The indoor dream: What to consider if you’re thinking of creating an indoor arena *H&H Plus*

  • As summer ends, our thoughts turn to coping with whatever wintry weather is in store. Hannah Lemieux finds out what you need to consider if investing in an indoor school

    Every rider will have most likely dreamt about access to an indoor arena at some point. Whether it is during the heat of high summer or the lashings of rain and unbearable cold of the winter, an indoor arena will be on many riders’ wishlists.

    Should this dream become a reality, deciding where to start with constructing an indoor arena can be a minefield of information – where to put it, installation of the correct base and drainage, and, of course, what surface to put down.

    If you have an existing building that you think would make a perfect indoor school, the best place to start is by contacting your local council and establishing if and what planning permission is required; then you can move on to the practicalities.

    “If the building has a good, hard and level floor already, for example heavily compacted dirt or a concrete floor, a surface can be laid straight on to it. We usually have to do some internal levelling anyway, and in the past we have dropped an existing floor to provide more height above the surface,” says Linda Wright, the co-directer of Charles Britton Equestrian Construction, and Charles’ partner.

    The company, which has built up a large portfolio over the past 41 years, converted an agricultural building into an indoor work area for Olympic gold medal-winning showjumper Nick Skelton.

    “Planning consent is required when there is a change of use,” she adds. “Similarly, if you are wanting to add a roof on to an outdoor arena, this is achievable but permission is needed.

    “If you are putting a roof on an uncoated surface [without a wax coating], it is necessary to introduce a means of watering. Surface water accumulated by the roof will need to be dealt with, however, and this could be captured and used to water the surface with.”

    If starting from scratch with an indoor school, what is the most important aspect to consider after planning permission?

    Linda references giving yourself enough time and the importance of the groundworks as top of the essentials list.

    “The groundworks involved in an indoor arena are different to an outdoor because the foundations must properly support the steel or a glulam [laminated] timber portal frame. The base structure must be supportive but, unlike an outdoor arena, it is not necessary to be free-draining,” adds Linda. “You also need to think about if there is a sufficient power supply or if a new supply is needed.”

    With the additional cost of the building, roofing, delivery of materials, erection and lighting, it is no surprise that an indoor arena will cost considerably more than an outdoor arena. However, in the long run, having an indoor arena can be more beneficial. Not being exposed to bad weather conditions means that surfaces indoors can last that bit longer. So while not a cheap option, an indoor arena is arguably more convenient, especially in our unpredictable climate.

    Individual needs

    What surface to put down in your new indoor arena can present another hurdle. Approaching a specialist surfacing company and asking for advice based on your individual needs is the best way to decipher what is best for you and your budget.

    Martin Collins innovated the concept of the wax-coated surface around 40 years ago, having founded his eponymous arena surface company. The business is responsible for surfacing multiple top competition venues, including the London International Horse Show at Olympia.

    “A wax-coated surface is better suited for an indoor arena with no irrigation required, and it is easier to maintain. If you opt for a sand and fibre surface it would need an irrigation system in place,” explains Martin’s son Nicholas Collins, director of the Martin Collins Group.

    “You have to consider potential dust and airflow in an indoor arena, as they require good ventilation – a wax-coated surface is much cleaner.

    “People are guided by budget, but regardless of what surface you choose, the base underneath it is very important and needs to be laser levelled. In an indoor arena, the base doesn’t need to drain, therefore we recommend an MOT type one or similar with a blind-off layer – compacted and well rolled to provide a solid foundation.”

    The Martin Collins Group offers clients two distinct surfaces, the Ecotrack and Activ-Track. Both are dust-free, do not require irrigation and can be installed indoors or outdoors.

    Described as “the superior arena surface for show venues and professional riders” by the company, Ecotrack is a blend of mixed fibres, high-grade industrial washed silica sand and PVC granules, blended with a wax coating and designed with the competition horse in mind.

    The Activ-Track surface is the more affordable option and is suitable for all disciplines. It is not designed for heavy use like the Ecotrack, but instead for the smaller professional yard or rider wanting to enjoy all the benefits of a wax-coated surface.

    ‘Renewed moisture and bounce’

    The industry of arena surfaces is forever evolving, and if a full wax surface is not within your budget, Equimulsion – where a wax coating is incorporated with an existing surface – could be a viable option.

    “Equimulsion can be used as a repair product, sprayed and mixed into a tired waxed or non-waxed surface,” says Colin Ellison, the general manager at Combi-Ride. “It gives a surface renewed moisture and bounce with a consistent stable footing. It can also be mixed with a dry surface to create an entirely new waxed surface. We can supply this from £6.90 plus VAT per square metre – if necessary we can test how much wax a surface already contains, to advise the quantity of Equimulsion required, and this saves the expense of having to replace the whole surface.

    Combi-Ride also offers a “dual stabiliser”, which is a combination of nylon-based polymer fibres and fine rubber crumb.

    “When the dual stabiliser is combined with silica sand, a consistent and stable riding surface is created, to provide the support you and your horse require,” adds Colin.

    If choosing a non-waxed sand-and-fibre surface, a water irrigation system could be required to keep the surface at its optimum. Combi-Ride can install a sub-surface irrigation system. The “leaky pipe system” comprises many pipes releasing water automatically into the sand surface – you can then control how much water is released.

    While creating your own indoor arena may initially feel overwhelming, the best first step is to approach an arena and surfacing company that can explain the options based on your budget and help bring your dream indoor arena to fruition.

    An indoor transformation

    When Anfisa Ershova purchased an old riding school six years ago, she went about not only transforming the stables but also the existing indoor arena with the help of local builders.

    “First of all we had to strip the asbestos cladding on the indoor arena and dispose of that safely, then remove the dirt that was being used as a surface,” explains Anfisa, who runs a livery yard in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, and owns dressage horses.

    “We sandblasted the frame and painted it, then used perforated cladding for the walls and insulated roof panels. I am really proud of the new cladding because it keeps it cool while also allowing plenty of airflow. We sourced curved plastic kickboards, adding an Andrews Bowen Prowax surface and Equestrian Reflections mirrors.”

    Anfisa was hoping to keep the existing roof before it became apparent it would need to be replaced. It was the most costly addition, at £50,000 including the lighting. The surface set her back around £30,000 and the kickboards were £15,000.

    The transformation took five months to complete and Anfisa is delighted with the outcome, despite having to stretch her budget because of the roof.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 3 September 2020