Go Undercover

Putting a roof over your arena lets you ride in all kinds of weather.

Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a region with year-round perfect weather, you’ve probably had your share of miserable rides, forced to battle rain, wind, excess heat or cold, sleet and snow, and poor footing. One way to escape such adverse conditions is to build an indoor arena, typically a post-and-beam or all-steel building. But many horse owners find this impractical for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the expense of constructing and maintaining such a facility.

That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a lifetime of suffering through weather extremes and canceling rides because the skies have opened up or the slush is piled up to your horse’s hocks. You may find that a covered arena provides a suitable alternative, offering protection from the elements while fitting into your plans and budget. It’s still a big investment, but as we’ll see, various options are available that may make it an affordable and worthwhile expenditure.

Many of the decisions you need to make about a covered arena are similar to those you’d make for any arena project. The covered design may add a special twist or two, but the same basic concerns apply. (See “Build Your Own Arena,” January 2005, and “Arena Footings,” March 2005, for advice on arena topics.) Let’s start with a look at the fundamental choices you’ll have to make when planning your covered arena.

Arena Size
Determining the proper size of your arena is critical because those dimensions will have a huge impact on cost. You may save some money on construction by going smaller, but if the space isn’t big enough to serve your needs, it will be false economy.

Your best bet is to carefully consider your year-round training requirements. Do you simply want a roof over your 60-foot round pen for some all-weather exercise? Or do you need a full-blown arena for you and your friends to do some roping?

Also consider your future needs. It may be cheaper to invest in a bigger arena now and use part of it to store hay, shavings or equipment so that if you (or prospective buyers) need more room later, it will be available. The more versatile the facility, the better its resale value will be. And the difference between, say, a structure that’s 66 feet wide and one that’s 72 feet wide is likely to be small enough to make the extra six feet a wise investment.

Local Load Ratings

One of the key factors in determining the cost of building an arena is the wind load and live (snow) load ratings for your area. The more extreme your weather conditions are, the higher your building costs will be. That’s because your arena will have to meet higher load ratings, which means more structural support against the elements.

Wind load indicates the velocity of wind a building must withstand without blowing down. A typical wind load might be 80 miles per hour. Live load is the amount of snow your roof must hold, measured in terms of pounds per square foot. So, for example, if your live- load rating is 60, your roof structure will have to be engineered to stand up to 60 pounds of snow per square foot.

Depending on your location, you may also have to contend with seismic load ratings, which could entail additional support posts.

For a traditional indoor arena, the starter size is typically 60 by 100 feet. But specific disciplines have their own recommended standards, so be sure you choose a size that fits what you’ll be doing with your horse.

Depending on the construction style you go with, your dimensions will need to be bigger than the riding area dictates, since you’ll be dealing with a support structure that may encroach on the interior space. Morton Buildings equine product manager Dennis Rusch said that a 72-foot span has become especially popular because it can accommodate a standard small dressage ring (66 feet wide), as well as provide sufficient room for many other types of riding.

Arena length is generally easy to adjust because of the modular design of most constructions. You can increase the length simply by adding sections to extend the framework.

Since this is going to be a covered arena, you also need to think about eave height, that is, the lowest edge of the truss system. You may not think you need a lot of headroom, but you’ll gain usability by going with a recommended minimum height. Some commercial arena builders insist on at least a 14-foot eave height, with a minimum of 16 feet for covers that are wider than 60 feet. (More than 60 feet often means a facility will be used for jumping.)

In addition to safety concerns, eave height plays a role in depth perception. Team ropers often prefer at least 18-foot eaves because a lower structure creates an optical illusion that can affect their performance outside.

Where to Locate
A number of factors are involved in choosing the optimum location for your arena, but topping the list are accessibility and drainage.

Trucks and heavy equipment will need access to the site during the construction process, and you’ll want to be able to bring in maintenance equipment as well. You’ll also want to position your arena so that it’s within reach of a water source for keeping the footing watered and a power source for your lighting system, if you install one. And, of course, you want the arena to be convenient to the barn, to your house, and for any visitors who will be dropping by.

Any arena can be compromised if water isn’t effectively channeled away from it, and when you add a covering, the runoff potential is compounded. If possible, choose a spot that sits higher than surrounding land so that water doesn’t flow down onto the arena.

Ground slope away from the perimeter of your arena (one foot for the first 10 feet surrounding it) will help you cope with water running off the roof or being diverted via gutters and downspouts. The location you choose and how the site is engineered can make a big difference in whether you’re constantly fighting the drainage battle or sitting high and dry.

Arena Buzzwords

Materials and engineering vary from one manufacturer to the next, so it helps to be acquainted with some of the features you’re likely to encounter. Here are a few of the benefits touted by various arena builders.

Hot dipped galvanized steel. Where a steel framework is used, many manufacturers rely on metal that’s been dipped in molten galvanizing vats, which offers corrosion protection. Steel trusses that are galvanized after being constructed will have the best rust resistance because the welds will be protected too.

Fabric covering. You’ll run into an assortment of fabric covering materials, including polyethylene and PVC. Fabric allows natural light into the arena, reducing lighting costs and eliminating shadows. It can also soften sound and moderate both hot and cold temperatures. Characteristics to consider include translucence, flame retardance, UV protection, waterproofing, strength-to-weight ratio, durability, and the attachment system.

Tensioned membrane products are designed with a system for keeping fabric stretched tightly across the building structure. Be sure to check the warranties carefully and investigate what’s involved in repairing any damage

Steel roofing. Various grades of steel are available for covering your arena. Warranties offered for fading and rust will help you determine the quality of the panels, their paint, and their coating. Most manufacturers now offer a rainbow of color options, and some even do color matching.

You’ll want to consider other aspects of where your arena should go, including prevailing winds (best case: a location that takes advantage of cooling summer breezes but offers protection from harsh winter conditions). The appearance of your arena – how well it complements your landscape and other buildings – will also be a significant concern.

Choosing the Footing
An advantage to covering your arena is that you’re likely to face fewer problems with the footing you install. In an outdoor ring, you may have to deal with pounding rain and high winds that can shift, wash away, and degrade footing; ultraviolet rays that break down some materials; and harsher temperature extremes, all of which shorten the useful life of footing and require extra maintenance.

Not only will your footing last longer, but with the usual routine attention, it should offer a safe, consistent riding surface. You may even be able to invest in a more costly footing or additive, since it will last longer under cover.

However, you’ll still need to keep your arena sufficiently watered and groomed. Dust can be problematic even if your arena is open on the sides and has roof ventilation. Make sure your arena is designed to allow your tractor or other maintenance equipment to get in and out easily.

Covering Options
When you start investigating covered-arena offerings, you’ll find a host of design choices, including size, shape, materials, and optional touches such as cupolas, stabling, and viewing areas. The most prevalent models use a clear-span framework (no interior posts to run into) and either fabric or steel covering.

For example, Cover-All Building Systems’ Legend and TITAN product lines consist of arched trusses covered with polyethylene fabric. Morton Buildings uses wooden trusses and steel covering. And StructureLogic offers a framework of steel tubing and various densities of fabric covering.

Most manufacturers will work with you on a customized facility if their standard specifications aren’t suitable. Our chart on page 21 lists a few of the most prominent manufacturers and the key features of the products they offer.

What About Pricing?
Construction costs vary tremendously from one building to another, depending on the location (influenced by site soil considerations, load requirements, and climate concerns), size, style, and features. Not only that, prices can fluctuate considerably depending on the cost of materials and shipping, and changes in regulations – such as new wind-load requirements that have come into play following several years of hurricane damage in the South.

As a result, many manufacturers, while happy to work with customers on costing out their specific needs, are reluctant to offer any general estimates. Nevertheless, they’re quick to point to relative cost savings, such as the advantages of transporting and building with lighter materials and the quick and simple construction techniques compared to traditional types of construction.

Dennis Marion of Innovative Equine Systems put things in perspective by contrasting the cost of building a residence (which varies by region but typically begins around $100 per square foot) to putting up an arena, which he says can be done for around $10 a square foot.

Other manufacturers offered rough estimates that fell between $9 per square foot and $18 per square foot. If you use those figures as a ballpark guideline, you can assume that for a 72′ x 100′ structure, you might expect to pay from $65,000 to $130,000.

Of course, the price tag climbs if you add features like lighting systems and stabling. It’s important to speak with a reputable builder in your area, as well as representatives from various arena manufacturers, to get a realistic picture of what it will cost you to build a facility that works for your particular situation.