Small Rodeo Arena Lighting Challenges

After weeks of planning and labor, the arena is finished. It’s immaculately layered so it stays put, even when exposed to heavy rains. It drains well, it can stand up to wind – it’s perfect. But then sundown comes, and that beautiful arena is now just a big, dark dirt field.

The ideal solution, of course, is lighting, but what kind of lighting and where should the lights be placed? These are important questions because horse arenas intended for rodeo use can’t just be flooded with light, and for most arena owners, that’s a not an economic solution anyway. No, the lights have to be placed just right to get the most out of the arena and to ensure safe riding and competition. That’s where a reputable lighting firm can make a big impact.Horse Arena Lighting

Hold Your Horses

The biggest mistake that arena owners make when setting up lighting is going it alone. It’s natural to want to get the lights set up as soon as possible so the arena can be used at night, but even someone who has some natural technical talent will run some big risks without professional help. Fixture installation is an involved process, and the wrong move can be a fatal mistake. Consider the significant challenges facing a horse arena lighting project:

  1. Light placement – Ideally, a horse arena is evenly lit from end to end. Even illumination is important for several reasons, including ensuring the best visibility possible for the rider. Overly dark or bright spots will make it tough for riders to adjust their eyes, and this can be a safety issue if a rider cannot easily see.But lighting placement requires special attention for horse arenas, because horses do not tolerate shadows well. Some shadows may be permissible if the arena is intended for light, flat riding. But if competition is expected, including jumping, barrel racing or cutting, then shadows may spook the horses and make them act unpredictably. The only way to eliminate shadows is with even light coverage, and the only way to get that coverage is with the help of an experienced lighting firm.
  2. Power – The kind of lights needed for rodeo competition cannot be powered on standard residential infrastructure. There’s just not enough juice flowing onto the property to run the kind of sports lighting that arenas rely on, which each require hundreds of watts to function. Ramping up available power requires one of two approaches – either tying the fixtures to a generator, or relying on mains power.Both are capable of running several sports lighters, with room to spare. And this means that both solutions will offer that professional, high quality lighting that rodeo competitions require. Generators have the benefit of remaining mobile and staying online even in the event of a power outage. However, generators require fuel to run and can be quite noisy. They are also limited by the generator’s capacity, though there are models that will offer the capacity an arena owner needs.Mains power is usually the preferred option for arena owners, as it can be scaled up or down to any lighting system. It does require some additional infrastructure in the form of poles and trenching (for underground wiring), and it is susceptible to power outages, but mains power is quiet and is practically limitless in capacity for an arena’s needs.
  3. Pole installation – In most cases, a rodeo arena is located in rural areas where it can be tough to find solid ground. Open fields offer the space that rodeo competition demands, but open fields aren’t the kind of stable ground that makes it easy to set up poles. And for outdoor lighting applications, several lighting poles will be needed for the sports lighters.Lightings poles can be made from wood, steel or even fiberglass, but there are material limitations in remote areas. Steel and fiberglass poles are the most durable options, but finding a local provider of steel or fiberglass poles is often impossible in small towns. And the cost associated with driving steel or fiberglass to a remote location is prohibitive. Also, steel tends to be too heavy to install easily without a concrete foundation, and that isn’t always possible.For these reasons, wood poles tend to be the clear choice, and though they aren’t quite as durable as steel or fiberglass, wood poles are plenty tough for arena applications. In fact, they are usually intended for much heavier duty than arena lighting, so arena owners can expect extended performance from their poles.

Planning for Performance

The planning phase is where the real work is done, as proper planning will ensure perfect lighting coverage. During planning, a lighting designer can also determine what fixtures will work best, minimizing costs for an arena owner.

In almost all cases, photometric analysis is the most efficacious way to plan out a lighting project. During photometric analysis, several grid maps of the property are visualized in a lighting analysis program. In this program, lighting designers can position fixtures and, because every fixture’s photometric data is available, see how they will perform depending on where they are placed. Using photometric analysis, a lighting firm can accommodate any arena, no matter its size or dimensions. Arena owners can also see what their arena will look like after the fixtures are installed, so they can remain involved in the process.

A major consideration when planning an arena lighting project is whether the arena is indoors or outdoors. In most cases, an indoor arena is easier to handle, as the walls and ceiling can trap light, so less lighting overall is needed to properly illuminate the area. However, indoor arenas need to be lit day and night, as little natural light can reach the competition area. This tradeoff is something that lighting designers will take into account, and perform their photometric analysis accordingly.

The LED Solution

Sports lighters come in several forms, including high pressure sodium and metal halide technologies, but it’s LED sports lighters that are gaining traction for arena lighting purposes. LED lighting has already made major inroads in several applications, including parking lot lighting and commercial lighting, and it is now making an impact for rodeo competition lighting as well.

LEDs are an ideal alternative to metal halides and high pressure discharge lamps as they are much more efficient. Although the watt to lumen ratio looks comparable across the board at first, LED lights are much more directional in natural, so they don’t require the heavy reflectors that other fixtures do. And because they can be aimed, more of their emitted light actually reaches the competition area. This means a boost in lumen to watt ratio. LEDs are also much more durable than other fixtures and hold onto their output level even as they age. While metal halides may be listed for 10,000 hours, they will only emit a fraction of their listed output by the time they reach the end of their life. LEDs, though, will retain almost all of their output for 50,000 hours or more. So while the upfront cost of LEDs may be a bit higher, it is made up for with extended performance.

Lighting an arena for rodeo competitions doesn’t have to involve guesswork. With the assistance of an experienced lighting designer, the arena can quickly be made available around the clock, and for any level of competition.