Here at The Horse we’re all about the gold standard. That means when you find horse health and care information in the pages of The Horse or on, you can feel confident that it’s vetted, tested, and just about the best advice you can get.

Not my arena.

Photo: David Young

Sometimes though, out in the real world, the bronze standard is the best we can do. At least that’s my experience.

For example, let’s take a look at my riding arena. If we were visiting in person, you would’ve just seen me put air quotes around the words “riding arena.” That’s because where I ride is really what most people would consider a dirt patch in my backyard.

To its credit, my riding—let’s just call it “area”—is relatively flat, composed of soft loamy, if not sandy, natural soil, and large enough to make a figure eight of two 20-meter circles.

What my riding area does not feature is a perimeter fence, a lack of rocks, or an easy way to suppress dust in the summer or avoid freezing in the winter. I’ve come to call rain “God’s sprinkler” and run out to ride or longe my horses at the end of our few wet Central Oregon days just so I don’t have to wrestle with the tripod sprinkler, aka my water-spitting nemesis.

On the plus side, I do have the ability to drag my little riding area with my lawn (insert air quotes here) tractor, which is a step up from dragging it with my Subaru Forester (fodder for a Portlandia sketch, maybe, but likely not the weirdest use of a Subaru in Oregon). And, as a bonus, my lawn tractor can mow through the weeds that poke up in my riding area at the same time I’m dragging. That’s what I call a win-win.

Even so, I dream of owning the kind of riding arena you’d read about in our publications, so I contacted a contractor for an estimate to install my idea of a gold standard riding arena. That’s a full-court dressage arena, 20 x 60 meters, with a compact substrate, 2-3 inches of low-dust footing, and an easy way to water. Fortunately, due to our high desert climate, we don’t need a sophisticated drainage system, so that will save a big chunk of money, right?

Even without the drainage system, the quote price plus buying a tractor and implement to work the footing is about equal to trading in the Subaru for a new BMW. Sadly, neither the arena nor a BMW are in my near future.

So, I have to ask, do you have a riding arena and, if so, what standard does it meet—gold, silver, or bronze? Have you come up with any cost-effective ways to create a riding area on your property? If you have, please share.