way for access to greener grass.


@LCDR I love your grass jump field, what are the general dimensions? I’m thinking of fencing mine for the same reason. If I fence my jump field for additional grazing space, I can get my geldings (landscaping crew) to do some farm work for me!

It is a bit under one acre. It is shaped roughly like a trapezoid. I built all the jumps first, and then I printed off the pasture picture from google earth with measurements. I added individual pictures of each jump and asked an eventing course designer to do a layout and I placed the jumps based on his plan with only minor changes to accommodate the terrain.

Since another pasture has a dressage arena (the horses graze around it as well), the idea was to do occasional very informal combined tests for friends. A third smaller pasture is flatter and I set up three warmup jumps in it - crossrail, vertical, and oxer, just like a real show. The fourth one acre pasture is for trailer parking for the visitors, and that efficiently uses up all my 4 total acres of fenced pasture space. Here is a view from the opposite end.

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I dont have any wise words but I used to ride at a barn with a professionally done super level arena with a clay base and pretty much couldnt ride in it all winter because it was so level and the base didnt seem to drain it just held the water in. They spent a lot of money on it too.

Then I moved to a new barn with a bit more of a redneck arena and at first I thought well I hope clients dont complain this arena is so tilted…
Then it rained and I always had a dry arena…and the tilt made it drain and be fabulous. And the clients didnt care because they could ride the day after it rained all winter.

So if I was on a budget I would keep that in mind but if there was a bigger budget I wouldnt worry about it.