Guidelines

Horse Arenas in Georgia

By Bill Butler, Southern Classic Arenas

As interest in all facets of equestrian disciplines has expanded in Georgia recently, the demand for personalized and commercial riding facilities has accelerated rapidly. This need in turn presents the following challenges:

ARENA BUILDER: Who has the past experience to build mine?

SIZE: What is the correct size necessary for my use?

SUB-BASE: Do I need crushed stone or merely Georgia clay?

COMPACTION: What pitfalls result from lack of compaction?

TOPPING: Which is the correct topping for my style of riding?

What thickness will prevent injuries to horse and riders?

These questions need to be addressed and settled before the first spade of dirt is turned, as a mistake in any of these five areas can produce an arena that does not meet your specific needs, can be dangerous for both horse and rider, and create undue expense if it has to be corrected afterward.

ARENA BUILDER: Should you ask the average grading operator if he can build you an arena, in most cases he will answer “Yes”. If you then ask for his references, where he has built them before, however, often there are none. Good graders do not automatically equate to a good arena builder. How do you know whom to call? Ask the owner of an existing arena you enjoy riding in who built their arena, or research ads in equestrian magazines in your area. By asking for references where this grader has built previous arenas, you can determine the degree of satisfaction those owners have with their facility. Are his arenas laser graded for optimum accuracy? Does he work from an engineered site plan?

SIZE: Five basic sizes are commonly in use in Georgia. For dressage 66 ft. wide x 132 ft. long, or 66 ft. wide x 198 ft. long. For jumping arenas 75’ x 150’, 100’ x 200’, and 150’ x 300’. Unique dimensions are buildable as well. Where possible, it is best to build it large enough the first time, as enlargement later on can be a challenge due to the crowning and swales.

SUB-BASE: Red Georgia clay makes the finest base in the country. It compacts extremely well and does not retain water as topsoil does. This clay has been exported out of state to build arenas due to its outstanding consistency. Some equestrian manuals will advise you to put 6 inches of crushed stone down as a base before application of manufactured sand. This is necessary in states that do not have material to make a strong sub-base. Many northern states only have topsoil to work with, which is a negative in the base as it holds water and will not become firm. Should you want to place crushed stone under your footing, you will need to have a fabric barrier placed between this stone and the manufactured sand. Otherwise, over a period of time the stone will work its way up to the top and you will be riding on 1 ½” hard rock. Preferably having the base laser graded will ensure a smooth riding surface and minimal puddling.  The base should be built with a crown running down the center line, falling 1 1/4% to the outside.  Thereby you will be riding on the same level from one end of the arena to the other.

COMPACTION: If the sub-base material is not properly compacted progressively in 4” lifts, your arena will be spongy and hold water for months on end, making it virtually unrideable during this time. This condition can also cause injury to the horses as their hooves will mire down into the clay. Proper compaction provides an impervious surface that will drain very rapidly after a rain, enabling you to ride quickly thereafter. If this facet of your arena is neglected, it may necessitate removing all the topping material with a resultant loss of much sand, and the need to recompact the base of the entire arena. This can double the cost of your facility. While compacting the arena, it should be crowned in all directions from the center point with a 1-1 ½% slope in all four directions.

TOPPING: In Georgia the two most common arena toppings in use are river sand and manufactured sand. River sand is primarily used in applications where a loose footing is desired, like barrel racing, bull-dogging, etc., as you want the horse to be able to slide. It is also used as a final top coat over manufactured sand to hold down dusting. In dressage and jumping arenas applying 1-1 ½” of river sand over the manufactured sand is the maximum recommended depth, as any amount beyond this can cause your horses to slip and fall.

Manufactured sand, sometimes identified as rock-dust, M-10’s or 810’s, is the gray sand present at most large equestrian parks. Unlike river sand, it binds together providing a cohesion and firmness dressage and jumping require. It also drains very fast, allowing you to resume riding soon after a rain. It is used in approximately 90% of the arenas in Georgia. Four inches is the standard application.

Additional products—like ground rubber or fiber—can be added to the topping by applying 1-1 ½” of river sand upon the manufactured sand base, and then mixing the added topping into the river sand. Again, laser grading the footing material will provide a uniform depth of footing and a smooth riding surface.

An improperly constructed arena can cost you thousands to make over. Nearly 50% of our work is fixing bad arenas others built. Save yourself that heart-ache and expense. A quality built arena, with minimal regular maintenance by proper dragging, will provide many years of pleasurable use. Taking the time to select a quality arena builder upfront will save you many headaches and protect your investment.

Happy riding!
Bill and Luke Butler
Southern Classic Arenas