By Howard J. Cormier, LSU AgCenter Southwest Regional Equine Agent
We recently reviewed tips on building a 50-foot round pen for horse training. The next logical step to consider is how to build a riding arena. The time you spend planning will be important later for the life of the structure.
First, where will you put a large item such as an arena? Regardless of the final size, you will need to allow for the flow of traffic, both automotive, tractors and farm implements, horse trailers, and livestock around the site. Assume that you will need to haul sand to build the footing, so plan for a large dump truck to enter and exit without tearing down a fence. Also, plan to get a tractor with some type of grooming tool in and out on a regular basis — every couple of days at least. If your gate and egress area is too small, expect frustration and maybe damage to the fence. Will roping calves be unloaded and loaded? What about unbroken horses, colts, or breeding mares? Do you need a side pen to funnel them into trailers?
As you consider the size and placement, consider the drainage. Flat ground is not the best, neither is turtle-backed land. Turtle-backed, or crowned, land that is higher in the middle will end up being flat after several years of grooming. In addition, the water will drain to the sides, where most of your riding might take place. Over time, the rain will carry the soil and sand from the crown to the sides, and it will be flat, which will not allow rains to drain off and dry quickly. The ideal spot is slightly higher on one side than the other to allow water to drain. It is true that the higher side will erode, and the lower side will get deeper over time, but that is still the best of both worlds, if you happen to have land that has a slight grade.
How big you build the pen depends on how big your budget is. The bigger the pen, the more cost in fencing and sand. You will need to add sand over time because it actually wears out and blows away. Try to make the pen big enough to be able to lope and run a horse without danger of falling in the corners. I would say 100 feet by 150 feet is a modest size for most applications. Bigger is better, if you can afford it. Again, it will depend on how much room you have.
Let’s talk about materials. You will need fence posts, which could be pipe or treated lumber, spaced about every 8 feet. Do not use landscape timbers. They will rot in a few years and need replacing. Four-by-four-inch treated posts are more expensive but will last much longer. If you can afford pipe, so much the better, but consider how you will attach the rest of the fencing. Can you weld, or can you afford someone to do that task for you. You can use corral panels, or cable, or even hog wire to form a barrier. Wood is pleasing to the eye, and you might need it for the top and mid-section. But unless you plan to use treated lumber, wood has limitations, such as cost, longevity and safety. In addition, if you keep horses in the arena at times, wood invites chewing, which leads to cribbing. That is a bad vice that comes from boredom.
How many gates will you have? Gates allow you to practice sidepassing, and opening and closing them, which improves the usefulness of your horse.
What about shade? Will you ride mostly in the late afternoons, after work? Trees close by will provide shade, but they might also develop roots that will make a horse stumble. Some trees, like sycamore, drop big leaves that clog up the tines on a harrow. Ideally, tall mature trees that are some distance away will provide late afternoon shade, without the negative effects. Trees also allow you tie a horse close by while you ride another.
Consider a viewing stand of some kind so a coach can sit and teach the kids or other adults. Consider some type of raised platform with a bench or a couple of lawn chairs so you can see over the fence. Five feet high is probably a good average. Less than that might promote jumping out of the pen when the pressure from inside gets too high. Too high is unnecessary and adds to the cost. Having electricity is a big plus because you can then plug in a PA system, camcorder or a box fan. A luxury? Yes, but a very practical one.
What about wind damage to walls? It is a disagreeable chore to try to straighten big sections of fencing after a storm. The more wall you put up, the more it will catch and be damaged by wind, especially hurricane force winds for a couple of days.
Last, but certainly not least, consider the top (lighting) and bottom (footing) needs. Can you afford to put up a few big lights or many smaller ones? You’ll need tall poles to maximize the reach of the lights and a source of electricity.
Sand is necessary to improve the footing. I suggest scraping the grass off before you add any sand. It will take less sand to cover the soil properly, and will improve traction and cushioning. Unless you add a lot of sand, it will still be slippery after a rain. You want to avoid disking or tilling deeply, as the sand will move deeper into the soil profile and seem to disappear if you work it too deeply. Work as often as necessary to keep grass from getting established. Try not to gouge the sand out of one area when working it because that will make a slick spot or a deep spot where the sand is moved, and could lead to tendon injuries.
Finally, plan on how you will work the arena. A four-wheeler, UTV or garden tractor might be adequate to keep the sand loose. The most important thing is to work it often and not let grass and weeds get established.
I hope that I have given you some ideas that will help you make smart decisions.
Finally, the bad news. If you do have an arena, that knocks out your excuse for not being able to ride and improve your horse. Oh well, I’m sure we can come up with some other good ones. Happy riding!
By Amelia Kent
I’ve been fortunate over the past month to travel on two very different trips, both of which provided insight to policy challenges and useful management practices I can use on our farm and in my advocacy efforts.
The first adventure was ten days in Europe with the Partners in Advocacy Leadership (PAL) program through the American Farm Bureau Federation. For my nine classmates and me, the majority of our time was devoted to an intensive case-study of Brexit, potential effects on agricultural trade, and the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity the United Kingdom has to create new farm policy from scratch. We started our meetings at the new, beautiful U.S. Embassy in London, where we met with U.S.Department of Agriculture staff members in efforts of learning more background of the Brexit referendum and the events leading up to that fateful vote in 2016. We went on to visit with the U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which is similar to our USDA, and learned about its bureaucratic and policy development challenges.
After a broad introduction to the bureaucratic dynamics at play, we traveled to Warwickshire and met with staff members of the National Farmers Union, which is an organization structured very similarly to the American Farm Bureau Federation. While in the country, we visited a vertically-integrated family farm, on which two generations of family members work alongside each other raising crops, caring for the cattle, grinding and bagging canola straw to sell as bedding, and manufacturing farm implements. The sheer creativity and innovation this family employs to remain a viable farming business is inspiring, to say the least! We also visited a produce processing plant where, in spite of still-dormant crops across Europe, they were packaging onions and radishes sourced from their company farms in Africa.
We then traveled to Brussels, Belgium where we received briefings from policy-makers, lobbyists and researchers working within the European Union, and heard a much more critical and skeptical account of the Brexit efforts. One of the policy-makers we visited is the Irish Minister of Agriculture. Given that Ireland is already 102% self-sufficient, one of their main concerns with potential Brexit ramifications is that they become 116% self-sufficient, and in turn have to find a new market for more than 230,000 tons of agricultural products that are currently exported to the U.K..
While in Belgium, we were fortunate to visit with Bayer researchers and tour one of its Bayer ForwardFarms on which farmers and staff members work together to implement sustainable management practices and technologies to stay ahead of Europe’s ever-tightening regulations.
While my trip to Europe focused primarily on policy development, the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation Livestock Advisory Committee’s Beef Tour to Oklahoma was a great opportunity for the nearly 50 participants, including my husband and me, to study management. One of the more notable tours was of the Noble Research Institute where the staff performs research geared toward making farmers and ranchers more profitable, while focusing on soil and herd health. The work we saw at Noble was similar to work being done on the Bayer FowardFarm in Belgium. However, rather than being driven by increased social skepticism and ever-increasing regulations, the Noble Research Insitute’s work focused on continuing innovation. One of those innovations we learned about was the Integrity Beef Program. Noble works with a group of farmers and ranchers across multiple states with similar production techniques to collaborate for enhanced marketing abilities through verified sales and pooling resources on load lots.
While on the trip, we also visited Oklahoma Steel and Wire, Express Ranches, Pfeiffer Angus Ranch, and the Pjesky stocker operation. Ryan and Hope Pjesky provided vast insight for both
my husband and me, relative to our own stocker cattle and my advocacy efforts. Hope was a
member of PAL Class 3. I am currently a member of PAL Class 9, so we had lots to discuss. Ryan focuses on mitigating the risk of the cattle market through continued buying and selling of yearling cattle throughout the year. That philosophy of risk management is an approach we’re working to implement on our own farm.
Oklahoma Steel and Wire is a storybook tale of family determination and creation. It's a third generation family business. There are employees working there today who started with the business when it started in 1978. Because turning scrap iron into wire and wire panels is such a specialized task, those employees had to create some of the machines they still use today.
We also took quick tours of Oklahoma State University’s Purebred Research Farm, Feedlot Research Station and Range Cow Research Station. All were inspiring to the younger generation of cattlemen on the trip interested in careers in the beef industry at a time in which it’s difficult for those under 35 to find their path within agriculture. We did include some fun stops on this tour, including the Oklahoma City National Stockyards, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and the Fort Worth Stockyards.
In a time in which farmers must be innovative to continue to be viable, trips like the recent Beef Tour to Oklahoma are great resources for those striving to improve management. In a similar political environment where agrarians represent less than 2% of the democratic vote, our experience learning about Brexit, and the resulting policy and trade concerns, is proving to be insightful and helpful to our group as we develop our advocacy skills.
Trips like these can give you ideas so you can make changes on and off the farm. So, if you have the opportunity to travel and learn, take it.
Amelia Kent and her husband, Russell, raise beef cattle and hay in East Feliciana Parish. Amelia is a past chair of Louisiana’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, is currently a member of the - Partners in Advocacy Leadership program with AFBF, and serves on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. Find them on Facebook at Kent Farms; or on Instagram and Twitter @kentfarms_la.