The exercises you’re asked to perform with your horse in a dressage test are designed to show how supple and “on the aids” your horse is, so accurately riding the figures is essential if you’re to receive the highest marks.
To enable you to practice accurate riding you’ll need to set up your home arena correctly. And if you decide to run a small competition at your yard, you’ll need an accurately measured arena too.
Fortunately, that’s not as tricky as it sounds, and you won’t need lots of expensive equipment to do it.
Here’s how to set up a dressage arena.
What you’ll need:
Before you begin setting up your arena, you’ll need to have the following items on hand:
- Four stakes
- Arena fencing or boards (plastic guttering works well for this)
- Arena letters
- Two 60-meter or 40-meter measuring tape (depending on the length of the arena you require)
- Two 20-meter measuring tapes
- Arena diagrams (see below)
- A willing helper! (optional, but beneficial)
20×40 short arena dimensions
20×60 long arena dimensions
How to do it:
Step 1 – Choose a location for the arena
Choose a suitable space for the size of arena you require.
If you are building your arena on grass ensure the ground is flat and even. Walk the area you’ve chosen to make sure that there are no holes or other obstructions such as hidden rocks. Try to find a patch that doesn’t get waterlogged during wet weather.
Checking the area is vital for safety and also ensures that you won’t need to move the arena once you’ve set it up.
If you’re setting up the arena for a competition, you’ll need either a judge’s box or space for the judge’s car. The short side of the arena that’s closest to the judge must, therefore, be between three and five meters away from the judge’s car or box. Take care that the judge will not be sitting facing into the sun.
The opposite short side must allow enough space for the competitors to turn and get their horses straight before entering down the centerline at “A.”
Step 2 – Set up the first two corners
Use your 1st Stake to set up your first corner (between “C” and “M”). Establish a 90-degree angle in the corner. You can use a square piece of card or a set square to measure it and ensure that the corner is accurate.
Measure 15-meters of the first long side (where “M” will be), using one of your 60-meter/40-meter measuring tapes. Mark the end of the 15-meter line with a Temporary Stake.
Now, take a 20-meter measuring tape and mark out the short side of the arena, where “C” will be located. The short side should measure 20 meters. Mark the end of the short side with your 2nd Stake.
You’ll know when the 90-degree angle is accurate when you can connect these points with a hypotenuse of 25-meters. Check that the first and second measurements are still 15 and 20 meters respectively.
The 2nd Stake marks your first 20-meter short side and should be left in place because this now indicates the second corner of the arena’s short side.
Step 3 – Set up the final two corners
Now you’re going to mark out the first full long side of your arena, where “M” and “F” will be.
From the 1st Stake, (the “C”/”M” corner) measure 60 or 40 meters to the other corner on the same long side. The length will depend on whether you want a short or long arena.
When the tape is taut, you have an approximate location for your corner. Check that your measurements are correct by measuring the distance from the new corner to the second corner (where your 2nd stake is).
You’ll know when your measurement is correct when you get the following:
- Large arena diagonal length: 63.25 meters
- Small arena diagonal length: 44.72 meters
Now, move the Temporary Stake to the end of this long side. This then becomes the 3rd Stake and marks the third corner (between “A” and “F”).
Lastly, measure 20-meters from your third corner (where “C” will be) and measure 60 0r 40 meters from your second corner. The final corner is situated where these two measuring tapes meet.
When you’ve located this point, mark the final corner (between “A” and “K”) with your 4th Stake.
Now, you have the outline of your arena with accurate short and long sides and four exact square corners.
Step 4 – Set up the boards and letters
With your measuring tapes still in place between the stakes, place your boards to connect the stakes, beginning with the corners. Remember to leave an opening in the center of the short side at the “A” end of the arena to allow horses to enter down the center line.
As you set out the boards, keep checking that the distance between the long sides of the arena is consistently 20 meters and that the length of the arena is consistently 40 or 60 meters.
When you have all your boards set up, measure the diagonal lines again to confirm that they are still 63.25 meters for a long arena or 44.72 meters for a short arena.
Finally, set out your arena letters. Use the arena diagrams above to make sure that the letters are set out in the correct place. You should leave six meters from the short sides to “H,” “M,” “F,” and “K.” The other letters should have 12 or 14 meters between them, depending on whether you’re setting out a long or short arena.
Finish off by marking the precise location of each letter on your boards. That will help competitors and judges to determine their position with more accuracy.
You can set out your own short or long dressage arena by following the instructions given above.
If you need to assemble a dressage arena regularly for a riding club or affiliated event, you may find it beneficial to buy a purpose-designed measuring tape that has the letter locations and arena dimensions already marked on it.
If you’ve set out your own dressage arena, share your tips with us in the comments box below.
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