So, you want to build an arena?

It’s the dream of many an equestrian to have their own arena (manege), so you can ride and train when you like, without having to travel to someone else’s venue.  It sounds simple, but there are many considerations, even before you start to dig out that all important space!

Firstly, you need to decide where you want to build your arena.  Pick an accessible, convenient site that is ideally as flat as possible.  Moving earth can be costly! Bear in mind that what looks like a flat corner of the field may have a considerable ‘fall’, and the more slope there is the more that will have to be dug out to get your flat construction site.  Even if your site looks relatively flat there is likely to be huge amounts of earth to be dug out and removed or disposed of, which can be costly in itself if you haven’t got an area where you can lay the excess dirt.

You will also need the site to be accessible by lorries carrying drainage bed and materials, sand or surface etc. so consider how you will get materials to site.  If you need deliveries in smaller lorries because of access issues this will increase costs considerably.  In short, choose your spot carefully and make sure the location will meet your needs.  Then consider how big an arena you need, 20 x 40m is usually enough for non-commercial uses (or 20m x 60m if you are into your dressage).  Planning Officers are likely to look more favourably if you are not being too greedy and can justify your proposed size.

Once you know where and ‘how big’ then you need to get planning permission for your construction.  The advice of a specialist planner who knows about equestrian development is likely to benefit you in the long term.  Employing a good planner is likely to increase your chances of a successful application – even if you just get them to check what you are about to submit.  You only get once chance to make a first impression and cannot “un say” anything already said if you seek assistance later down the line.  Remember that discussing your proposal, getting plans drawn, submitting your planning application and then waiting for a decision is likely to take at least three months (the statutory timescale for this type of application is eight weeks during the application process), so planning ahead is key.  If you want a spring/summer build, then start planning the preceding autumn!

Once you have your planning permission you need to decide whether you intend to employ a specialist company to do the job from start to finish.  If you do this, get more than one quote and be prepared that this is not a cheap option!   It is possible to ‘project manage your own construction, in which case you will need to source materials as well as someone to do the work, probably someone (reliable!) and a digger!  Remember good local contractors will need to be booked in advance, especially for major jobs such as building an arena.  You have three years to commence the development so there really is case to be made for getting your consent well ahead of your intended build times – this can give you flexibility in actually getting on site and booking contractors.

Then, there are the materials to build the arena.  One of the most important aspects of any arena is the drainage.  Good drainage is a good investment as this is what keeps your ‘top surface’ well drained and therefore more rideable when its wet, frosty or freezing cold! (which is, let’s be honest, when you really need it to be dry!). Think where you will drain to, ideally into an existing land drain, ditch, soak away or pond.  An arena will need to drain away a considerably large amount of water, and the Local Authority will need to be satisfied with your drainage arrangements.

After the site has been levelled down to firm sub soil, drainage channels will need to be dug across the arena bed.  Then the first membrane (woven Geotextile) is laid, ideally into the drainage channels as well to avoid the pipes becoming clogged with dirt.  The drainage pipes are then laid in the channels and backfilled with gravel so the site is level again.  The sub-base is then laid, ideally 6 inches (15cms – around 215 tonnes) deep, but you can get away with 4 inches (10cms – around 142 tonnes)*.

This layer allows water to drain through to the pipes below, and in the event of huge rainfall, can act as a water reservoir until the drainage pipes can take the water away.  This is the layer that keeps the top layer dry.  The materials used should be chunky and substantial enough to not bind together to form an impermeable clump of materials, and not contain dust that will clog the drainage pipes.  Granite is really good, but recycled rail ballast can also be used.  Once this layer is levelled and compacted you can start fencing off the arena perimeter.

Kick boards are fitted to the bottom of the posts to retain the top surface in place.  It is worth contacting your local agricultural supplier sand asking if they can supply an ‘arena kit’.  These kits usually contain fencing materials, membranes and drainage pipes, but check what you are getting for your money, and that it meets your needs.  ‘Arena kits’ will only give you enough timber to puts a single layer of kick board, but if finances allow invest in a second row of kick boards as this stops the top surface being kicked out, or sand blowing away.  Some people also add additional drainage pipes to a standard kit.

Next another membrane (non-woven Geotextile) goes down.  This membrane is like a very thin duvet, it should be tacked to the kick boards to contain the top surface and it is important there are no splits or gaps so the top surface doesn’t get underneath it and cause the membrane to lift.  On top of this goes a 4-inch (10cms) layer of silica sand (160 tonnes), and once compacted your choice of final top surface (2 inches, 5cms)* goes on top of that.  You can then finish the fencing (now lorries don’t need access) and hang the arena entrance gate.  Of course, it is quite acceptable to not have full fencing around your arena and just stay at the kick boards level – this is personal preference.

Once constructed you can then consider any landscaping as required (or conditioned as part of your planning consent).  Then you can enjoy riding in your arena for many happy years to come and, as an additional bonus, your construction is likely to have increased the value of your property and/or land.

As a dual qualified Rural Surveyor and Chartered Town Planner, who has ridden and had horses for in excess of twenty years, I love the equestrian projects as I have also been there, used them and can relate to what you need as well as what the planning process requires.  Any queries – please do ask!

*(Disclaimer – this is what we have used, personally, but there are calculators online for materials and you would be advised to calculated required volumes yourself).