Building an Indoor Riding Arena? First, Do a Needs-Analysis

Horses for Clean Water’s Alayne Blickle explains how she weighed the need for an indoor arena against the cost.

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Building an Indoor Riding Arena? First, Do a Needs-Analysis
Is an indoor arena in your future? A needs analysis can help you weigh the need for an indoor arena against the cost. | Photo: Alayne Blickle
At Sweet Pepper Ranch, we’re building an indoor arena. While it’s very exciting, we didn’t take making the “go-ahead” decision lightly. It required a lot of budgeting and some tough decision-making.

Maybe like us, building an indoor arena is something you’ve dreamed about for a while. If so, let’s step back a moment and look at some of the preconstruction considerations on a horse property that go into the final decision to build, specifically building an indoor arena.

We initially did a needs analysis. For years we’ve struggled with winter riding because we’ve only had an outdoor arena and/or access to trails. Even in our sunny southwestern Idaho climate, we experience about eight solid weeks when we can’t use our outdoor arena because it’s either too frozen or too wet. Beyond that, the shoulder season weather is also questionable.

All in all, we end up hauling to indoor arenas for three to four months each year and paying a per horse haul-in fee. If roads are in poor condition or it’s cold and dark, we’re unlikely to haul out and ride. When temperatures soar in the summer, a roof would offer welcomed relief from the baking sun. Combined, these frustrations make it hard to get ready to show in the spring and limit the clients my husband, Matt, can handle in training or the lessons he can teach. I’m sure many of you share in these same frustrations.

So, what about cost effectiveness? We can pay a lot of haul-in fees before it adds up to the cost of building an indoor arena. Our needs-analysis determined that the added business for Matt might help offset the cost a bit. But what other business strategies should you consider to recover costs for building?

Horses for Clean Water recently held a farm tour at Teri Herrera’s Misfit Farm, in Redmond, Washington. Misfit Farm is a commercial boarding facility that caters to the local dressage community, and Terri is a real estate broker who specializes in equestrian properties. Over the years she’s seen what works, what doesn’t work, and everything in between.

“When we don’t do a market analysis before building, that’s when we can end up getting in trouble,” Teri says.

If you plan to build a structure as part of a commercial equestrian business, Herrera suggests surveying your community to look at similar services so you keep in-line with prices, interests, and needs. If you are opening your arena to the public, consider things such as insurance, public parking, bathrooms, accessibility, and trailer storage for boarders.

At Misfit Farm, Teri designed her facilities for a high-end dressage community, and she made cost-effectiveness a priority. She looked at layout in terms of client use and needs, designed facilities with chore-efficiency in mind (such as stalls close to compost bins), used reclaimed materials from nearby structures being demolished, and incorporated materials (trees/lumber) sourced off her own land.

“Look at all potential sources of income for your property,” Teri says. “We have boarders, sell eggs and meat birds, joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to sell produce, offer trailer storage, and hope to someday also do Airbnb, as well as sell honey.”

At Sweet Pepper Ranch, our key income sources are our horse motel and Airbnb. Plus, we grow several tons of grass hay each year and are able to graze our horses on our pastures all summer. We’ve determined our needs analysis might just pencil out!

The saying, “if you build it they will come,” might hold true at times, but you will be way ahead of the game if you first do a cost-benefit analysis. Stay tuned for updates on Sweet Pepper Ranch’s indoor arena project, and good luck in planning your own horsey projects!


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Written by:

Alayne Blickle, a lifelong equestrian and ranch riding competitor, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award-winning, internationally acclaimed environmental education program for horse owners. Well-known for her enthusiastic, down-to-earth approach, Blickle is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners since 1990 teaching manure composting, pasture management, mud and dust control, water conservation, chemical use reduction, firewise, and wildlife enhancement. She teaches and travels North America and writes for horse publications. Blickle and her husband raise and train their mustangs and quarter horses at their eco-sensitive guest ranch, Sweet Pepper Ranch, in sunny Nampa, Idaho.

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