From Endurance to Dressage
While I don't have a true dressage court, I will never complain about my riding space. The ranch where my boys live is on the river which means we have fabulously sandy footing with some extras. When this arena was built, the ranch owners created a level area, and then brought in a DG top layer that is firm without being hard packed. To make it even better, every other year or so, she applies ArenaKleen, a product that virtually eliminates dust.
I use round fence poles, two by fours, PVC pipe, and water jugs to create my court. The arena is wider than the 20-meters we need, but short 10-meters making it a 20- x 50-meter court. My corners are accurate, but the rest of the letters on each long side are separated by 9.5 meters instead of 12. It's a bit short, but for everyday riding, it works well. The one thing we don't get to do too often though is drag it. Removing all of the poles and letters is just too much work for frequent dragging, but with only three riders and firm footing, it really doesn't need it more than two or three times a year.
This winter, we've had way more rain than normal, and since we don't have a tractor implement with tines, we haven't been able to drag the surface to let the water drain through. This meant our K corner had standing water for the past four months. When we finally got a break in the weather, we decided that Monday was the day for an arena makeover. The wind was howling anyway which made for less than ideal riding weather. On Sunday afternoon, I dragged everything out so that we were ready to start work by 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning.
With a plan in place, we presented our idea to Reggie who does most of the maintenance at the ranch. He listened politely, but we quickly realized he had some better ideas. The main problem we had was that we had worn a groove down the long sides, especially in the corner at K. Our plan was to use the tractor's bucket as a blade to scrape the DG layer back into the groove. After a few trial passes, Reggie showed us how much DG he could safely drag without exposing the base layer. While he got to work, we watched raptly as he slowly transformed our riding space. Watching a tractor at work is a very Zen-like experience.
Reggie made his way around the arena, slowly but surely scraping the DG away from the edges of the arena and into the groove that we had created over the past several years. Most of the time, Reggie simply uses a heavy bar to smooth out the hoof prints. This was the first time we had asked him to move the footing back into place. The ranch owner and I were quite impressed with how carefully he was able to reposition two inches of footing without breaking through to the base layer.
Once Reggie had dragged the wayward dirt in from the edges, he was able to drag the tractor bucket over the top of the mounded dirt to fill in our groove. By the time he was finished, the groove was gone and the footing was once again level and smooth.
Once all of the dirt had been dragged in from the edges and the mounds smoothed out, Reggie attached the heavy bar and dragged it around knocking down any little bumps. By the time he was finished, we had a smooth sheet of DG that was level and smooth. All that was left was to remeasure the court and replace our "rails" and letters.
The ranch owner and I have measured out this court so many times now that we can get it all put back pretty quickly. We use a couple of giant T-squares, rocks as place holders, and a very long meter tape. We usually start by getting the short side at A measured out and then one of the long sides. The hardest part is getting the diagonal measurement, the hypotenuse, correct. Once we have that right, we know we have one proper corner which makes getting the other three pretty easy. The entire project, including the tractor work and relaying out the court, took us right about two hours exactly. Practice makes perfect.
Despite the blustery day, I couldn't resist riding on that freshly smoothed and leveled footing. There's nothing like laying down the first hoof prints in a recently dragged arena. I have at least one friend who knows exactly what that feels like. A freshly dragged arena is similar in feeling to a freshly filled hay barn.
Things only horse people can appreciate.
I've been writing about my DIY dressage courts for at least ten years. Over the years, I've upgrade from orange cones that disappeared when the wind blew to much sturdier jugs of water, and I supplemented my fence poles with PVC pipe and extra long two by fours. For this iteration, I've added markers for the quarterlines. Here's a 10-Step Dressage Arena DIY on a budget.
Step 1 - Prep your Arena
Strip your arena of all materials and drag it smooth. Then, if you're really lucky, you'll thoroughly spray every square inch with ArenaKleen, a dust control product made by Dirt Glue Enterprises. The ranch owner has been using this product for years, and it is FABULOUS. I've written about it many times; here's the last post I wrote in July of 2020. This summer's application will last until summer of 2024.
Step 2 - Acquire Your Dressage "Pylons"
If you're like me and can't afford fancy dressage letters, buy some one-gallon water jugs instead. I prefer the square ones so that there are sides upon which to place my letters. Print out the twelve letters: A-K-E-H-C-M-B-F with an R-S-V-P. (There's a link at the bottom.) I use a paper cutter to trim down the letters to the right height, but scissors will also get the job done. You'll also need clear packaging tape to cover the letters and adhere them to the water bottles.
Step 3 - Attach the Letters
I cut the letters in stacks of four so that they are all the same height. That's just the elementary school teacher in me. We hate things that aren't cut straight or evenly. Once I have the letters trimmed to fit the water bottles, I very carefully pull out a length of tape that is long enough to stretch across the letter with several extra inches on each end. I gently lay the tape across one letter, and then pick it up and center it over the gallon jug so that one of the letters falls on one "side" and other letter falls on the other "side" of the jug. This allows the letters to be seen no matter from which direction you ride. Once the first piece of tape has been applied, I cover the rest of the letter with tape so it is stuck down firmly and pretty weather tight. Since we don't need to run sprinklers, and since it rarely rains, this batch of letters will last until next summer.
Step 4 - Measure Out the Court
The ranch owner and I have redone this dressage court so many times that we now have it down to a science. We use a 100-meter tape measure, some cones, and a pile of heavy stones and bricks to mark each corner. Since the arena isn't quite long enough to house a standard 20 x 60 meter court, we've shortened it to 20 x 50 meters. We always start by measuring out the 20 meters of the short side at A before moving on to the long side with E. When we have the first corner placed - it should form a right angle, we measure out the hypotenuse, the diagonal, which for our purposes is 176 feet and 8 inches long. From there, we adjust the angle of the corner until it is as close to 90 degrees as we can get it. Then we do the same thing for the opposite corner, but once you know your first right triangle is accurate, the second one is a lot easier.
Step 5 - Place Your Letters
Once we have the measurements correct, we leave the tape lying on the ground. This is very important because with the tape on the ground, placing the letters is super easy. When we measure the first short side, we place A at the 10-meter mark, and when we do the other short side, we place C in its place. Since our court is 10 meters short, we place K, H, M, and F at the 6-meter marks, but we subtract 2.5 meters from in between the rest of the letters. With the tape on the ground, we simply drop the letters at the 6, 15.5, 25, 34.5, and 44-meter marks. Then we drag the tape across the arena and do the other long side. After we did this the first time, I created a "map" so that we don't have to remember all of those numbers from one iteration to the next.
Step 6 - Place Your Rails
Once the letters are in place, adding the rails is easy. Ours are such a mismatched group of wood fencing poles, 2x4's, and PVC pipes that we try to create a pattern to maintain some symmetry. If we use a PVC pipe at F, we use a matching one at K. By the time we're done, it's a bit of a kaleidoscope of plastics and wood, but it is more than serviceable. It's also extremely safe. If a horse goes rogue, there isn't anything more dangerous than a cavaletti pole to crash into. The water bottles have been kicked and knocked over more times that I can count. The worst thing that happens is that they spring a leak.
Step 7 - Add Quarterline Markers
This is a brand new addition to my court. Since I've been using the quarterlines more than ever before, I decided to stop guessing at where the 5- and 15-meter lines were and marked them. I bought a 4-in x 10-ft-PSI Corrugated Solid Pipe from Lowe's. It's more flexible than regular PVC pipe and easier to cut.
Step 8 - Measure and Cut
I decided to make my quarterline markers 6 inches long, so I used a Sharpie and a tape measure to mark out six inch each chunk. I discovered that the bottom saw worked best for cutting the chunks apart.
Step 9 - Turn It Into a Sleeve
The bottom rail of the arena is pipe, and since our dressage court is not exactly in the same place each time, I didn't want to use spray paint to mark the quarterlines on the fence. Instead, I wanted some kind of sleeve that could be slid left or right depending on where centerline ended up being. Once I had the four, 6-inch tubes cut, I put them into a vise one at a time and used the hacksaw to slice each sleeve open. I also used a bit of sand paper to smooth off all of the cut edges.
Step 10 - Mark the Quarterlines
Since some of my wooden poles are the same color as the dirt, eyeballing the quarterlines while riding is hard to do without some contrast which is why I needed to mark them in some way. To place the quarterline markers, I laid out the meter tape one more time, and wrapped each marker around the fence at the 5- and 15-meter marks. Surprisingly, they're really easy to see when riding. Since this PVC pipe is unaffected by extended exposure to the sun's heat and ultraviolet radiation, the markers should last longer than any of the other components of my DIY dressage court.
With the dust control product, the well-packed base, the decomposed granite footing, and the piecemeal dressage court, we have a pretty kickass place to ride. Come on over!
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: