How to Build an “Affordable” Dressage Arena

April 25, 2010
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Dressage ArenaOne of my dreams is to have a dressage arena on my farm.  I am always on a tight budget so this has been a dream put on hold for quite a while.  Why has it been put on hold?  Because dressage arenas cost an absolute fortune!  I think any thing labeled “horse” gets doubled in price and then when you add “dressage” to the mix…get out of the way.  I wonder why the idea is that dressage riders have money?  This past fall, when I was doing some horse shopping, I ran into the same problem.  Any horse with that was “dressage suitable” or had dressage training seemed to be much more expensive.  Maybe it just happens to be the breed that is more expensive.  Warmblood breeds tend to excel in dressage and warmbloods tend to cost more than Quarter Horses.  That is unless you get one of those highly trained reining quarter horses and then your talking big bucks there too!

On my farm, I have a nice grassy area.  It is not flat it has a bit of a slope to it, but it works well for me.  We smoothed out the area last year and planted fresh grass.  Now, I decided my nice grassy area needed a dressage arena.  It was also getting very difficult to practice head to the rail leg yields, when you have no rail.  Those imaginary rails just don’t quite stand up to the real ones!    I began my dressage arena search and became very disappointed very quickly.  Dressage areas are expensive we are talking $1,500 – 2,000 easy for an arena.  Some even go up to $6,000.  Whoa, I just need a chain and white posts.  How can I do that for less?  This is what I did  and it turned out pretty good.  There were a few things I would do differently I will make sure to clue you in on that as well.

Steps to your own affordable dressage arena – Elizabeth’s Way !

1.  Choose a fairly flat area for your arena.  Measure the area so you are sure the dressage arena will fit in the area.  Dressage arenas are quite long and take a larger space then you would think they do.  A standard arena is 20 mX 60 m and a small arena is 20 mX40 m.  Most American measuring devices are in feet not meters so you will probably have to convert everything into feet.  Make sure you continually do this with the entire ring.  It will drive you a bit crazy because everything ends up a strange decimal number.  Here are the converted numbers standard arena 65.6 ft X 196.8 ft the small arena is 65.6 ft X 131.2 ft (hint: 1 meter = 3.28 ft)

PVC chain and step-in posts are inexpensive and safe to use

2.  Select materials to construct dressage arena with.  I went round and round on this and tried all kinds of scenarios of arena set ups.  I thought about just doing corners and a few sections along the sides with PVC pipe and buckets or cinder blocks.  Plain old PVC pipe tends to add up in cost as well.  I found a great price on plastic chain.  I bought mine from www.crowdcontrolstore.com.   It takes approximately 525 feet of chain to go around the entire arena.  Now the entrance at A has a gap so you save some chain there, but you also have to plan for droop in the chain.  I bought the 500 ft. box of chain and 25 extra ft of chain.  I also picked up two of the links that unscrew so you can attach the chain together.  I used 1 1/2 ” chain (6 mm) and I was happy with the size of it.  I would say I wouldn’ t go any smaller. To hold the chain, I selected the plastic step in posts used for electric fencing.  They are fairly affordable and can come in white to match the arena. They are also made of plastic and will break if you attempt to land on one.  Safety was also a key feature in my area planning!

3.  Begin laying out arena with one short side.  I have a gazebo that I wanted the short side at C centered on. I kept it perpendicular to the gazebo by measuring diagonally to the gazebo and making adjustments if needed.   Next, I set the two end corners at on the short side of  C.  Note:  Here is where I messed up!  I used a measuring wheel to lay out my arena.  I do not recommend a measuring wheel.  You need to use a long measuring tape.  Any type of uneven ground can affect the measuring wheel and I had to adjust my arena later because the wheel had the arena off.  I found that out later when I laid out the letters and boy was I not happy!

4. Attempt to lay out short side posts evenly placed.  I had my posts about 10 feet apart.  I tried to eyeball the posts and couldn’t believe how far off they were from each other.  So, what did I do?  I went and got my husband who built fence for three years of his life and can eyeball anything and tell if it is 1/4 of an inch off.    He comes in handy whenever, I need something straight.  Yeah… he probably keeps me pretty straight too!  I talked him into helping after he saw my line of posts and decided he couldn’t stand to look out at our yard at my “straight ” line . What could you do if you are not blessed with a husband with good eyes?  I would stretch a string out from corner to corner, measure your posts out evenly and put them in the ground right beside the string to make sure your posts are straight.

5.  Lay out the other two corners of the arena.  The tricky part is keeping your corners at 90 degree angles to your other corners.   You can use the triangle theory to keep your corners straight.  Here is the triangle pattern  a^2 + b^2 = c^2\!\,.   Can you remember it’s name ? That’s right the Pythagorean Theorem. Oh my goodness, we may actually use what we learned in high school geometry after all.  My teacher would be so proud! I will admit I called upon my husband’s talent a bit here as well.  Plus he knew he couldn’t trust me with putting in straight lines and we had three more to go.

6.  Hang the chain. At this point I got the… “Now  it’s your turn do your girlie decorative magic” look from my husband and he was off to do something more “productive.”  What is more productive than building a dressage area?? Well OK… actually riding it it would be.   Hanging the chain was a bit tricky to get the droop even on each post.  Then I came up with a system and it got much easier and turned out great.   I tightened the chain so it was snug and straight  and then moved it back one link and attached to the post. This put even tension and droop on each post.   I did that for all 52 posts.

Dressage Letters

Inexpensive letters can be created with your computer printer and laminating sheets

7. Add letters.  I went cheap on my letters and just laminated letters I printed out large on a standard sheet of paper.  I attached the letters to more white step in posts to match the rest of the arena.  I attached the letters by using a hole puncher and zip ties.  They came out pretty good, although I’m not sure of the longevity of  the letters.  I’m sure nice plastic vinyl letters would do better.   Note: when you attach the letters to the posts attach them on the flat side of the post, not the side with the hooks.  I used the hooks to hold the zip ties in place though. Next, lay out the letters  here is the sequence I used and I used a measuring tape this time.   A and C are placed  32.8 ft from the corner.  H,M,F, K are placed 19.7 ft from the corner post on the long side.  B and E are placed 98.4 ft from the corner posts along the long side.  R,S,V,P are set on either side of B and E, 39.4 ft from B and E.

Wahhhla… Congratulations you now have a dressage arena!  Total cost approximately – $400.00

My completed dressage arena. Time to ride!!

What would I do differently?

The biggest problem with this arena is the height of the posts.  The step in posts for electric fence come in a standard 4 ft height.  The problem with this is if you ride right along the rail, as you are supposed to in dressage, your feet may hit the posts.  Now my mare is 16 hands, if you have a enormous 18 hand horse, this may not be a problem for you!   I will probably end up going back and cutting the top of the posts shorter to fix this.  Don’t use a measuring wheel unless you have very flat smooth ground.  Don’t try to eyeball anything unless you have a talent for it.  It is amazing how crooked your eyes can make things!

I hope you find this article helpful.  I love my new arena.  It has been great to use practicing at home.  If anyone has any other ideas for homemade dressage arenas, please feel free to post a comment.  I went on a search to find suggestions before I built my arena and I was disappointed in the few ideas I could find.

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8 Responses to How to Build an “Affordable” Dressage Arena

  1. Karen Quirk
    May 2, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    What a fabulous idea! I too would love a fancy dressage arena, but it’s just not in the budget right now. Last year we purchased 40 acres of undeveloped land in Mena, Arkansas. During the initial bulldozer work to clear a house pad, I talked my husband into diverting the dozer to also clear my dressage arena area. A woman has to have her priorities! ha ha. Long story short, we are moved in, the horses are finally here with us, the arena area looks awesome, but have yet to find the money for sand and rails. I think I will try this idea to get started – thanks for an economical solution for those of us who are trying to make a go of it at home.
    Sincerely, Karen

  2. The Art of Dressage
    May 2, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    I’m so glad my idea may be of help! The regular store bought rings are sooo expensive. Sometimes we just have to get by with what we can. Best of luck to you and setting up an arena. Congratulations on the new home!

  3. Nevilene
    July 1, 2010 at 5:15 am

    Hi.

    I live on a dairy farm and the only area we had for an arena was in one of the cattles grazing paddocks, so it had to be made of something that would not injure the cattle should they venture over or through the surrounds. I managed to obtain some (80 in total) 25ltr chemical drums from a cleaning company which we filled with sand and place 2m apart. I bought some white rope that we threaded through the handles and hey presto. I now have a cattle proof arena!!! Sometimes it’s worth asking around for items companies and people may be discarding, most that I have approached have been very willing to assist and only to glad if someone else will help in the removal thereof, even if it’s only a small amount. As they say, “One man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure”.
    Regards Nevilene

  4. The Art of Dressage
    July 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Nevilene,

    What a great idea! Thank you for sharing.

  5. February 19, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    @ Karen Quirk:

    A really great idea for an inexpensive dressage arena is used railroad ties. You simply buy enough of them, and if you need footing you just fill it in. You need about 67 ties and you can get them for anywhere from $6-10 if you pick them up-your horse trailer works great. Then add letters and viola! You can laminate letters as above, and use landscaping stakes from home depot to attach them to, and if you paing them i bet theyd look nice. So, if you are like me and living next to railroads and have good soil, you can easily just till your soil and throw down the ties and letters. THis is a really great option for windy areas. Just south of Lake Tahoe in Gardnerville, sometimes we get 70 mph winds for 3 days straight-i also had some step in white posts to use for my temporary arena/turnout. Well, they are all bent now at a funky angle-just from constant strong wind. But they are good for temporary, and because I have warmbloods, I used duct tape to add 1 ft of pvc pipe to them with a notch in the top and then taped up a strand of electric polytape there as well, because the 4 ft posts are only a little over 3 when you push them into the ground, which my horses could step over. Just a little tip for WB owners:)

  6. The Art of Dressage
    February 20, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Great comments and suggestions. Thank you for sharing!

  7. caitlin
    July 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    How do you address the concern for gopher holes?

  8. Melissa Meyer
    July 1, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Hi!
    What a great idea! I had thought of something like this but was going to use five gallon pails with lids on them that we have here already and fill them with sand. I am putting my horse arena in an existing pen so a little worried they will mess with it, loving the idea of the barrels. We also have some steel oil drums here that might work and less likely to get knocked over :)

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