In this article we will cover everything you need to know about designing and creating the best equestrian facilities, covering everything from riding arenas to round pens, and cross country to hacking. Whether you’re building from scratch, refurbishing existing facilities, or simply wanting to learn more and understand equestrian facilities better, we’ll cover it here…
A riding arena (also referred to as a school or menage), is a must for a lot of horse owners. If you plan to compete, have lessons or just don’t have time to fit in hacking during daylight hours, having a safe space with an all weather surface and lighting to school your horse is usually a high priority. However, it’s not as simple as fencing off a space and throwing some sand down, there are many things to consider when planning an arena…
Riding Arena Size
How big should horse riding arenas be?
20 x 40m and 20 x 60m riding arenas are generally the most common sizes as they are the two standard dimensions for dressage tests.
However, 20m can feel quite narrow for jumping and be limiting for building courses. Even an extra 5m width can make a big difference, but at least 30 x 50m would be more suitable for jumping. I used to have a client with a 30 x 60m private outdoor arena and this was a wonderful versatile size to ride in – plenty big enough for any dressage test, and the extra width made it great for jumping too.
20 x 40m should really be the smallest arena to go for. However, the smallest one I’ve ridden in was a 60 x 100 foot barn (just over 18 x 30m) that had been converted into an indoor school. It was usable for one horse at a time, but did feel tiny and had the wrong width/length ratio to practice a basic dressage test (there was also a large outdoor arena on site, so this was more of a bonus space for when the weather was awful). Therefore, as an absolute minimum, I’d say no narrower than 18m, and no shorter than 35/36m – any smaller will make practicing dressage tests and typical schooling movements difficult (especially when riding larger, unbalanced, or green horses), but these dimensions will feel very compact!
At the other end of the scale, there is really no upper limit to arena size – the only constraints are planning permission, available space, and of course, budget! Some of the nicest outdoor riding arenas I’ve ridden in (usually at competition venues) have been huge… 40 – 50m x 60 – 70m, which allow loads of room for jumping, but also space for dressage boards to be fitted inside when needed for flatwork.
For indoor schools, there is no limit on length, but there will be a constraint of how wide they can be to allow for a clear span building that has no support posts interrupting your schooling space (especially for wooden frames which usually stop at around 80 – 90 feet / approx. 24 – 27m, although steel frames can be made wider). I will discuss the ceiling height need for an indoor school later on.
Riding Arena Design
Riding arenas will require planning permission, and this will can play a big role in your design, they can be difficult to get permission for, and even if you get the ‘go ahead’, it may come with restrictions / stipulations that limit size, location, lighting and the materials you can use, etc.
Safety should be the primary concern for arena design, aesthetics come second and are personal choice. When sourcing materials and looking at build specifications, always go for the best you can afford – poorly constructed arenas and cheap surfaces won’t be as safe or last as long, so can end up costing more in the long run to put things right or make repairs.
Choosing a reputable company with good reviews is by far the best option; they have the equipment and experience to deliver a quality arena, however, this won’t be cheap. It is possible to save money and build your own if you have the skills. You can source the materials needed, or even buy a DIY kit, but you need to do extensive research and be realistic about whether you are up the task or not – there are many pitfalls (and lots of shoddy and unsafe arenas out there as a result of people biting off more than they can chew!).
- As mentioned, safety is always paramount when designing riding arenas.
- Make sure there are no sharp edges, or protruding nails, etc.
- Fencing, when used should be safe and high enough, and it can be a good idea only to use concrete for the corner posts and gates, so if you do have an impact, there is slightly more give.
- The surface must be safe and there should be no rocks, etc, in it.
- Planning permission may dictate the position of your arena, for example, neighbours can object, and floodlights close to roads can be an issue.
- Whilst it is possible to build on a slope, siting your arena on flat, well-draining land will make the construction much easier, and therefore cheaper too.
- Ideally for convenience, your arena should be as close to the yard as possible, and near to your tack room and grooming / wash bays.
- Having a view of the menage from your yard can be particularly nice – it is also a good way to keep an eye on people riding in case of accidents.
- Weather conditions are also a factor, so consider sunlight (for example, arenas that get to morning sun will melt morning frost or snow much quicker), and try to shield your arena from prevailing winds, etc.
Fencing & Kick Boards
- Whilst fencing isn’t always used (especially for outdoor dressage specific arenas with white boards), it is a good idea in most cases.
- Whether fencing is used or not, retainer boards to stop the surface from spilling out will be needed as a minimum.
- 4 – 4.5 feet / 1.2 – 1.35m, is the usual height of arena fencing. However, if you intend to use your menage for loose jumping and schooling, I have seen some competition horses hop over this height like it’s a cross pole, so for this purpose I would make the perimeter fence a lot higher!
- Post and rail fencing is the obvious choice for arenas (if you don’t have the budget for this, you could start with the posts, and possibly a top rail, and use wide tape underneath until you can afford the rails).
- For safety, posts should be on the outside, so the inner line of rails are continuous (and, as mentioned, it can be a good idea to use concrete for corner posts and gates only, so if you do have an impact, there is slightly more give).
- The gate to the arena should be the same height as the fencing, and wide enough for machinery/vehicles to get through (for surface delivery/arena graders, etc). Ideally, it should also be easy to open on horseback.
- Kick-boards will increase cost, but are a good idea, especially sloping ones as they give you more clearance from the fence line. Kick boards to half the height of the fence work well and look lovely for outdoor arenas, and kick-boards to a minimum of 4 feet / 1.2m plus are good for indoor riding arenas.
- For additional protection, wind netting can be fitted to arena sides too.
Jump & Equipment Storage
- Incorporating an area for equipment storage into your design is a good idea.
- This can be as simple as an area outside the gate to stack poles, blocks and wings, etc, with a bucket or trug for jump cups, right up to a shelter with a roof and lockable doors to keep them clean, dry and secure (this could be a good place to keep an arena grader too!)
- You can also buy specialist racks for storing poles, or even make your own. Although I have seen some kept inside arenas, they often have protruding parts so I think they are safer kept outside of riding arenas.
- Some very smart indoor arenas even have hidden storage for poles inside the kick-boards!
- Having a whip holder, hooks for lunge reins and a hoof pick, etc, just outside the arena gate can be really handy too.
- A viewing gallery is basically an area for spectators to sit and watch horses being ridden in the school.
- For a competition centre or riding school this will be very important, and may need to accommodate large numbers of spectators.
- For smaller yards and private arenas, it may be as simple as a well placed bench or two, or even a couple of folding camping chairs at a pinch!
- A judge’s box is simply where a judge would sit to mark dressage tests, or possibly score showjumping, etc, in a competition environment.
- Judge’s boxes can be specially built wooden huts, or in temporary competition arenas on grass, will often be a car.
- They are usually placed behind the letter ‘C’, outside of the arena, although for higher level competition, there may be several judges around the arena.
- You will only need provision for this if you intend to run competitions, however, even if you will only be using your arena privately, it could be a good idea to place your viewing gallery area at ‘A’ or ‘C’, so your horse gets used to riding the centre line towards something.
Surface Options for Riding Arenas
The surface you choose will be based on your needs and budget.
However, no surface will be any good without the correct base – having proper ground works and preparations done with the correct drainage and membranes, etc, is absolutely essential. If tree stumps need removing to prepare the ground, make sure they are completely dug out and the hole is filled / compacted; tree stumps left in the ground will rot and create holes and craters.
Always go for the best you can afford – the better the surface, the better it will cope with adverse weather, etc, and the less dusty it will be. The depth of your surface will depend on the type used and the purpose it will be used for, the main considerations are that it’s deep enough to give a sure footing that provides support and cushioning, but not too deep so that the going is heavy and could put strain on tendons etc.
- Sand type surfacing is probably the most common type of surface you will see, but not all sand is created equal – builder’s sand for example, is a no-no.
- Silica sand is a specific grain type of sand that works well, it has been popular for riding arenas for a long time, it provides a stable surface, is low maintenance and only requires small amounts of watering.
- Fibre sand is another option that is popular these days, it is sand mixed with fibres such as shredded carpet that makes it durable and a good surface to ride on that doesn’t get too deep. It does require watering and regularly grading though to keep the fibres well mixed.
Waxed Riding Arena Surfaces
- Waxed coated surfaces are usually the most expensive, but they are one of the top performing horse riding surfaces.
- Raw surfaces like silica sand, are coated in wax which makes them bind well and require little watering, if any. So the initial cost of a wax surface can be offset by lower maintenance costs in the long run.
Synthetic Riding Arena Surfaces
- Synthetic surfaces are another high performing horse riding arena surface.
- They are usually made from blends of synthetics and polymers, and can be used as an additive to mix with an existing surface, or used as a complete surface on their own.
- They are generally very frost resistant and provide excellent footings.
- Wood chip surfaces tend to be the cheapest and are fairly low maintenance, low dust and environmentally sound as they decompose, so are easy to dispose of when the time comes.
- Care should taken to only use quality wood chip that is the correct size for equestrian use – big chips can get stuck in hooves, and finer stuff can blow about in windy weather! Another thing to consider is that recycled wood chip can also contain foreign objects which could be dangerous.
- Down sides are that it can freeze and can also become slippery when it starts to break down over time.
- The advantage of rubber is that it is quite spongy and resistant to frost, however, it isn’t very environmentally friendly so can be hard to get rid of, and can give off an unpleasant smell if it gets hot!
- It is often used as top layer to sand.
- Care should be taken to buy rubber that has been specially made for purpose, otherwise, just like wood chip, it can be the wrong size, or contain foreign objects.
- There are lots of manufacturers offering their own variations on the above surfaces, for example, ‘cushion’ ride and ‘turf’ ride, etc, as with anything, research the different suppliers and look at reviews to determine which will suit your budget and needs most.
- Carpet fibre is often added to surfaces, such as fibre sand mentioned earlier. It can help to stabilize footings by helping the surface to bind more, which means the horse will ride more on top of the surface, rather than deep.
- Other additives and stabilizers can also be added to surfaces to improve their performance.
- Another surface is stone dust, although it’s not common in the UK. It is cheap, but high maintenance as it’s very dusty without watering, and compacts easily.
- Some people have also used old chopped straw/wood chip type bedding to create a free surface, the results for this have varying reports of success, and it would need topping up regularly as it rots quickly. Obviously it won’t provide the best surface, but for an extremely low budget arena with very basic use it may be worth researching.
Lighting Options for Riding Arenas
Lighting is a very important consideration for riding arenas, especially if you want to safely use them outside of daylight hours.
- Floodlights will usually require planning permission, so always check this before installing them.
- They come in various shapes and forms, with many companies offering specially designed packages for different sizes of arena. Some even offer low level ones that attach to the arena sides, or ones on telescopic poles that can make getting planning permission easier.
- The main considerations are how shadows will be cast and how well illuminated the surface will be for activities such as jumping.
- In indoor arenas, you will also need to consider skylights, and possibly windows. The more natural light you can get inside, the more you will save on lighting bills during daylight hours. However, you will also need to factor in possible heat build up from the sun, so getting the balance between natural light, artificial light and ventilation, etc, is key.
Indoor or Outdoor School?
Should you have and indoor school, or an outdoor school?
In a perfect world… both! Being able to practice in both environments is a real plus, and each has its own benefits.
However, this won’t be an option for many and, essentially, if you have to choose between the two, it will come down to personal preference, planning permission and your budget.
If I had to choose, I personally like covered riding arenas: I guess they are technically an indoor school that has a roof but no sides. In my opinion, they combine the best of both worlds – shade from the sun and protection from rain, but still have an open and airy feel.
Indoor riding arenas provide great protection from the weather and are the dream facility for a lot of riders. However, they often come with increased taxes/business rates, although I’m sure the regulations will vary in different areas and countries. I’m not sure if the same applies to covered riding arenas though, so it is worth looking into all these potential extra costs and all your options before setting your heart on one.
How high does the ceiling need to be in indoor riding arenas?
Firstly, ceilings should be clear span, meaning that no support posts or beams/trusses are within the riding area, and you also need to consider placement of lights, etc, so they give plenty of clearance too. I have seen some fancy looking indoor arenas with traditional ornate wooden trusses that go straight across, but the eave height for these would need to be considerably higher.
With this in mind, the absolute minimum height for an indoor riding arena ceiling should really be 14 feet / 4.2m at the eaves, this will however limit jumping height, and depending on the pitch of the roof, it may only be comfortable to jump near the centre line. (The 60 x 100 foot barn that I mentioned earlier was only 12 foot / 3.6m at the eaves, but had a quite a steep pitch which made it usable, but I wouldn’t fancy jumping or riding a very tall horse in there!)
16 feet / 4.8m is the most common height to go for at the eaves and would be better suited to jumping. Professional yards and competition venues will usually have indoor schools with a ceiling height of at least 18 feet / 5.4m at the eaves, or more, which is more suited to commercial purposes. Higher ceilings do mean more air circulation, which can keep temperatures more comfortable in summer, but will also require extra lighting as more shadows can be cast.
Doorways for indoor riding arenas should be wide enough for machinery to get through (e.g.: for surface deliveries, arena grader, etc), and at least 12 – 14 feet / 3.6 – 4.2m high so they can be ridden through (a 16 x 16 feet / 4.8 x 4.8m doorway would be ideal).
Others factors to thinks about are…
- Dust can be a major factor, especially indoors as there is less natural airflow, so most indoor schools will opt for very low dust/wax coated surfaces and have sprinkler systems installed.
- Indoor arenas can be costly to install and run, so these costs should be figured out to see how viable an indoor school is for you (compare build quotes, look into potential taxes/business rates, factor in electric costs, etc).
- Lighting, as mentioned, is important in an indoor school.
Outdoor riding arenas are generally more common as they are usually cheaper to install and still provide a safe all-weather surface to school on all year round (if they are properly constructed, have a good surface and are well maintained).
One advantage with an outdoor school is that horses get used to schooling in adverse weather conditions, and often have a longer line of sight with more possible distractions going on around the arena which can be beneficial for preparing for busy show environments.
Most of the same considerations apply to outdoor arenas as indoor ones, such as dust management/sprinklers, cost and lighting, etc. When planning an outdoor school, it is also worth considering if it is possible to shield it from wind by installing wind netting, or planting hedgerows, etc.
Equine Arena Equipment
First on the equipment list for all riding arenas should be a sturdy mounting block, plus the essential poop scoop, muck bucket or barrow, a rake for quick clear ups, and ideally a proper arena leveler / grader.
Beyond these essentials, the equipment you require will often depend on your chosen discipline (although livery yards should generally cater for at least basic dressage and jumping needs in their riding arenas).
Dressage Letters & Dressage Boards
- Letters are used for all dressage tests, and most riding arenas have them.
- Even if you don’t intend to do dressage, they are very handy for spacial awareness, and for trainers giving instructions!
- The letters you need will depend on the size of your arena…
- …20 x 40m arenas (suitable for Intro level and most Prelim tests) need the letters ‘A, K, E, H, C, M, B, F’.
- …20 x 60m arenas (suitable for most Elementary level tests and above) need the letters ‘A, K, V, E, S, H, C, M, R, B, P, F’.
- You can buy ready-made dressage letters in a variety of styles – plastic, metal, wall-fixing, stick in the ground, printed onto cones, etc! You can also make your own, or even just paint them directly onto your arena fencing / kickboards (I’ll let you be the judge of your artistic skill for this).
- White dressage boards are one of the first images that spring to mind when you think of a dressage competition, and they are notoriously spooky to horses for some unknown reason, so having some at home to practice with is a great idea!
- You can buy ready-made professional looking ones in white plastic – they usually come in sets for a 20 x 40m or 20 x 60m arena, either fully boarded, or half boarded.
- If your budget won’t stretch to the posh plastic boards, you can make your DIY versions. Either with white painted boards that you can buy pins for to stake them to the ground, or even just with lengths of square or half-round pieces of timber painted white.
- Dressage boards are especially useful in arenas that aren’t standard dressage sizes (and in grass schooling areas) to mark out your test area.
Poles & Jumps
Poles, jump wings and fillers, etc, are usually made from wood or plastic. They can be bought ready made or, with some DIY skills, you could make your own. Professionally made jumps will usually conform to regulations set by affiliated bodies, so if you intend to use them for competitions or for commercial purposes, it is often better to buy them.
- Whether you jump or not, poles are useful for schooling, and add some interest / challenge to schooling routines.
- Poles can me made from wood, or special plastic (homemade wooden poles are generally okay, but items such as pipes and guttering should be avoiding as they can shatter which is very dangerous).
- They are generally round, but can also be octagonal, and for trotting poles (to make them less likely to roll around) they can even be rectangular or square.
- Lengths can vary from 4 foot / 1.2m to 12 feet / 3.6m. However, it is advisable to stick to one main length to make building jumps much easier – 10 feet / 3m works well for the majority of jumps. Then just have a few shorter ones of around 6 feet / 1.8m so you can make a ‘skinny’ fence.
- There are a vast array of options for show jumps nowadays with lots of novel designs. The main things you need after poles though, is wings and cups, or blocks for lower level jumps. Once you have those you can think about fillers, etc.
- Wings come in all shapes, sizes and designs, from a simple single upright, to huge themed stands. The design is personal choice, but the main thing is that they are safe and sturdy with holes for cups (or a track system, etc, depending on the type of cup you decide on).
- Most wings will need cups – they are traditionally made of metal with a pin to hold them in place, but these days you can buy plastic ones, or even FEI standard ones that are safer.
- Jump blocks are pre-moulded plastic stands that are lightweight and durable – they are a good alternative if you only intend to jump at lower levels, great for kids, and good as additional fences too.
- Once you have the poles, wings and blocks sorted you can think about all the extras such as fillers, planks and a water tray.
- Try to kit your home arena out with some of the main fillers you may see at competitions, such as a wall, gate, a solid standing filler (usually in bright colours!), and a water tray (you can improvise this with a piece of blue tarpaulin held under two poles).
- Working hunter fences are virtually the same as show jumps, just plainer in appearance – for example, they will be rustic / un-painted, and will include fillers such as brushes and gates that are designed to emulate obstacles you may encounter out hunting.
Arena Eventing Fences
- Arena eventing usually takes place in larger riding arenas, sometimes even with steps, etc, built into their design, however, these fences can still be used in smaller schools and indoor arenas and are really good for practice, especially out of season.
- Arena eventing fences are designed to mimic cross country fences such as skinnies and brushes, and will usually include some proper mobile cross country fences.
Other Arena Equipment
An extra I would definitely have is some weighted tubs or pots of plastic flowers – these seem to crop up everywhere at shows (by jumps, ring entrances, between dressage boards, by judges boxes), so getting horses used to them at home is a very good idea (they also brighten up the place!). Other things to add to your list for home ‘de-sensitising’ that you may encounter at shows are flags, bunting, cones and banners, etc – next time you’re at a competition have a look around and see what else you can recreate at home (okay, food vans, pop-up shops and hordes of people, may be trickier, but you get the idea!).
Riding Arena Mirrors
- Okay, let me just put this out there… I love arena mirrors!
- As long as you don’t allow yourself to get too distracted by them (or obsessively spend whole sessions taking mirror selfies with your horse), they are really useful for training: it’s easy to get into bad habits when you’re not under your trainer’s watchful eye, and they are great for things like checking your position and looking for straightness in your horse, etc.
- Safety is key, so always buy mirrors that have been specifically designed for this purpose from reputable manufacturers.
- They are often installed across the entire end of riding arenas, but they’re not the cheapest, so if budget is a factor, even one mirror positioned at A or C to view the centre line can make a big impact (you can always add more later!).
- Again, this is another thing that some competition venues have in their riding arenas, so it’s also good to get your horses used to them at home.
Specialised Schooling Equipment
We’ve covered the most common equipment for schooling and jumping, but there are of course many different disciplines that require specialist equipment, here are just a few examples…
- ‘Natural horsemanship’ and desensitisation work, often use props to help horses build their confidence in different scenarios – a lot of items used for this can add interest and be useful for groundwork even if you don’t consider yourself a ‘follower’ of this type of training.
- Mounted games have lots of different pieces of equipment such as – cones, bending poles, rings/loops, sand bags and buckets, and more – you only have to see a local gymkhana or go to a mounted games competition to realise that imagination (of course, whilst keeping safety in mind), is your only limitation!
- A lot of these are great fun for children and more beginner riders (and even us kids at heart!) regardless of whether they compete in games, and some, such as cones, can be really useful for general schooling too.
- Driving equipment can include specialist driving cones, driving gates and ramps, etc.
- Western riding has its own set of equipment, such as barrels for racing.
- Polo will usually require special arenas and grass lawns built to pitch standards with high kickboards for stray balls, and goals, etc.
- Dressage to music competitors will probably want speakers built into their riding arenas (general music lovers may want this too!).
Riding Arena Maintenance
A good maintenance program is essential to keep riding arenas in good condition and make them last…
- Clearing droppings is top of the list of riding arena maintenance as it isn’t good to tread droppings into the surface (- I think ‘please clear poop after riding’ signs should be at the entrance to every arena!).
- Some people won’t lunge at all in their arena, but I think the main thing is not to lunge in one place so you don’t churn up a circle; if you lunge in different areas you will get more even wear.
- School surfaces aren’t designed for turning out, so this should be avoided as surfaces can be ruined by excitable horses digging, rolling and skidding. In some cases however, they can be useful for very short term turning out, for example, horses that are recovering from injury.
- Keeping your arena surface flat and level is important to provide the best riding experience and stop puddles, etc. How much use the arena gets and the type of surface will affect how often it needs leveling and grading.
- At the very least you need a decent rake to level out dips from jumping take offs and landings, and to pull in the banks that build up around the track – this should be done regularly.
- Ideally you need a proper arena leveler / grader which is specifically designed to keep surfaces in good condition by leveling them and stopping them from becoming too compressed (at a push for smaller private arenas, you may get away with a rake and small chain harrow).
- The surface will also need topping up from time to time, usually every few years. However, how often will depend on the type of surface, volume of use, type of work and how well maintained it is.
- As mentioned, dust can be a big issue, especially with certain types of surface and in indoor schools.
- Most indoor schools and increasingly more outdoor schools these days, have some kind of sprinkler system to condition the surface and alleviate dust.
- Indoor schools tend to have over head ones built in, and outdoor arenas often have them on the sides, and some can even use rainwater tanks.
- The type of surface you have, how it’s used and the climate you live in will determine what kind of system you need, if any (I had one client years ago who only ever had a couple of days a year when the surface suffered and would just drag in standard lawn sprinklers!).
Other Schooling Areas
Beyond traditional riding arenas, you can also consider other options, either as additional or alternative equestrian facilities.
Grass Schooling Area
Grass riding arenas are a great idea if you don’t have a surfaced arena, and a sensible addition to one if you plan to compete at shows on grass so you can practice at home.
Creating a Basic Grass Schooling Area
- You will need a well-draining piece of land that is as flat as possible and free from rocks and rabbit holes, etc.
- Ideally you want an area at least two or three times the size of standard riding arenas so you can rotate the patch being used because the ground can become worn and poached, especially along the ‘track’.
- Fence it off and make a gateway to create a safe enclosed area, then regularly roll/harrow/weed, etc, to keep it in good condition.
- Realistically (unless you have a mild climate and exceptionally good ground, and manage it well), it won’t be usable all year round. It could be wet / slippery in winter and could get too hard in summer, so you will have to be sensible to only ride on it when the ground is suitable, even so, I think they are a great addition to any yard.
More Advanced Options for Grass Riding Arenas
- Some of the large grass competition venues and training facilities have specially prepared grass surfacing with drainage built in, sprinkler systems, and even an under-layer of special mesh or grid systems to ‘sure up’ the surface – this is of course quite costly, but will provide a much better riding surface that will be usable for more of the year (if you have the budget for an arena but can’t get planning permission, this could be your best compromise).
- Within your grass schooling area, you could consider installing some features to imitate a show jumping derby style ring, with steps and banks, etc.
- As mentioned earlier, white dressage boards are really good to practice with too!
Round Pen / Lunging Ring
- A round pen is really useful for lunging and groundwork, and also as a safe space for turnout, especially for rehabilitating horses.
- They can have standard arena style fencing, but more commonly you will see them with higher sides, either fully boarded, or with specialised mesh fencing.
- The ideal diameter for a round pen would be 20m (approx. 66 feet), although they can come in sizes from 10m up to 30m… it will depend on your intended use. 10m may be plenty for join up work and turnout, or you may prefer the upper end of the scale if you plan to ride in it too.
- They can be an outdoor construction, built inside a barn or have their own roof.
- You can buy from manufacturers, or with enough research and skill you could even build one yourself.
- Ideally these will be surfaced like an arena as grass can become churned up or become too hard to safely work on.
- There are some round pen systems that have portable interlocking gate / mesh style sections that allow them to be moved, so this could be an option if you can’t build a permanent surfaced structure. It would then allow you to rotate the patch of grass being used to stop it becoming poached, and could even double up as a turnout pen.
Equine Fitness Equipment
Equine fitness equipment does seem to divide opinion, but definitely has its place in today’s world – especially for large competition yards. If you do decide to invest in equipment, it should be as an additional facility, not to replace hands on work with your horse. As with anything, you must educate yourself how to safely and properly use it.
- Horse walkers have been around for a long time, and most of us will have encountered them at some point. They are circular (sometimes oval), tracks with a motorised system of gates that keep horses walking at a continuous pace.
- Available in various sizes that can accommodate from two or three, up to fourteen plus, horses at a time.
- They can be particularly useful when turnout is restricted, in larger yards, and for warming up cold-backed or tense horses.
- Roofing is another option, and one I’d recommend if you can afford it!
- Flooring needs to be safe – some people opt for arena type surfacing, others use rubber, some stick to concrete. I’ve read varying reports on the advantages/disadvantages of each; some suggest rubber provides too much friction, and others say concrete has too much impact on the joints. I think the diameter of the walker, your climate, the amount of time and speed at which it is used, will all affect what flooring will suit – so ask for advise form your supplier, and do some research into your requirements.
- Horse treadmills have been around for quite a while. They were predominantly used in racing and professional yards but more recently they seem to be finding their way onto more private and small-scale yards as a way to keep horses fit.
- These horse sized, heavy duty treadmills are just like large versions of the ones you may use in the gym!
- They are available with different options, from ones that just go at walking speeds, to ones with trotting programs, and even canter.
- Horses will need introducing carefully to them.
- Treadmills aren’t cheap, but they are on a similar par to walkers and take up a lot less room, so could be a sensible alternative if space is an issue.
Other Equine Health & Fitness Equipment
Nowadays, there are lots of health, fitness and well-being products available for our horses, many will only be required by top competition or rehabilitation yards, but some have applications for smaller set ups…
- A solarium would be top my list of additional equipment; they have so many benefits, from simply providing a nice heated area for grooming and clipping, and somewhere to dry washed off horses, to being used for warming muscles and rehabilitation.
- Massage rugs and pads have rocketed in popularity in recent times, and some people swear by them. I do equine massage therapy, so haven’t personally had need for them, but do find that clients who own them often seem to have ‘looser’ horses. Basically, massage is beneficial, whether you use a piece of equipment, or learn how to do it effectively by hand.
- If a weigh tape just isn’t cutting it, and you need precise monitoring of weight, you can get weighing platforms designed for horses. However, they can be expensive, and you usually only find them in veterinary environments and high-level competition yards.
- Vibration plates are something I wasn’t really aware of until fairly recently, but they seem to be cropping up more and more. They look similar to the weigh platforms, but as the name suggests, the plate the horse stands on vibrates. Their claim is that the involuntary muscle contractions caused, help to stimulate and tone muscles.
- The benefits of hydrotherapy have been recognised for years, with many race trainers, for example, taking their horses to the beach to work in the sea water. Nowadays, there are, albeit not cheap, options for specially designed equipment and facilities. These include hydrotherapy horse swimming pools and aqua treadmills. Again, these are another thing rarely seen outside of top-level competition and veterinary / rehabilitation sectors due to their cost, but they can often be hired locally if you can box out to them.
Other Equestrian Facilities
Beyond the main yard and riding arenas, if we are fortunate enough to have the space and budget, we can also consider some facilities that ‘sprawl’ out a bit more. If building your own is not an option, these can usually be hired locally at competition centres…
Cross Country Course
From a few logs and DIY fences in your paddocks, right up to a fully-fledged and varied course across acres of land, some kind of XC course is a lovely thing to have at home if you can (especially if you event!). If you do compete, building your own ‘starting box’ (usually a simple three-sided enclosure of white fencing), is a good idea for practicing too – it’s often overlooked, but many horses can get tense in the start box.
XC Course or Practice Field
- XC fences can be set across several fields which is the style of course you are most likely to encounter at a competition, or in one large field as a practice space.
- The land you have will govern which you go for, but if you have the option, a combination of both is particularly good.
- Having versions of the same fences, with different height options, and straight or longer / easier routes for combinations, is a good idea.
- As the name implies, this is simply mini versions of XC fences.
- They are especially great for children, beginners and young horses.
- They can be made extra safe by having a dedicated paddock or area for them, or you could incorporate ‘mini’ versions of fences alongside the full-size ones on your course.
Mobile XC Fences
- Usually made from wood or plastic, with larger fences constructed in sections so they are lighter and easier to move.
- Mobile XC fences are a great idea if you want to vary your course and change combinations, etc.
- They can be a great addition to a permanent course, or used on their own.
- They can even be used in your arena during winter (just make sure they’re light enough to move around easily!).
- Mobile fences are also really good if you cannot build permanent structures for any reason, such as using rented land.
Types of XC Fences
- There are so many different XC fences, I could write a whole article on this topic alone (and may do so in the future!).
- Some of the more standard fences are logs, tyres, palisades, ‘tiger traps’, tables, brushes, etc.
- Steps can be as simple as a sloping bank to a small step down, right up to full sets of steps with options for different heights and routes with jumps included.
- Ditches feature in most courses and can be stand alone, as part of complexes, or in front of / underneath fences.
- Complexes such as doubles, coffins (jump, ditch, jump), etc, provide more technical aspects to a XC course.
- No XC course is truly complete without a water jump of some description (although these can be especially tricky to build yourself so get some advice).
Team Chase and Hunter Trials
- Team chase and hunter trial fences are to XC, a little like working hunter fences are to SJ – they tend to be more ‘toned down’ / rustic in appearance.
- Team chase fences will often be designed to be ridden at pace and tend to use less combinations.
- Hunter trials will often incorporate a gate to open and close too.
- Jump Cross is another alternative, which involves having show jumping fences set out like a cross country course.
- This is a good option if you can’t build a cross country course for any reason.
- As the fences will generally be a lot less ‘solid’, it can also be a safer alternative to cross country.
Having your own gallops is probably not an option for a lot of people unless you are building a racing yard, but you can often hire them locally. However, a ‘dream yard’ would incorporate them as they are wonderful to ride on, and fantastic for fitness work… you don’t need to be aiming for the Grand National to enjoy the benefits!
They can be either straight lines or with bends, or designed as a full loop (circular or like an athletics track), and either on the flat or with hills, depending on your requirements.
How long your gallop should be will depend on the type of work you wish to use it for, the land you have and your budget. However, surfaced gallops of around 2 furlongs (approx. 400m) for looped tracks, and around 5 furlongs (approx. 1km) for straight tracks (especially with an incline), seem to be fairly common and work well, so this would be a good starting point to base your estimate.
The width of your gallop will depend on if you are planning to gallop in single file, or side-by-side, and if you want to include jumps which will require more width. As a minimum, you want your track at least the width or your surface grading/maintenance equipment, but generally, I’d recommend going as wide as you can afford.
Fencing is a good idea, particularly for racing and greener horses (especially to contain any that ditch their jockeys and inevitably get loose on the track!). ‘Proper’ racing style rails are the obvious choice, but a simple fence is okay too for a private track. However, it is an added expense and probably not completely necessary for well schooled horses.
Just like riding arenas, if tree stumps need removing to prepare the surface, make sure they are completely dug out and the hole filled / compacted; tree stumps left in the ground will rot and create holes and craters. Also be sure to trim any over-head branches to allow a minimum clearance of 12 – 14 feet /3.6 – 4.2m or more!
- Surfaced gallops will ideally be designed to have all weather surfaces to allow sure footing for year-round use. The materials will be similar to your riding arena.
- Much like arena surfaces they will also require maintenance such as poo-picking, leveling and watering.
- Some racing yards also have shorter tracks designed purely for cantering which have deeper going to condition horses to softer ground too (I read somewhere that these can be made from washed beach sand).
- For serious ‘all weather’ training, some of the hugely wealthy racing stables even have surfaced gallops that have a roof – that’s truly next level stuff right there!
- Grass gallops will be cheaper to construct, but will still require work to prepare the ground to be well-draining, level and free from rocks, etc, and require maintenance.
- Grass, as opposed to surfaced, will obviously be less suitable for year-round use.
- Racing yards will often have both surfaced and grass tracks, for their grass tracks they will often have state of the art facilities to keep them in top shape, such as watering systems.
Steeplechase / Hurdles
- Steeple chase or hurdle style jumps can be added to your gallops, and are often seen on grass gallops, or even as part of a XC training course.
- Mobile ones are a good idea so that you can still use your track for flat training as well.
Arena Canter Track
- For those with limited space or budget for full gallops, but who still want a decent all weather surface to use for fitness work, can opt to add a loop of track to the side or end of their schooling arena which can be a really good compromise.
Horse Friendly Happy Hacking
Hacking is important for a lot of horsey folk. Whether it be for our equine’s fitness, or just for recreation and relaxation, it is a nice break from the serious schooling done in a riding arena. In an ideal world, the location of your perfect stable yard would have direct access to miles of off-road hacking trails… and in a perfect world you would have hectares upon hectares of your own private land to ride across!
- If you are searching for a new base for your perfect stable yard, whether you are looking to buy your own, or trying to find a livery yard, hacking is definitely worth bearing in mind.
- Even if your horse is one of those proverbial hen’s teeth and is completely ‘bombproof’, roads are the first consideration. Busy roads are a hacker’s nightmare, so if you can, avoid these!
- Secondly, you ideally want access to a good Bridleway and/or Byway network.
- Some places even have open spaces with public rights to ride horses over them, such as common land and National Parks and beaches; rules for these will all vary wildly so do some research in your area.
- Local knowledge is often key, but other than asking local people and having a drive around, google street view and OS maps are a good resource for assessing the area – Ordnance Survey Website.
- If you are fortunate to have vast amounts of your own land, make use of farm tracks, and even create grass tracks around the edge of the fields, ideally around 20 feet / 6m wide, to make lovely private hacking to keep horses fit (you can even add XC fences too!).
- Even with more limited space, a small track around the edge of your plot can be a nice feature. It may not constitute a proper ‘hack’, but will give you some more variety at home, somewhere controlled to introduce young horses and beginner riders to working outside the arena, and an extra space for a canter / fitness work.
- Some top-end luxury yards even create all weather surfaced hacking trails – amazing!
Whatever equestrian facilities you have, are planning to add, or even just looking into hiring…
I hope you make the most of them and have fun!
Thank you for taking the time to read all about equestrian facilities, for further reading you can check out the links below…
Here are some links that you may enjoy…