We are currently investigating building a grass jumping arena, sand jumping arena and a sand dressage arena. We live in the Western Cape and all three areas are currently soft white sand. We currently water and roll the arena's as much as possible. Please could you give me advice as to how we should go about constructing the arena's as well as the applicable sizes of each.
There are some factors to take into account before you start work on your arenas. Firstly, budget is very important. Arena`s can be VERY costly to build if you are doing it properly, although you can get away with less if you are building the arenas for your own private use. If you are planning to host shows, the design and cost factor changes dramatically. The other factor to consider is the maintenance of your arenas. There will be some cost involved here too, depending on the use of the arenas.
Dressage Arena: (measure the working surface - not the fence or wall!) 60m x 20m, or 40m x 20m for children and lower grades.
Sand Jumping Arena: This depends very much on the intended use, but I would recommend a size of 60m x 80m as a minimum
Grass Jumping Arena: Once again, this depends very much on the intended use, but I would recommend a size of 60m x 80m, or bigger, if you have the space. Also remember, you may have to reserve your grass arena for shows only, as daily riding on the grass by a few horses will damage it.
Building your arena can be as simple or as complex as you decide. If you are going for the cheapest, easiest building methods and materials, it can be as simple as dumping a layer of sand on a marked out area. The cheaper you go, the more problems you may end up having - the basic rules are : correct size for purpose and marked if needed; must be level (2% slant for water drainage); must be even (no rocks, stones, holes etc); must drain well; must be springy but not deep; must be well maintained. If you follow those tips, you can improvise as much as possible and still have a great riding surface. The most basic way to build an arena is to simply grade your surface level, add a thin layer of coarse salt to kill any weeds/grass that may still come up and cover that with about 20cm of river sand, making sure there is some kind of barrier/border that will keep the sand in. The sand will seem thick at first, but will level out and compact with use. You could also use a combination of river sand and either rubber chips, wood chips (not shavings) or potash. Using old bedding and shavings in your arena will make it boggy and very slippery when wet, so I would not recommend that. If you are building a wall around your arena as a barrier, leave a few drainage points (holes in the wall) so that water can run off.
Your biggest problem with this construction is drainage. To prevent drainage problems, it is correct to first lay down a compacted drainage layer (gravel/potash and optionally plastic pipes with holes in them) to ensure that surface water will run out of the arena. Your drainage layer should be very well compacted, so that it does not loosen and come up with use. You will also have to ensure that you maintain your upper layer well. Drainage is a very big problem overseas where temperatures reach below freezing, and arenas then freeze over and cannot be used. I think it is less of a problem here, provided you prepared your surface well and remember your 2% slope and drainage holes, as well as keeping your arenas well maintained.
A grass arena is going to take you a little longer to set up and will require more maintenance. Your best bet is to contact a specialist like Superlawn www.superlawn.co.za who will be able to assist you with the planting of your arena. (Have a look at their website, as they have plenty of tips and examples of planting out that will be of help too) I would suggest the use of Gulf Green (Cynodon dactylon X Cynodon transvaalensis) which is a grass developed by Superlawn that covers very quickly (faster than Kikuyu) and is drought resistant; Sea Green (Cynodon dactylon) which is slightly coarser and very well adapted to salty conditions; or even Buffalo Grass (Stenophrum secundatum) which is a hardy perennial. What you will need to keep in mind is that the arena will need irrigation and feeding, so make sure that you plan for this. Mowing is also very important. Depending on the amount of traffic, I would not advise using your grass arena regularly at least until the grass is well established or grazing horses on it when damp - they will rip it up in no time at all.
Things you will also need to keep in mind are that your arena will have to be fenced with a proper gate that is easy to open and close from horseback. Especially if you are teaching beginners - when they fall, you do not want the horse to go galloping full speed off to its stable! It can be dangerous for the horse and rider. There is nothing worse than a poor beginner trying to keep a pony inside the arena, whilst the pony is keenly trying to trot off to his stable - it holds the lesson up and really breaks their confidence! Fencing your sand arenas also means that you are able to use them to turn horses out for periods of time when the weather is wet and you are not able to turn them out in their paddocks.
I would also suggest that you visit as many yards in your area as you can to get ideas and to see what works and what does not!
Your arena will always need to be kept slightly damp to keep it soft and dust free. (some people install irrigation systems next to the arenas, which is great to use) It will also need harrowing regularly to lift it and prevent compaction and leveling too. Weeds and grass may come up from time to time - these can be treated with weed killer and/or plenty of coarse salt. Once per year you may need to add more surface to your arenas to keep them deep enough.
Grass arenas need feeding (with something like LAN) and the occasional top dressing and regular watering and mowing.
I really hope this helps - I have included a list of contacts that should be able to advise you or give you some ideas:
1. Equine Methods - (Arena Construction) Gareth 0826884869
2. Cushion Ride - (Arena Surface) Gavin 083 326 4455
3. Rubber Flakes - Caryn 083 455 8868
Also check the following sites for more ideas:
www.earthbound95.com (some ideas perhaps on surfaces)
http://www.cardigansand.co.uk/ridingarenas.html especially http://www.cardigansand.co.uk/arenaexamplesarticle.html