Extend Your Riding Time

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Lighting your outdoor riding area can significantly extend your riding time, especially if you have a demanding job that brings you home late during the spring and fall months when daylight is short but the weather is otherwise inviting.

A lighting project is fairly straightforward. You’ll work with a contractor to create a lighting design consisting of an assessment of your current electrical power, identifying how much light you expect to need, positioning poles for the lighting fixtures based on the needed light and size of the arena, deciding on manual or automatic light operation and devising a maintenance plan for the future. This is rarely a do-it-yourself job, as placing the tall poles requires specialized equipment.

Organization Pays
With a little preplanning, you can offer your electrical contractor a best-case, standard scenario instead of a cash-consuming “custom” job. Labor costs start with the length of the trench needed to hold the electrical cable that goes from the electric box to each light pole. Material costs include the electric cable, the PVC pipe that holds the cable, poles and light bulbs. You’ll also need to factor in the use of heavy equipment for installing the poles.

Contact an electrical contractor who has either installed arena lighting for other farms or one with commercial experience with parking lots or outdoor sports venues. Selecting a contractor with previous experience prevents you from paying for a first-timer’s education.

To find an experienced electrician, use the Yellow Pages, of course. It also helps to ask other area barns who they use. Considering contacting your local parks-and-recreation district, schools with large athletic departments or sport-arena managers for the names of contractors who put in their lighting.

Once you’ve got several names, check for a complaint history with your local chapter of the Better Business Bureau. Then invite the contractors to visit your arena and prepare a proposal and bid on the job. Ask about similar jobs at sites you could visit and if they have recent references you can call.

Get the proposal and bid written up in detail, including price, exact materials and specifications and a start and finish date. Double-check that the proposal is accurate and includes all necessary materials and labor. Do not hire a contractor who won’t put this information in writing. Be sure he is fully insured and licensed.

Lighting Placement
A 100-foot by 300-foot arena usually can be adequately and economically lit with three-bulb cluster fixtures mounted about 20 feet high on two 25-foot pressure-treated poles positioned on the long sides of the area.

The fixture encloses the bulbs and has a lens. Bulbs will be 250- or 400-watt metal halide, depending upon your lighting needs. The middle light bulb will be positioned down and out toward the arena’s center, and the end bulbs will point toward the curve around the arena.

By combining floodlights and spotlights, you can concentrate and customize the illumination to exactly where you need it most. You might want floods aimed at the arena’s ends and spots in the middle. You’re definitely going to want to ensure you don’t have shadowy areas.

If you live in a populated area and need to consider light pollution, use “dark-sky-friendly” lights known as “cut-off luminaire” to cut down on annoying glare to neighbors. Though inexpensive photocells or timers can be used, a simple manual switch ensures the lights won’t be on when you don’t need them.

Power Supplies
Be sure your contractor looks at your current electrical panel to ensure it can handle the added pull. Older barns with a lower-level electrical service may need to be upgraded by your local electric supplier before the contractor can begin. The existing panel also will need unused circuits to power your outdoor arena lights. If there are no unused circuits on the panel but the feed into the structure is adequate, your contractor may be able to simply install a sub panel just for the arena.

If you’re insatiably curious or understandably concerned about the dangers of a circuit overload, it’s not difficult to calculate the number of bulbs a typical 15-amp circuit can handle. To get the number of amps a bulb will draw from a circuit, divide the bulb’s watts by 120 volts. For example, a 400-watt bulb by 120 volts is at 3.3 amps per bulb. This means a typical 15-amp circuit can support four bulbs, and a lighting design that uses six 400-watt bulbs will require two 15-amp circuits.

Poles
Pressure-treated wood or telephone poles are maintenance-free and easy to install with a “pole cat” or a digger derrick fitted with a bit that drills the hole. The tight fit means they’re not additionally secured with cement. Slightly less expensive than telephone poles are metal poles.

Using four poles — one on each side of the arena — each fitted with three-bulb cluster fixtures obviously provides more light. So how do you decide how many poles to use'

Partly it’s a function of budget, since buying and installing more poles, as well as the type of pole selected, creates a costlier job. Partly it’s a function of what you’re doing in the arena and its size. An arena for pleasure riding may not need the same lighting concentration as a hunter-jumper course. Talk it over with your contractor and visit some existing lighted outdoor arenas in your area. Remind your contractor that you need to avoid shadows.

Light Bulbs
Metal halide bulbs are the most commonly used bulbs for this type of outdoor application. Incandescent and fluorescent bulbs don’t have sufficient power for this kind of lighting application; save them for inside lighting needs. Metal halide bulbs are expensive but last for several years.

With pressure-treated wood or telephone poles, maintenance will be limited to changing light bulbs. This can be a do-it-yourself job if you feel comfortable on a 20-foot extension ladder. If not, you’ll need to hire someoneto change them.

Bottom Line
Lighting your outdoor arena won’t be cheap. Plan $3,000 to $5,000 given the scenario we’ve created here. However, it can significantly extend the time you have with your horse for many years. Sticking with the basics will keep you focused, and unless you are a trained electrician, leave this job to the pros.

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