Like the tennis and aeronautical worlds before it, the horse world is turning to fabric buildings to escape the high cost of traditional structures.??But these cloth arenas aren’t soft playhouses for kids. They’re tough, all-weather structures that are a viable option for indoor riding comfort.
You’ve probably seen them as “tennis bubbles.” They are those large, moonbounce-looking structures that have rounded tops and sides. Unlike a moonbounce or tennis bubble, however, these don’t need air pressure or fans to keep them inflated. They’re built on trusses that hold the fabric up with tension hooks, which keep the fabric firm so it doesn’t blow and flap in the wind.
Fabric buildings require little if any artificial light during daytime, which, after cost, is the biggest selling point.??Because they’re illuminated by filtered natural light, fabric buildings are consistently bright.??Diffused daylight inside the arena makes for a natural, pleasant riding environment.
North American Outdoor Products and Equine Direct’s fabric buildings allow 23% light transmission, according to Marguerite Starr, which makes you feel like you’re outdoors even on a rainy or cloudy day. You’re going to need lights, however, if you plan to do night riding.
That said, your spooky horse may be happier in a fabric building. Because the shelters are evenly bright, they don’t have the harsh shadows or dark corners that metal or wooden buildings have.?? Since they can see more clearly as they move around the arena, horses are less likely to spook in a corner. Drew Elder of Cover-All compares the feeling to being inside a big soft photographer’s box, with no shadows and no glare.
The auditory environment in a fabric building is softer than in a traditional building because the fabric dampens sound. When it rains or hails, it doesn’t sound like you’re inside a drum.??
Fabric buildings can work in any climate. They’re easy to ventilate in hot weather. On some, the sides roll up like a curtain, allowing fresh air in and dust out. On hot summer days, the white fabric reflects the sunlight and results in a cooler riding environment.??
They’re viable in cold climates as well and available in a variety of snow and wind loads to meet building codes.??Cover-All designs buildings for Alaska with thicker steel tubing in the building.?? This raises the price but keeps the building safe.
The most fundamental upside to a fabric building is cost. Covering a dressage arena (around 72 x 200 feet and 28 feet tall) can cost as little as $75,000. Compared with the $200,000 that a traditional indoor can cost, this is quite a savings.??However, options quickly add to the cost.??Manual roll-up sides on a dressage arena can add $5,700. A fan at either end will cost about $1,700. Costs also don’t include footing or electricity, which can add significantly to your construction bill.
Fabric buildings go up faster than traditional buildings, and they’re less labor intensive. They’re pre-designed, so contractors receive detailed plans. Companies usually have their own installers or recommend someone in your area.??
Typically, fabric buildings use poured-in-place concrete foundations with anchoring points where the trusses are located. Elder says that Cover-All also uses spin anchors, which are similar to a huge helix or a big augur drilled into the ground.??A base plate is attached to the steel tubing. Foundations, of course, are important, and you want to be certain the installer is experienced.
The fabric is sold under different brand names, such as the Dura-Weave used by Cover-All or PowerShield, which BuildWorks uses.?? The fabric needs to be inspected to ensure the tension straps that hold the material to the frame/foundation are intact and adequate tension on the fabric is maintained.
Tension monitoring is the main maintenance requirement. Cover-All recommends that this is done quarterly, after the initial installation period. They said that snow accumulating on the cover could mean that the cover needs re-tensioning, and that snow must be removed immediately. Ground snow could also put lateral force on the fabric/structure and should be removed.
The cost of replacing the fabric of a building is about 10-15% of the cost of the original installation, so you may want to do repairs rather than replace the fabric.??Damage to the fabric, such as cuts, can be repaired on-site with specialized hot-air welders.
Using fabric for all or part of the structure can also save money on sheds, hay barns and run-in sheds.
Frankly, we think the primary drawback to a fabric building is its appearance. Fabric buildings can’t have cupolas or match existing buildings, and neighbors might not like the way they make the local landscape look.??There are some ways to mitigate the shock value:?? Cover-All, for instance, offers different colored trim. Another option is using a fabric roof on a traditional building.??
Cover-All is probably the best-known company.?? Many horse people use the term “Cover-All” generically, the way they use “ShowSheen” to mean coat conditioner.
We’d start our indoor-arena quest by researching fabric buildings and then compare them to the cost of traditional structures by talking with local contractors. Talk with your insurance agent as well, to be sure you can get coverage.??
The company websites have pictures, links to customer service and sales, and some, like TrussArch, will help with you with price quotes over the web.?? (We wish everybody did this.)?? Find out about shipping costs.
Although you can be fairly certain that a fabric building will cost less than a traditional one, prices vary widely, especially when you start adding any options.??With all building projects, a good relationship with your designer and builder is key.
Get everything in writing before you sign anything. Be sure it includes all warranties, guarantees, costs, all building materials and the time frame from start of project to completion date.
Be sure the document is specific. For instance, if you’ve decided to add garage doors, be sure the size is stated in the contract. That way, if something goes wrong, you have proof to back it up.
Finally, in determining the costs of your arena, don’t forget electricity and footing costs. While your builder should give you a correct electrical estimate, it’s unlikely he’ll be familiar with horse footing (see May 2000 for information on footing).