When Hellena and I bought Shadow Hills Ranch in December of 2018, the property looked completely different than what you see today. Sure, we had the option to purchase a more “turn-key” (already complete) property, but there was and still is a lot of power in designing your own equine facility! Over the past two years, we have received many questions but one of the most frequent questions we get is about our arena and round pen. How did you design it? Why did you design it this way? What kind of footing did you use? What would you have done differently? This is the chance to answer these questions as well as talk about our process in designing Shadow Hills Ranch’s equine facility!
How did you design it and why?
When asked this question, I often chuckle to myself before answering because it is nothing special. Hellena and I made a list of things we want in our equine facility: a round pen, a riding arena, I wanted a roping chute and livestock pen for cattle, and Hellena wanted to have access to the arena through the round pen. So one day at the firehouse, I pulled up a Google Earth image of the newly purchased property, opened the image on Microsoft Paint, and began messing around with drawings. Eventually, I came up with the double entry round pen: one entry point from the barn, and one entry that leads into the middle of the arena.
Construction was simple once the design was made- get a post hole digger, get some posts and boards, and get to work. I flew a drone overhead to assure I was centered, placed old tobacco stakes where posts would go, ran string around and looked at the drone image to assure I was the desired shape, then started digging. A week later, the round pen was in. Months later, when the ranch received our Mustang TIP certification, the addition of the livestock pen and chute system came into play. I needed a way to get the mustang(s) from the designated stall to the round pen, or to a turnout pen, and the current system you see today serves that exact purpose.
What kind of footing did you use?
Arena and round pen footing is a touchy subject for all horsemen and horsewomen, but one thing is constant- bad footing injures horses. In the beginning, we operated with the grass as our footing knowing that we could not afford to do anything else for a little while. Then, in Spring of 2020, we began to make our footing project a priority- starting with the round pen. The base, like everything in Kentucky, is compacted clay as the ground around us is all clay.
There is a layer of compacted Class I sand next which acts as drainage and an installed base, topped with a mixture of Class I sand and river sand. The footing is roughly three inches deep and has been easy to maintain, served the horses very well, and felt good to ride (and fall) on. In April of 2021, our 100ft by 200ft arena will be levelled and be getting the same mixture of class I sand and river sand. Out West, the go-to for arenas was sand and DG (Decomposed Granite). It is not very popular out here in Kentucky due to accessibility of materials and not being the most hardy in our current climate. The mixture of Class I and river sand at the desired depth will provide enough rebound, structure, and support for our needs and our clients’ needs.
What would you have done differently?
The only thing differently I would have done is in regards to the boards. You will notice the original round pen was three board fence. Let us just say there is a reason you do not use 3-board fence. Aside from that, I would not change anything about the set up we have. Sure, there was the option to make a bigger arena. But why? The arena does two things: allows for advanced moves like flying lead changes and long runs for work on the wall, on the flag, slide stops, or use of the roping chute.
Any bigger and it becomes easy to get distracted or to try to utilize too much space when working! Plus, in regards to team roping, if you can head and heel a cow in a 100x200ft arena, you have to be very good or get very good to catch! We cannot wait for the entire facility to have the footing we want, and we are only a month away from that dream coming true.
We designed and created our equine facility with our desires and needs in mind. The facility serves its purpose and allows us to effectively train horses, enjoy and refine our personal horses, and host clinics, competitions, and events to share the Western lifestyle with the equine community of Kentucky and surrounding states. If I learned anything through the process, it would be to make sure you draw out and visualize the ideas in your head. Keep in mind location and what is around the area, for example our arena is next to our llama and sheep pen. We learned during our clinics this past summer that llamas are scary to horses that have not seen them before! Lastly, maintenance is key. We drag our arena weekly and during the dry months we wet the ground prior to each use to eliminate dust.