Classic Equine Connection

How to Build a Rideable Indoor Arena

Posted by Classic Equine Equipment Blog on Feb 12, 2020 11:28:07 AM

It’s only February, but horse owners across the country have had enough of riding in mud, snow or rain, dark days and cold weather. Is this the year you say “Enough is enough!” and finally build an indoor arena? Classic Equine Equipment can help.

There’s an old saying, “no hoof, no horse,” but most riders will agree it’s more often “no leg, no horse” that keeps us from riding, training and competing on our horses. Good footing is going to be the most critical part of building a rideable arena. Good footing is important in reducing the risk of lameness as well as optimizing performance. Constant wear and tear of the joints from bad footing is a leading cause of soft tissue injuries of muscles, ligaments, and tendons. In addition, a horse that does not feel secure and safe on footing will not feel comfortable jumping or otherwise performing to the best of his ability.

But what is the best footing for your horse? Ask any ten riders and you will get ten different answers. However, below are things to consider for the best arena footing for your horse.

Design for Your Arena Based on UsageRP2

Before you actually begin work on an arena, it’s a good idea to have a mental idea of what you want it to look like. Different types of horse sports may require different sizes and types of arenas. Are you doing some training of young horses? A round pen may be a necessity. If you’re a dressage rider, your arena needs to be a minimum of 20m x 60m. If you are jumping or holding driving competitions, your arena will need to be considerably larger. If your facility will be holding horse shows, you may want to consider extra room for warm-ups or to meet the requirements of your show’s sanctioning organization.

Will your arena be indoor or outdoor? Will it be used in all types of weather or just in the winter? Will you be using it for lessons where students ride on the rail for much of the lesson, or vaulting where the horse will be working on a consistent circle? These answers will not only help you design your arena, but will help you determine the best footing for its use.

arenaLocation, Location, Location

Before you begin any work on your arena, objectively look at your proposed site. Is it level enough for riding, but with enough slope for water to run off? Are there any drainage issues, especially during our typical rainy season? If you anticipate having to water your arena during the summer, is it located near a water source?

Another important factor is to know what type of soil you have. Different types of soils may determine the type and depth of base you will need as well as the type of footing. While your soil may appear to be sandy on top, it may actually be heavy clay only a few inches down and that will affect your drainage no matter what type of footing you use.

Finally, when roughing out your arena, consider making the site a little bigger than the actual dimensions of the finished arena, especially if you are using fencing or wish to allow room for horses to warm up around the arena. For example, for a 20m x 40m dressage arena, the “pad” should be approximately 30m x 50m.

Start with a Good Foundation

An often overlooked, but extremely important aspect of good footing is the part you rarely see – the foundation. This is not the place to cut corners on either time of materials. Your arena foundation ideally should consist of a sub-base (most often the existing soil of the site) and a base (usually made of crushed and compacted stone to produce a solid, non-shifting and non-slippery surface). The depth of the base is usually determined on how the arena will be used – remember your design plan? A dressage arena may not have as deep a base as one used for jumping or for heavy use.

The use of geotextiles, a type of synthetic material available in different thicknesses, is an excellent addition when building your arena. It goes between the sub-base and the base and improves drainage, prevents soil or rocks from your sub-base from moving up and mixing with your base, and generally protects the sub-base during construction of the base. Most horse owners agree, “Footing is only as good as its base.”

Find Your Footinghorse legs

When selecting the footing surface for the top level of the arena, go back to your arena design and consider how the arena will be used. Is it indoor or outdoor? Will it have the heavy use of a training barn or are installing it in a small, private facility? Do you need the traction and cushioning for jumpers or the firm support for dressage horses? To help eliminate respiratory problems of both horse and rider, good footing should not be dusty or have an odor. If possible, “test drive” different types of footing - what feels best to you and your horse when you ride on it?

To keep cost down, consider what’s accessible in your area. Both sand and hog fuel are cost effective. There are also a number of local distributors of footing options made from rubber. Crumb rubber is made from recycled tires, but products made from other sources of rubber are also available. Rubber products are typically mixed with sand. There are many other options for arena footing and all of them have pros and cons depending on your discipline, ease of maintenance, whether for indoor or outdoor use, and cost.

Always be sure to purchase your arena footing from a knowledgeable and reputable company. It is best to purchase less footing material than you think you’ll need. It’s easy enough to add more product, but almost impossible to take out footing if it’s too deep.


Now that you’re beautiful arena is complete, it’s important to regularly maintain it so it will last for years to come. Depending on your type of footing and where you live, routine watering, dragging or harrowing, or applying dust-reducing agents may all be part of your arena’s regular upkeep. It’s better to head off potential problems by looking for and repairing ruts, holes or uneven areas and slippery spots than to wait until the damage has been done.

If you are still confused about how to build your arena or what sort of footing to use, there are a number of arena consulting firms in our area who specialize in designing arenas or making footing recommendations specifically for your discipline or the area where you ride. Classic Equine Equipment can help you build your dream arena.

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