Making an Informed Decision: Riding Arena Styles, Pros and Cons of Each

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(PARADISE, PA) May 2023 — When people enter a riding arena, they naturally look up to view the soaring space above. Will they see steel girders, glue-laminated arches, or wood trusses? The factors that need to be taken into consideration for an equestrian facility include cost, size, and — perhaps surprisingly — noise.

Daniel Glick, Co-Founder and Co-Owner of B&D Builders, a seasoned custom builder with more than 20 years of experience in designing and building luxury residential and commercial equestrian facilities, discusses the primary pros and cons for three types of arenas.

Glue-Laminated Arch Arenas
For a sense of long-lasting grandeur, glue-laminated arch arenas have no rival. “Spectators and riders step inside, look up, and are immediately struck by how solid, heavy, and open those timber arches look and feel,” said Glick. Glue-laminated timber offers unique contours and a natural wood look while also providing heavy-duty structural strength.

While glue-laminated arches may not allow for quite the unobstructed span that steel girders can, they still accommodate surprisingly long spans. A 106-foot clear span is possible before a splice is required that would increase the cost. This often leaves plenty of space for all the action and spectators that most arenas would need to host.

Support beams are spaced 12–18 feet apart, which provides smaller window space than steel offers, but greater than a traditional pole barn. “In my experience, timber frame windows look so nice, people don’t mind the difference,” said Glick.

At roughly twice the cost of a comparably sized steel rafter arena, the main disadvantage to glue-laminated arch arenas is cost. However, the durability and longevity of this style of structure means it will house equestrian activities for generations to come.

Steel Arenas
The most prolific choice in arena design for equestrian sports lovers also comes in at entry-level cost — the steel riding arena. Given the strength of steel girding, this arena style offers the most flexibility in terms of size. Savvy designers take advantage of the longer rafters, wider purlin spacing, and wider bays that steel affords.

“For example, we have a project in the bid stage that includes steel rafters,” said Glick. “It has a 185-foot clear span with not one mid-span support in sight. Wood trusses or glue-laminated arches just can’t do that kind of span without at least one mid-span support or splice.” With bay spacing of 25–28 feet between frame columns, the steel option offers the widest unobstructed spacing for open air windows.

Even at today’s steel prices, this style is a lower-cost option compared to glue-laminated arch arenas. There are steel arena kits available everywhere online, and traveling contractors will put one up for you faster than a circus tent. Unfortunately, steel arena kits frequently use lower-grade materials and fabricated parts.

Even custom-sized steel arenas may use the same materials and fabrication methods. “They may look good and sturdy after assembly day,” said Glick, “but then the paint begins to flake, welds deteriorate, oxidation begins. Take great care when evaluating steel arena manufacturers.” Steel arenas are more prone to movement from heat expansion and contraction, so the sounds of groaning and creaking are common with this style. Timber riding arenas do not have this problem.

Pole Barn Arenas
The choice for generations of equine enthusiasts, the tried-and-true pole barn arena still has many advantages. They are readily available, require less site preparation, and offer a lower-cost option.

There are many pole barn kit manufacturers that generally feature standardized engineered roof trusses and painted steel siding. However, the buyer should be just as vigilant about material and component quality as they would with a steel arena kit. Engineered trusses also offer ample roosting spots for birds, which adds another layer of maintenance for consideration.

Pole barn riding arenas, on the other hand, hearken back to legacy and craftsmanship. “We don’t do as many custom pole barn arenas as we used to,” said Glick, “but when we do, we love to build them well.” The exterior of this type of arena is a blank canvas for the designer who wants to give it a beautiful look.

Up to 102-foot clear spans are possible with engineered trusses, and bays will generally be up to 96 inches wide. Unlike steel and glue-laminated arch arenas, pole barn arenas don’t require the initial expense of a reinforced poured concrete foundation. Support posts are buried directly in the ground. While this makes pole barn arenas easier and faster to put up, this also means anticipating potential ground movement.

In terms of cost, a custom-built pole barn arena will generally cost less than a custom-built steel arena of the same size.


ABOUT B&D BUILDERS
B&D Builders is a full-service custom builder with the expertise to bring new construction and remodeling projects to life. B&D Builders’ team of skilled designers and craftsmen have brought creativity and attention to detail to hundreds of projects across the U.S., including bank barns, equestrian arenas, event facilities, historic restorations, commercial properties, and luxury
homes. B&D relishes building a heritage structure that not only stands the test of time but brings the customer’s vision into full focus. For more than 20 years, B&D Builders projects have been Built Right or Not at All. For more information, please visit BandDBuilders.com.

Photography by Jana Bannon

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