From Endurance to Dressage
Yet Another DIY Arena
I've written about this before, but since it's something I have to do about twice a year, I always figure someone new is reading who might benefit from the idea. I keep my horses at a private ranch, meaning it's not an actual boarding facility so there is no schedule for ring maintenance. That means if I want something done, I either ask if the handyman can do it, or I do it myself. Keeping up the arena falls to me.
We have firm footing in our arena which I like. It's loose enough that there is no pounding, but firm enough that we don't get deep spots. Reggie, the handyman, would be happy to drag it weekly for me, but I would have to dismantle my dressage court each week. Tearing it down isn't that hard, but setting it back up is a challenge, especially if I have to do it alone. This means the arena gets dragged about four times a year.
The court is comprised of PVC pipe, gardening poles, and various other wooden rails. I don't have the budget to buy a "real" dressage court, so I make my own letters. Since my court sits in the middle of the arena, I can't use letters that hang from the fence. Cones don't work either as it gets pretty windy here in the winter, and I've actually found my small cones hundreds of feet away - once they were actually down the block. I've always liked the letters that push into the ground with metal stakes, but I am afraid one of the horses will get a hoof stuck through the metal during a wild moment.
I don't own or rent the property either which means I need the ranch owner's approval before I build or leave something laying around that everyone is going to use. None of us liked the idea of using cinderblock for letters (see above), and no one wanted to build wooden boxes. Eventually, it was suggested that I use some kind of a jug filled with sand. That's how I ended up building a dressage court with water bottles. They don't blow over in the wind, they are cheap to buy and replace, and they're also very horse-friendly. No matter how many times they've been kicked, no horse has ever been injured.
At this point, with what water bottles cost and how frequently I need to replace them, I might have been able to purchase "real" letters had I done that from the beginning. The first time I made the letters, I spent about $15 on the bottles. Since then, I've had to redo them about every six months, but I use more than just a dozen $0.99 bottles. I also use a good amount of printer ink ($13.49 per cartridge) and a bunch of heavy duty packing tape ($8.04 a roll). I don't use the whole cartridge or roll of tape though, so maybe I am still ahead.
By now, I have the process down pat. I buy twelve, square, water bottles. I like this shape because it gives me four flat sides which I can position so they can be seen while coming down the long side or across the diagonal. I keep the packaging tape on hand for general use, and the letters themselves are saved as a PDF which I print as needed. After printing the letters, I cut them down to size so they fit on the water bottles.
I lay the bottles flat on their sides and then place the printed letters on top. I pull out a strip of tape and secure the center of the letter first, and then I continue adhering the tape to the bottles from the bottom to the top. We don't get much rain, so the worst of the damage is from the sun; the heat eventually dries out the tape which fails, and then the letters fall off.
The whole process takes me less than 30 minutes. Once I have all twelve finished and ready to go, I load them up and take them out to the arena. Every other time I've replaced the letters, I've carried them one or two at a time to their location. It was really hot when I did it last week, so I got smart and loaded the letters into a cart.
I even decided to work smarter by loading the letters in the order they would be placed so I wouldn't have to dig around to find the correct one. As I unloaded the new letter, I exchanged it for the old one, all of which were still full from the last time I changed them out. Usually, they've been kicked enough times that they've all sprung leaks so there isn't as much water in them. These were all full which made them heavy. In hindsight, I was glad I took the extra five minutes to get the cart to help me out.
These should last me until mid-winter. We're in yet another "exceptional" drought period, so they may last even longer. Maybe by then I'll spring for a fancier dressage court.
Anyone out there have an easier-to-maintain but just as cheap dressage court?
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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%: