Most Common Mistakes When Building An Outdoor Equestrian Arena

There are many common mistakes that can be easily avoided when building an equestrian arena. North America’s premier equestrian footing experts, Martin Collins USA, set out the major pitfalls that can arise when either building or getting an arena built, and how to avoid them.

1. Using the Wrong Quantity or Quality of Stone

You should always be aware of the type of materials required for you build and what you are being supplied with.

For the base layer (stone drainage layer), it is vital that clean, hard, angular stone is used.

Clean means the stone has been washed so stone dust/fine soil is not washed straight in to your drains, causing reduced flow of surplus water. We recommend granite or a hard limestone (not soft limestone).

The stone layer should be 5” (150mm) compacted depth when laid, ideally the stone layer should extend 50cm beyond the fence/kick boards so the perimeter drain is laid outside the school.

Be cautious if your contractor does not specify the grade/quantity or depth of the materials being laid. Clearly if less stone is used, it will be cheaper and some contractors will reduce the specification and price in order to win the work.

Hard means the stones are frost resistant, i.e., will not break down after successive winters, or fracture due to the weight of maintenance machinery.

The quarry can provide “technical data sheets” if in any doubt. A good test–take two stones and bang them together, they should not dust, crack or break–if they do, they are not frost resistant.

Angular stones must inter-link together, so they need to be of similar size, typically 1 3/4″ to 2 3/4″. (If the stone is rounded, it will never “knit” together, so the surface will never be correctly compacted if the base layer moves).

2. Inadequate Drainage

  • There should be at least one drain across the school and one on the perimeter, on all sides
  • If the ground is heavy clay, additional cross drains should be installed and the diameter of the exterior drains increased
  • It is important that the drain runs have a consistent fall
  • If the drainage runs (trenches) are up and down (like a dogs hind leg), do not lay the pipe with pea shingle (fine small pebbles, that are “hard”)
  • The tops of all the trenches should be covered with a fine grade (e.g. 4 oz) non-woven geotextile membrane which will allow the water to pass in to the drains, but prevent silt/sediment.
  • Avoid purchasing unwashed sand for the equestrian surface.

3. Weak Fencing Posts

Fencing posts should always be concreted in, as they need to support the retaining boards.

This combination should be strong enough to withstand the surface being packed against them and able to endure being struck by any maintenance machinery.

4. Building at the Wrong Time of Year/in the Wrong Conditions

The best time is during a dry period, preferably in the summer.

Clay in particular needs to be carefully managed, especially during earthworks, such as “cut and fill”, so “clay heave” does not occur. (This is most likely to occur when wet and under pressure, which causes it “bubble up.” This can move the stone layer and membranes, leading to contamination of the surface and poor drainage. Should this occur, remedial works will be required).

5. Incorrect Cut and Fill

Cut and Fill is the process of cutting in to a bank, and re-laying the material lower down the bank to create a “level formation” for your outdoor equine arena. The banks/slopes must be created correctly to support the new formation.

Top Tips from Martin Collins:

  • The recommended depth of stone is 5” (150mm), especially for difficult ground, such as heavy clay.
  • It is important to include drainage trenches on the outside of the arena. These external drains will stop the “run off” from adjacent paddocks–so this is especially important if an arena has been cut into the slope. They are also important because the outside track typically has the heaviest “foot fall.

To receive a free 25-page Footing Guide, please complete the contact form on the Martin Collins website. If you are planning to build an equine arena and would like advice or further information, visit You can also follow Martin Collins USA at and

Martin Collins Equine Surfaces (MCES) boasts over 2,000 arena installations at private farms, events, international shows and FEI World Cups in Europe. We are the experts on the beneficial effects of footing on equine soundness, setting the winning standard in horse footing. Martin Collins USA has already delivered and installed CLOPF fiber and MC Ecotrack sport horse arenas from coast to coast. We have a proven track record for quality, durability and performance and a client follow-up service that is second-to-none. Martin Collins can provide footing solutions on a variety of different levels, be it a small private ring or a large competition venue. We can consult to provide appropriate products and materials for those who prefer to “do it yourself” or can provide full construction services to undertake projects which range from the single horse owner to large commercial projects.






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