So your spring project is to finally build that arena you've dreamed about since you bought your place. As you daydream, you think about all the great practice runs you'll get in right out your back door, all the fun you'll have with your friends and the world champion roper you'll turn your son or daughter into right out in that arena.
While that's why you rope, building an arena isn't as easy as just leveling off a spot and putting panels up. There's more to it than that. For all those dreams to come true, the arena has to be right. You want your friends to come over to rope? There's more to it than supplying the beer, they need to know they're going to have a setup in which they can advance their game. You want your kids to be great? Their experience will have to be safe for them to develop any passion. You want to get better? You can't have your horse sore or crippled from a bad set up.
Since we're going to talk about building an arena the right way, from the ground up, naturally it begins there, at the ground level.
Arena Working Products
One mistake owners make is not dragging their arena enough. Smoothing over hoof prints isn't enough. Because horses find their comfort two or three inches deep, the arena should be worked often and in different directions.
Lucas Metal Works' Ground Hog
(866) 689-8904 or www.lucasmetalworks.com
D.J. Reveal Co.'s Reveal 4-N-1
(937) 444-2609 or www.reveal4-n-1.com
Parma Company's Arena Groomer
(208) 722-5116 or www.parmacompany.com
Arena King Plows
(877) 751-7120 or www.arenakingplows.com
(877) 788-7253 or www.absoluteinnovations.com
As you select your arena site, you need to consider drainage. Place your arena somewhere that is already level, if possible, out of major drainage channels. If that's not a possibility, you'll need to create drainage channels around your arena-especially if you live in an area where gully washer rainstorms are common. While you want water out of the arena, you don't want it to take the footing with it. Moisture is best removed by percolating into the ground below the arena footing. A general rule of thumb is that for every inch of rain on an arena, it should take 24 hours for it to dissapate to a point where riding is safe again.
But for many ropers, that inch of rain is uncommon. Dry, dusty arenas are more common in much of the Western United States.
"Moisture is a key element to good quality footing," said Bob Kiser, of Kiser Arena Specialists. "I recommend between five and eight percent moisture content in your arena. It's really hard to figure out what that is, so here is a simple test: Take a handful of your footing and squeeze it together. Slowly release your fingers and if the material stays together, then you're on the right track. You see, moisture is part of that stability issue that I talked about earlier. When your footing gets dry, it gets slick and your horse's legs can easily go out from underneath it. It also adds the much-needed cushion. There is no magic to getting around water. You have to have it."
If you're not sure what kind of soil you're dealing with, Kiser has an all-level arena consulting business. From phone calls to soil analysis, he and his team can help get you started on the right track.
In general, ropers need footing that is three to four inches deep, that is stable. Pure sand is too loose, and just adding more doesn't create stability, it creates sore muscles and injury-prone horses from overexerting themselves in bad ground. If the ground is too shallow, it puts too much impact and concussion on horse's joints, if the ground is too wet, deep and sticky, it puts strain on muscles and tendons.
"With the right combinations of sand, clay and silt, a good roping arena will have both stability and cushion," Kiser said. "Of course this top material has to be on a good solid base. I don't recommend a crushed stone base because it is too hard, brittle and easy to damage. Rather, I like a base made out of the same materials as the top layer but with more clay and less sand so that it will compact but still have some give to it. It's much easier to maintain and better on the horses."
Portal Arena Manufacturers
(877) 777-2667 or www.amos-arenas.com
(800) 527-8616 or www.priefert.com
Quick Silver Arenas
(800) 657-1906 or www.quicksilverarenas.com
Red River Arenas
(800) 625-1900 or www.redriverarenas.com
(800) 929-7361 or www.rodeowest.com
(580) 276-4864 or www.swequine.com
The next thing to consider is whether the arena will be a permanent fixture. If you're thinking of selling one day and would like to take your arena with you when you move, there are plenty of portable arena manufacturers out there (see sidebar). These companies work with ropers every day and know what it takes to develop a great arena. Most of these companies also have packages in place to fit your exact needs. With freight costs, it's a great idea to call around to make sure you're getting the best deal.
If you're looking for something that will be in one place forever, your options open up quite a bit. Continuous fencing is a good option because it's sturdy, semi-portable, and less labor intensive than say, raw pipe, once it's on your property. If you're considering pipe, you'll still have many decisions to make. Used pipe is cheaper, but is corroded and worn considerably-from the inside out where it's impossible for the naked eye to inspect-before the oil field will reject it. With used pipe, it's nearly impossible to know what you're getting and that should factor into your decision-making.
If new pipe is for you, there is less risk, but there is still some. Schedule 40 pipe, for instance, is supposed to be 0.154 of an inch thick. However, it can be as small as 0.1355 of an inch. Pipe dealers buy pipe by the pound, so they are looking for the cheapest schedule 40 pipe. Then, they sell it by the foot, so as long as it's within that range, it can be labeled schedule 40 even though the wall is 12 percent thinner in some cases.
There is one company, GoBob Pipe and Steel Sales in Oklahoma, that has perhaps the most comprehensive and up-front pipe selection anywhere. Further, they offer continuous fencing and a myriad of other livestock handling products. They can be reached at (877) 851-2365 or www.gobobpipe.com.
The next thing you'll want to decide is the layout of your arena. Most top ropers agree that bigger is better, and it gives them options when practicing. The most common arena layout is a 150' by 300' set up. Your box location will, of course, depend on the width of the arena. In general, most recommend a return alley to be no wider than 10'.
When it comes to extras in a roping arena, the sky is the limit. There are some things to consider, however, that will make life easier. For the lead-up alley, making the lower half more narrow than the top half will keep your steers from turning around (see diagram 3 on page 55), yet keep the steers from banging their horns on every post as they load. Butt bars are also nice to keep the steers from backing up. Also, if you use a dog to keep cattle loaded, make sure there's enough clearance under the bottom rail to give him the opportunity to nip at the steer's heels safely.
If you rope in various setups, think about an adjustable box depth. This gives you the opportunity for specific practice. If it's an outdoor arena, covered boxes are an option. Not only does it give a nice, shady spot for your horse to rest, it keeps rain from puddling in the low spots in the corner.
You will also want to make sure there is easy water and electrical access. For one, you don't want to have to haul or hose water a long distance for the steers or an occasional horse that might be there. And, if you ever use an electrical chute, you wouldn't want extension cords criss-crossing your place.
Consider doing everything you can to create a horseback-friendly arena. Gate latches you don't have to bend over for to an elevated stripping chute are two of the common ways. Horseback access to the lead-up alley is also worth considering-especially if you have a chute that's easily operated from horseback. That way, even the chute help doesn't have to be afoot.
Finally, if there will ever be barrels run in your arena, consider installing gates to close off the boxes-even if it's just your daughter practicing, being able to shut the boxes off from the rest of the arena will make it safer.