Alternative Arena Surfaces

There are 3 most common types of arena surfaces and many of you would have ridden on some if not all at some stage, sand, rubber, and woodchip. They all have different benefits and limitations, and it is important to do your research before deciding which one would suit you and what discipline you are doing best. Regardless of what surface you choose a well-constructed arena will have three layers, the top layer, the subsurface, and the all-important base.  

There are many things to consider when deciding to have an arena constructed such as  

  • Cost – some surfaces cost more than others 
  • Location on your property 
  • Weather conditions where you live 
  • Drainage and type of soil you have 
  • Type of use- whether it will be for dressage, jumping or reining, and how much use it will get 
  • Maintenance – level required and the amount of time it will take each week to look after 
  • Life span of the surface 

Let’s have a look at some of the features of the three different surfaces  

Sand (Silica sand) 

  • Most traditional surface 
  • Makes an ideal surface when mixed with rubber 
  • Cheapest to construct 
  • Sand gets finer over time, especially with a lot of use, if sand is too fine the horse can sink too deep and drag through the sand instead of working on top of the sand 
  • Does dry out quickly when wet, however, can get dusty if too dry 
  • Alternative depths for different disciplines so it’s important to get the correct depth for what discipline you are riding 
  • Will last approximately 5 years before sand starts to thin depending on usage 


  • Less maintenance 
  • Nice springy, cushioned surface 
  • Doesn’t get waterlogged or dry out 
  • Dust-free and doesn’t blow away in strong winds if dry 
  • Mixes well with sand 
  • Life expectancy of up to 20 years 
  • Does requires a sand base 
  • Can get hot in summer 
  • Not biodegradable so can be expensive to get rid off 
  • If made from recycled material, the mix may contain things such as glues, etc 

Wood Chip 

  • Eco Friendly (if not treated timber) 
  • Doesn’t blow away during high wind 
  • Absorbs water but with too much rain or poor drainage can become waterlogged 
  • Be sure to check it’s not recycled timber this can have nails and or wire from previous uses 
  • Using cheaper timber means it will break down quicker than a better quality 
  • If chips are too large, they don’t settle well if too small they may blow away 
  • Becomes slippery when dry and can need watering 
  • Least durable and may need replacing in 4-10 years 

Building an arena is a big investment but will provide you will a lifetime of fun. Hopefully, some of these points will help you decide which arena will be best for you. As with any project of this size, it is always best to seek the opinion of a professional, and don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations from people you know who may have already been down this path, research can be your best friend.  


Written by Selena P.  


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