Everything you need to know about building a sandschool at home

An outdoor arena can be professionally constructed for “less per square metre than the average living room carpet”, according to Linda Wright of Charles Britton Equestrian Construction.

“The cost will vary according to the construction methods, surface material and the area and characteristics of your site, such as access and amount of levelling required.”

Linda adds, “A sensible budget for a well built, fully drained and fenced 20x40m arena with a good but economical surface material has to be at least £13,000, plus VAT.

“Any less and you can’t possibly be buying the right quality and quantity of materials or level of expertise.”

Types of Surfaces

  • Wood chips: Must be hard wood. Economical, it will eventually decompose and need replacing.
  • Sand: Must be good quality silica sand. It can freeze in winter and dry out in summer, so will require watering or a synthetic top layer.
  • Synthetic: PVC or plastic granules. Can be used alone, as a mix or as a top layer on sand. A popular and economical choice.
  • Rubber: Costs more but gives a springier ride. Chopped rubber surfaces are mainly scrap products, while pure rubber surfaces are manufacturing off-cuts.
  • Complete: Coated materials consisting of mixtures of sand, PVC, rubber chippings and fibres coatedin petroleum jelly, bitumen, wax or oil. They’re expensive but possibly the closest to all-weather surfaces available.

There are advantages and disadvantages to every surface, so get samples, ask about maintenance and durability, and ride on as many surfaces as possible to see which you prefer.

Choosing a supplier

An all-weather arena is a major project and not for the faint-hearted. An arena construction specialist could take two weeks to finish the job (depending on the weather), while an amateur may take months.

You can find arena construction specialists in the classified ads section of Horse & Hound or via the Internet. Choosing a reputable company with a proven track record is essential.

Robert Brazil from Colbrook Management says his company gets a lot of work rectifying mistakes made by other contractors.

“There are no official regulations about arena construction so people must be very careful,” he says. “I advise people to do their homework: visit existing arenas in their area, talk to previous customers and find out how their arena has stood up to use.

“Always ask about the guarantee (we give five years) and the quantities and quality of materials. The quality of silica sand used underneath the surface must be good to assist drainage. We take ours from one quarry so it is always a consistent quality.”

Stages of construction

  • Topsoil is removed and the area levelled and slightly sloped.
  • Drainage channels are dug. No matter how good the surface, it will never be a satisfactory arena if it has poor drainage.
  • A geo-textile membrane is spread and overlapped into the drainage channels. This provides a layer between the excavated earth and the draining base.
  • Pipes are placed into the drainage channels and connected up.
  • A draining base such as limestone or granite is used. Poor quality stone, eg tarmac scalpings, can clog up the drainagesystem.
  • A membrane may be placed on top of the stone or the top layer is packed down with something like basalt grit. Membranes are not suitable for all surfaces and can rip and start to lift if incorrectly applied.
  • Four inches of topsurface is applied.

Planning ahead

You will need to check with your local authority to see whether planning permission is required for an arena.

“It’s very rarely denied although the authorities may ask you to use a certain surface,” says Lynda Jackson of Jackson Arenas. “They also like to know about drainage and where the water will go. Consider if you may later want floodlights, particularly if houses are nearby.”

Some specialist companies will carryout site visits to help you choose the best location for your arena.

“Many people think the best site for their school is on a useless piece of ground but without good access for the machinery involved, haulage costs can be greatly increased,” adds Lynda.

“Other factors, such as whether you want fencing and the amount of slope on the field can also affect costs. An arena can be built at any time, ground conditions and weather permitting

Read more about building stables and arenas: