How to build a manege (menage) yourself
Menage or manege?
Well... if you say menage to a Frenchman he'll think of households - as in 'menage a trois' - and certainly won't connect you with horses. The correct term for a schooling area for horses is manege!
The Most Famous Manege in England...
Did you know that one of the most historic maneges in the world is right here in England? William, Duke of Newcastle, built it in the 1630's. The equestrian facilities at Bolsover Castle, in Derbyshire consist of four areas, including a small shoeing house, which incorporated a forge. From the shoeing house, stairs ascend to the gallery of the Riding House enabling the horses being ridden in the Manege to be seen from above. The central part of the facilities is the Riding House itself, which was dedicated to the art of manege. William Cavendish was obsessed with manege, writing a book on the subject, "La Methode Nouvelle et Invention Extraordinaire de Dresser les Chevaux" in 1657. He was the riding instructor for Prince Charles (later King Charles II). The Riding House contained a soft, sand floor which is still in use today - the horses could be watched in comfort from the gallery of the neighbouring shoeing house.
Peter recently visited Bolsover with famous American dressage trainer, Paul Belasik. Paul has studied the work of the Duke of Newcastle, and was lucky enough to train under the Maestro - Nuno Olivera.
Here's how to build your own menage then...
I've dealt in detail with the issues that need to be tackled, as a series of headings which follow. Let's go through things in short form first. So you want a manege? What for? You'll need to be clear about this, because the selection of All Weather Riding Surface depends on what you will do with it. Lets assume you will be doing some light exercise, a bit of training, teaching - perhaps the kids on their first pony, that sort of thing - in other words, this little exercise is to build a manege for mainly light home and family use. First - have you got somewhere suitable? You'll need to find a site that is big enough for what should really be the standard size of 40 x 20 metres. You can do almost anything with this size barring international competition. It needs to be flat - well drained - so dont go trying to stick it in the bottom of a muddy gulley (I've seen it done!) If you dont have flat ground, is there somewhere than can be levelled and backfilled to produce the area you need? Its amazing what diggers can do these days, even with rocky ground or exposed rock outcrops!
OK - so we have a site that you think might be suitable. Your next move should really be to apply for planning permission. I know - pain in the butt, but if you apply and get it, you will automatically add value to your property (Horse and Hound did a survey recently and reckoned it added 10% to the value of your property..) - if you don't, and they find out when its finished, you can be up for a lot of trouble - its not worth the hassle. You'll need an application fee - usually around £150 - and scaled drawings of the site, together with diagrams of the proposed construction, and details of your property - statements that you own it, and things like that. Its not hard to do - but you may want to engage an architect or similar person (we can help) to produce the drawings - scruffy sketches on the back of a cigarette packet just don't cut ice with planners any more! They'll want to know what surface you are going to use, and usually request samples.
Now then - you have permission - so whats to be done - how do we start?
First, we have to mark out the area. We need to stake out a 40 x 20 area, perfect rectangle, with pegs at each corner, and levels marked on them so we get it flat. I normally stake out 41 x 21 metres - by the time you have finished, and the fencing is put around, it gives you a workable area of 40 x 20, with a bit round the edge for dressage markers, cones etc. I'm going to assume you will put post and rail fencing around the edges, with a 12' gate at one end. To stake out the area, we need a bundle of wooden pegs - I'd get at least 20 of them. The sort you can buy at garden centres for staking trees are ideal - they are pointed on the end. Start by laying out the first long side of the school - put a peg in where the first corner will be, and measure 41 metres from it - you can buy a 50 metre flexible tape from places like B&Q for a pound or two. When you are happy you've got the length and position right, bung another peg in at the second corner. The pegs need to be a good metre or so long, so they stick well out of the ground - you'll see why in a mo.
Now for the hard part - getting it square. Go back to the first peg. You want to measure 21 metres at right angles from the long side. Remember all those boring maths lessons at school - the ones when you did things with triangles? Well - it was all worthwhile after all! We need to lay out a right angled triangle - and the rules of one of these state that for a right angle to exist, the edges should have the dimensions of 3, 4, 5. So - we measure 28(4) metres out along the long side and put in a peg, then we measure 21 (3) metres from the first corner peg, at roughly right angles and put in another peg (which will move a bit in a minute!), Now go back down the long side with your tape. and fix the end on the peg you just put in at 28 metres. Unravel the tape so you have 35 (this is the '5' side of the triangle) metres (the black line in the drawing below), and walk over to the short side where we just put in the temporary peg. Using the tape, and keeping it tight, draw an arc on the ground with a bit of sand or powdered chalk. Now take the end of the tape and put it on the first corner peg, and do the same thing at 21 metres - draw an arc, and where it intersects the first arc, is the exact 90 degree point - which should be pretty close to your temporary peg - put the temporary peg at the intersection of the arcs, and that's it - you now have a 90 degree end to your school. Do the same at the other end, and then check the length of the second long side - it should be 41 metres - if its out a bit, you need to check your 90 degree corners - do the 3,4,5 bit on each corner and work back, checking measurements until you are happy its properly square - nothing worse than a wonky rectangle to ride in..
Now comes the interesting bit. We have to get it all flat, before we can put the fencing around it, with the boards which hold the surface. At the moment I'll assume we have a ploughed field or something similar, which needs to be levelled. The first thing to do is find a friendly local digger driver, or persuade one of the farm hands to get the JCB out - you're going to have to move a lot of dirt. Work around the entire area first, stripping the topsoil and grass. This has to come off, so we don't get an organic, soggy mess under the drainage bed. The last thing you want to hear when your horse wanders across your nice shiny new manege, is squish, squelsh from somewhere down below. Topsoil is generally quite thin - we are looking to take off the grass, with about 3 or 4 inches of soil below it. This should be either spread over the adjacent field, or stockpiled - there are plenty of people out there who want soil - so if you leave it for 12 months to rot down the grass, it will be nice saleable stuff that an advert in the local paper should get rid of. So... I'm going to assume that you have now removed the topsoil - and that the entire area now looks like a bomb hit it - that's good - we're on the way to building a manege.!
Next, we have to level it. This is the single most critical phase - get this wrong, and your dressage will be more uphill than downhill, and jumping becomes cross country. The kids dont mind, but when Aunt Caroline brings her nice shiny warmblood to come and have a play, she won't be very amused to be doing downhill piaffe.
Remember those 20 odd pegs? We need to spread them in relatively orderly lines down the edges and through the centre of the school. One overy 4 or 5 metres will be fine for the moment. Happy banging - I want to be able to walk around in the school area and walk no more than about 4 metres in any direction till I come up against a peg.
Now we have to find a way of working out exactly how much ground needs to come out (Notice I don't say 'go in'). It is CRITICAL that you don't 'fill' hollows unless you use engineering practises that will fill them the right way - if you put newly excavated soil into hollows, it will sink over 12 months by as much as 25% - and Aunt Caroline will be VERY annoyed that the surface now resembles a kids sand pit, with dips and hollows all over it. We have to excavate to the level of the lowest point - OR, if we are to fill, we need to use clean graded stone, which is whackered down into the holes (Whackering, or Rolling, involves the use of those very noisy vibrating plate compactors, or a Bomag roller). You MUST stick to this requirement, otherwise it is certain that the final surface will develop problems - hollows, dips with water in them, soggy bits - its inevitable. DON'T use building rubble to fill holes - I've just done expert witness in a court case where this happened, and the results were not pretty - you should NEVER use builders rubble, demolished barns and buildings - for fill - it doesnt work.. OK... so I've made my point, and now we are going to work out how to find the levels:
What we need to do is establish a 'datum' - a point to which we reference all our measurements. There are several ways you can do this - but the easiest is to buy one of those laser levels that just about every tool shop, hire catalogue - B&Q, Screwfix etc sell. Make sure you get one that has a good range - at least 40 metres. Mine is a Pentax that will level up to 200 metres, with a rangefinder that can fit on the boom of an excavator so the driver can work to within millimetres - but all you need is something to throw a laser line around the area so you can measure down from the line to the surface at each of the pegs. Start to get my drift? So... we'll set up the laser on its little tripod, and make sure that when we turn it around, it always stays dead level. If like me, you have a rotary laser, it does that itself. If its one of the cheaper ones, you can do this at night - its quite good fun, except you keep walking into the pegs. Put a peg in by the laser, and mark the height of the beam onto the peg for future reference. Now mark up each of the pegs with the laser - put a black indelible ink mark on each one at the datum level. You should be able to look from peg to peg, and see all of the black marks line up exactly on the same plane. Imagine this as an invisible pane of glass, horizontally above the manege surface, that we're measuring down from. What I now do is go around with a tape and measure from the datum to surface level - this will tell you exactly how high and low the ground is across the area of the manege. It helps at this point if you draw a mickey mouse plan, and put all of your measurements on a piece of paper. Take the lowest point (assuming at this point we are not going to fill with stone) and work out how much material has to come out at each peg, to get it all level. At this point, your friendly JCB man comes back with a dumper - you'll notice I put the pegs at about 4 metre intervals - you can drive a machine around between them and load out into a dumper... clever huh.. There's a bit of fun involved here - once the surface is nearly ready - you'll need to spend an hour or two with the JCB driver and the laser, checking, re-checking and measuring to make sure you have everything bang-on. You can do this by making a levelling stick with a cross bar on it - put a couple of marked sticks at either end of the manege, with horizontal bars on them which are set at exactly the same height - then walk all around the school, making sure you can eyeball both the marker sticks, and see whether the one you are holding lines up with them - it might be a bit high, in which case Mr JCB scapes out a bit more where you are standing.
At this point, we should have a surface that a good digger driver can level to within about 2 inches across the whole area. Please restrain Aunt Caroline at this point - it might look very nice, but it can turn into a claggy horrible mess very quickly. We now need to pray for dry weather, so we can dig out the drainage bed. PUT THE HORSES AWAY!!
Doing the Drainage Thing..... Your Manege needs to Drain...
Now there's a whole philosphy, design approach here, that can get a bit involved. This is the most important thing to get bang-on. Get the drainage wrong and you'll have a wet manege - so - LISTEN CAREFULLY and design the thing correctly from the beginning. There is no 'absolute' way of doing this - but the idea is to collect all the water that falls on the manege, and direct it into a 'spine' drain, which takes all the flow, and drains it away from the area. We need to take the outlet drain right out of the area and into a nearby ditch, stream or stormwater drain - so this needs to be checked from the outset. There's no point collecting all this water if you can't get rid of it - so if at the outset, we decide that we have to build the manege surface a bit higher to allow for drainage, you need to take this into consideration when doing the levelling. It is quite possible to puild a surface on top of the subsoil, so that everything is contained in a box above the surface - you might have to do this if living in very low-lying areas that flood all the time .
Designing a drainage pattern for a manege
OK - so now we have to design the drainage pattern. I'm going to assume you have a place for it to go - now we need to put a network of drains into the base that we have just levelled.
Detailed drainage design for a manege
In the diagram above, each of the dotted lines is a drain - in its own trench, that has to be dug into the base that we have nicely flattened. They must all have a 'fall' which is calculated at around 6mm per metre. So, the fall of the main spine, over the 40 metre length, from right to left, is 24 cms. Each of the drains running into the spine needs to fall about 12 cms from the outside to the spine. So - you've now got to get those pegs working again - and lay out the pegs into the drainage pattern, and get your JCB man to come and dig a load of trenches, with sloping bottoms as in the diagram above. Its careful work - the trenches need to start at the right hand end being about 15 cm deep - just deep enough to put a 4" (100mm) perforated land drain into, with stone around and over it.
Then.. you lay the pipe (100mm, perforated land drain) in the bottom of the trench, with 40mm clean gravel around it. This must be clean, preferably not limestone, which is very dusty and clogs the pores of the drain.
Make sure you have loads of terram matting spare on the top - it should extend at least a metre on either side of the drainage trench, so that when the base layer of membrane is laid over everything, the trenches are completely sealed from any soil which might otherwise be able to get into them and block the pores.
So now you have a drainage bed, with lots of stone all over the place too - by now, your nice flat surface should be flat again, with a herringbone pattern of nice white membrane, filled with clean stone. It's about time to get that fence in, with the boards around - this will hold the next layers - the drainage bed itself, and the surface - which Aunt Caroline is presently chomping at the bit waiting to play with. Now about now, you might like to pack her off to have a look at surfaces. You'll need to make a selection fairly soon - and they dont come cheap. We like the waxed surfaces - Peter rides on a Martin Collins surface which cost a fortune, and Aunt Caroline would drool all over it - her nice warmblood would bounce admiringly, and his piaffe would positively ping...! However - it costs a LOT, and you might want to have a look at some of the budget riding surfaces that are available from other suppliers - Equestrian Direct do some really good ones made from shredded carpet material - you might be told not to bother with a drainage bed - but DO!!! You MUST lay stone on top of the surface, with membrane the way I'm going to show you. Do anything else at your peril - you'll waste a helluva lot of money on blocked drains.. trust me - I've seen it time and time again.
Budget surfaces are hard to find - we've been working on one way to achieve this - and can supply a mix which you can add to silica sand to create a lovely springy surface - its been developed in Germany for dressage riders - and is a chopped fibre / rubber fibre mix. As a budget price, you can buy enough of this to do a 40 x 20 m school for around £4000 - so add this to the cost of the silica sand for the total surface cost. It is mixed into the surface with a power harrow or stone burier. There is a similar surface sold which is called Turf Float - but the material we use also has rubber fibres added to it, which binds the sand and makes it a lot springier. It comes packed on pallets, so you just spread it on the surface of your sand, and then mix it in. After years of research, I reckon this is one of the best alternatives at the moment for a budget surface. We source it from the people who actually make the geotextile membrane, and it contains finely chopped bits of membrane - the photos below give you some idea...
Fencing - the easy bit!
Right - at this point you need to get that fence going - Caroline is zooming all over the place collecting samples, and you can get on with the fence - I'd use a 12 foot gate at the very least - you need to get a tractor or quad bike in there with a leveller - Caroline will want the surface graded every time she rides, so the piaffe is nice and even. If you have to squeeze through the gate, its only a matter of time afore you hit the post and demolish part of the fence - tractors just do that sort of thing.. We normally use rectangular cut posts, treated of course, and at least a metre into the ground - they should stick up ABOVE THE FINISHED SURFACE by 4'6" (about 1.4 metres) preferably. This means you have to allow for posts 1.4, plus 1, plus the thickness of the surfaces - which should be 150mm of stone, and 150mm of surface at the least - so make your posts 2.7 metres long, and 150x100 mm section. Big, chunky - and wont get pushed over by horses. Rails are usually supplied in 12' lengths, so you'll want a post every 6', with big solid posts in the corners and at the gate - I normally use 200x200 for the corners. You'll need 3 equally spaced rails, preferably about 120mm wide and 60 mm deep - we're going for a good solid fence here. I'll leave you to work out the numbers - but its a lot of timber. Last, but not least, are the retaining boards for the surface. I tend to use treated boards, cut to 7 inch wide, and an inch thick - if you lay 1 board at ground level to retain the stone, and another above it, butted up, to retain the surface, you should have about 2 or 3" of board standing proud around the bottom of the fence, to stop surface material from kicking over the top or blowing away.
Red is membrane - two layers - one lot over the drains, and stapled to the lower boards which retain the stone drainage bed. The other goes over the top to separate the riding surface from the stone.
Bottom board holds the stone - 40mm clean washed stone with no dust.
Top board holds the riding surface that Aunt Caroline has hopefully now decided upon...
The black bit on the left is the fence post of course... just checking.. You'll need 3 rails on it, but I didnt draw those..