Small Farm Makeover

Considering Building an Indoor Arena?

Considering Building an Indoor Arena?
Alayne Blickle

First do a Cost-benefit Analysis

by Alayne Blickle


December 2016

Photo courtesy Alayne Blickle

At Sweet Pepper Ranch, that’s what we’re doing: building an indoor arena. While it’s very exciting, the “go-ahead” decision was not something we took lightly. It required a lot of penciling out and some tough decision making.

Is building an indoor arena something you’ve dreamed about? If so, let’s step back a moment and take a look at some of the pre-construction considerations on a horse property that go into the final decision to building an indoor arena.

For us initially there was the needs-analysis. We lived in Puget Sound for 25 years with access to trails and only a small outdoor arena which made winter riding challenging. Even now, in the sunny southwestern Idaho climate where we currently live, there are about eight solid weeks when we can’t utilize our outdoor arena because it’s either too frozen or too wet. Beyond that, there are the shoulder seasons when weather is questionable for all parts of the Pacific Northwest.

For years now we have ended up hauling to indoor arenas for three to four months each year and paying a per horse haul-in fee. If roads are in poor condition or it’s cold and dark, we are unlikely to tackle it. When temperatures soar in the summer it’d be a welcome relief to ride out of the baking sun. These frustrations make it hard to get ready to show early in the spring, plus it limits the clients Matt can handle in training or the lessons he can teach. And it’s just plain no fun when you can’t ride and horse around! I am sure many of you share in these same frustrations.

So what about cost-effectiveness? We can pay a lot of haul-in fees before it adds up to the cost of building an indoor arena. Our needs-analysis determined that the added business for Matt might help offset the costs a bit. But what other business strategies should be considered to recover costs for building?

According to Teri Herrera of MisFit Farm in Redmond, Washington, “When we don’t do a market analysis before building, we can end up getting in trouble.”

MisFit Farm is a commercial boarding facility that caters to the local dressage community and Herrera is a realtor who specializes in equestrian properties. Over the years she’s seen what works, what doesn’t work, and everything in between.

If you plan to build a structure as part of a commercial equestrian business, Herrera suggests surveying your community to look at similar services so that you keep in line with prices, interests, and needs. If you are opening your arena to the public there are many things to think about besides insurance; things like public parking, bathrooms, accessibility, and trailer storage if you have boarders.

At Misfit Farm, Herrera designed her facilities for an upscale dressage community and she made cost-effectiveness a priority. She looked at layout in terms of client use and needs, designed facilities with chore-efficiency in mind (such as stalls close to compost bins), used reclaimed materials from nearby structures being demolished, and incorporated materials (trees/lumber) sourced off her own land.

Herrera advises, “Look at all potential sources of income for your property. We have boarders, sell eggs and meat birds, joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to sell produce, offer trailer storage, and we hope to someday also do Airbnb, as well as sell honey.” Herrera explains, “Making your land produce income should, at the very least, pay for your horse feed.”

Back to us at Sweet Pepper Ranch. A key income source for us is our horse motel and Airbnb. Plus, we grow several tons of grass hay each year and are able to graze our horses on our pastures all summer as well. We’ve determined our needs-analysis may just pencil out!

The saying “if you build it they will come” may hold true at times, but you will be way ahead of the game if you first do a cost-benefit analysis. Stay tuned for updates on Sweet Pepper Ranch’s indoor arena project, and good luck in planning your own horsey projects!


Originally Published December 2016 Issue

Click to add a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Small Farm Makeover
Alayne Blickle

Alayne Blickle, a life-long equestrian and educator, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award-winning, nationally acclaimed environmental education program that “wrote the book” on caring for horses and land. Known for her enthusiastic, fun and down-to-earth approach, she is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horses and livestock owners for over 20 years. Alayne teaches and travels throughout North America and abroad, and also runs Sweet Pepper Ranch, an eco-sensitive guest ranch and horse motel in Southwestern Idaho where she and her husband raise top-notch reining horses and beautiful grass hay. For more information contact Alayne at or 206-909-0225.

More in Small Farm Makeover