Size & Scale
When designing, I’m often concerned about maintaining proper scale and proportion. In equestrian design, arenas in particular pose a challenge simply because they are such large structures. An arena is never small, but since different riding styles determine the amount of space required, it’s important to first understand how much space you need. Once you gauge the room necessary to ride, you may consider some of the following elements to design a proportionate and functional arena.
Lower the Stakes
Arenas of all sizes benefit by lowering the structure within the site. Push the structure into the ground and the visual height is greatly reduced. Typically, I recommend lowering the arena four to five feet into the ground. That way you can create an observation area on one or more sides, that has visibility over a kick wall or fence, with an on-grade entrance from the exterior. The “bird’s eye view” observation area is excellent for spectators and the lowered grade takes full advantage of the site without increasing the structure’s bulk.
If there are several facilities on your site, carefully placing the arena amongst the facilities you have—or the ones you plan to build—can help to break up the arena’s large scale. The slope of the roof is often overlooked in prefabricated arenas; often too-low roofs of these structures offer only a massive, box-like look. If, however, the roof is sloped at five in 12 or greater, the arena can appear smaller and fit more naturally into the landscape. Sometimes you’ll run into zoning or code restrictions with height, so lowering the arena into the ground can literally give you more working room.
Covered vs. Enclosed
Geographic location is everything when considering an enclosed, covered, or open arena. An enclosed arena is probably necessary in cold or windy climates. Roll-up garage doors with translucent or clear panels on all sides of the arena can provide an indoor-to-outdoor feel; just open it up when the weather permits or, alternatively, close it up during inclement weather.
We try to take advantage of natural light in all of our designs—from equestrian to residential—because natural light really can’t be beat. A continuous ridge skylight is the most effective method to achieve this, and the technique also increases natural ventilation within the arena. Operable louvers can further contribute to natural light and ventilation while maintaining control as you adjust them accordingly. Any glazing used should be translucent to avoid creating shadows that might confuse a horse. While a large skylight is a more expensive option, various materials can reduce its cost. A naturally lit arena doesn’t rely on electric lights during the day, which is another bonus for horses and riders.