“When you take a horse out of its comfort zone—the wild—it’s your obligation to create an environment that protects its health and safety. A poorly designed barn can be worse than no barn at all.” – John Blackburn
John Blackburn knows barns. As Blackburn’s owner and senior principal for the past 25 years, John has designed over 150 equestrian facilities across the United States and abroad.
In his blog, Stable Minded, John rhapsodizes about the design process behind our horse barns and equine facilities as only he can. His blogs cover a variety of equestrian news and topics: from the story behind projects we’ve designed to equestrian and design issues, such as how to increase natural lighting in barns. For those of you with questions or comments about the nitty-gritty details we face when designing barns, John considers his blog an open forum to discuss what’s on your mind.
If you’re curious about the architectural process, like to view construction photos from start to finish, or have questions about how it all works, we invite you to read and comment at Stable Minded. It might not be literally straight from the horse’s mouth, but we like to think it’s pretty close.
Coming off the heels of a truly epic storm for the Washington D.C. area (and most of the east coast!), I thought I’d take a moment to address how design techniques can help barns “weather” extremes.
In the United States, the upper northeast regions through to the Midwest are prone to experience weather extremes in the form of snow and ice. While we cannot entirely “weather proof” a barn, we can make it more resilient to some of the more damaging effects of weather phenomena.
The roof of your barn needs to be able to:
- Withstand the weight of snow and/or effectively shed it
- Prevent or reduce the formation of ice dams
- Redirect “roof avalanches” from sliding into high traffic or poor drainage areas and also reduce associated noise that could frighten the horses.
In addition to contributing to the Bernoulli principle I incorporate for natural ventilation, steeply pitched roofs also contribute to effective, gradual roof shedding and the redistribution of snow load. Ideally the pitch should be between 4/12 and 6/12 to get the optimal shedding effect (although, we generally try to keep pitches at 7/12 or more to take full advantage of the Chimney Effect and Bernoulli principle for natural ventilation)
Roofing material will also factor into how the snow will shed. Metal roofs are excellent as they are smooth and slick. They will also stay colder longer; reducing the likelihood that snow will melt and form ice dams (more on this below). Snow will shed from a metal roof even if the pitch is lower. Shingled roofs, however, will slow down the shedding process by “holding on” to the snow and allowing it to stay in place and accumulate. Consider a steeper pitch if you prefer a shingled roof as it will facilitate the shedding process over the rougher material.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Well, the snow is off the roof…but it’s all over the place! Now what?” Including strategic roof overhangs will complement the steeper pitch by helping to distribute shedding snow away from exterior walls and out of traffic and poor drainage areas. Be wary though, snow sliding off roofs can be noisy and frightening to horses, not to mention dangerous if it falls on you! Snow guards on the roof can help reduce the noise associated with shedding snow and keep huge sheets of it from falling on (and potentially harming) 2 and 4 legged passersby. Gabled dormers over entryways can also be useful. They help to direct snow off to the sides.
Ice dams are another unfortunate side effect of snow-laden roofs. An ice dam forms when the underside of the roof gets warm enough to thaw the bottom layer of snow sitting on the other side. The water makes its way down to the eave where it refreezes, eventually growing into a mound of ice. As the ice dam gets larger, it can pull the shingles and edges up allowing water to get through and into the insulation and walls. Water damage then wreaks havoc on the interior of the barn. The ice dam could also break off the eave and take pieces of the roof with it or fall on passersby. Sure, there are ways to deal with ice dams once they’ve formed, but natural ventilation can help prevent them upfront. Natural ventilation keeps the underside of the roof within 10 degrees of the outside temperature, which aides in keeping that critical layer of snow right on top from thawing and running down towards the eaves.
Site and circulation planning can help prevent and/or reduce the impact of icy conditions around equine walkways. In the interest of horse safety, I try to design site circulation so that horses do not need to move over asphalted areas intended for trucks and service vehicles (there are other benefits associated with that as well). Asphalt is not great for horse’s knees, generally, but it is particularly problematic when wintery conditions lead to the formation of “black ice” — a thin sheet of ice over the asphalt that can be imperceptible to the horse or persons walking on to it. Horse pathways in and around the barn should include porous footing that absorbs and carries moisture away quickly. Presently there is no way (that I know of) to prevent pastures from freezing over, but you can maintain a dry paddock or “sacrifice” lot where your horses can be turned out when pastures have been effected by inclement weather. Paddocks with considerable slope can be particularly hazardous when they freeze over. That’s when a “level” dry lot can be very useful!
As many on the east coast found out this past week, there is only so much preparation you can do in a couple of days before a storm hits. You, your horses, and your barn will benefit from built in preparation.
I had the pleasure of attending the 2nd annual Equus Film Festival in NYC recently, an event that Blackburn Architects sponsored last year and again this year. Included in this year’s line-up of activities was a tour of the Clinton Park carriage horse stables. Until just recently I had not had the opportunity to explore the city stables so this was my first visit. It was something I had long been looking forward to especially given the controversy surrounding the horse carriages. Now having toured the facilities, I thought I’d offer my perspective as an architect who specializes in the design of safe and healthy horse stables.
Having heard and read tales about the conditions the horses were living in and being an adamant proponent of horse health and safety, I was anxious to see the stables for myself and determine from my own expertise if or how the stable conditions contributed to or confirmed these claims of abuse. The tour was lead by carriage driver and working horse advocate, Christina Hansen.
Clinton Park is the largest stable of the city’s four. It was built in the late 19th century and has operated as a stable for horses serving the City since it was constructed. It is currently owned by a co-op of carriage owners. It houses over 70 horses and over half of the city’s 68 carriages. The first floor is strictly “operations” and includes storage for carriages, maintenance for equipment and a couple small offices. Ramps lined with rubber mats lead to the 2nd & 3rd floor areas where the horses are kept. All the stalls are at least 60 sq. ft. or larger and each contains a fan and an automatic waterer. Considering the size of the carriage horses, I’d say the stalls are on the “cozy” side, but not alarmingly so. The stalls are mucked twice a day and the stables are attended to by at least 3 personnel 24/7.
My tour took place during the fall (November), so I can’t attest to what the facility is like in the dead of winter or the heat of summer. However, I was impressed with the efforts and procedures put in place to provide adequate ventilation for both seasonal extremes (good ventilation is critical to the health of the horse in all types of weather.) Furthermore, I was pleased to learn that the horses work on a rotation schedule where they are sent to the country for four to five months out of the year and work the remaining months – a work schedule many humans would love to have. Sign me up!
I’ve read recently, that Mayor de Blasio has modified his position on eliminating the horses all together in favor of reducing their numbers and confining them to Central Park. I’ve been a vocal advocate for horse activity to continue in New York City and have stood by the NYC Carriage Horse drivers in their pursuit to remain in operation. Like Mayor de Blasio, I too feel Central Park would be a great option to house some of the horses, however I don’t support the idea of reducing their numbers. This visit has given me a new perspective on the current carriage horse stabling and I feel they should remain in operation. I do feel that Central Park, as a prominent tourist destination, could benefit from being “friendlier” to equine activity. More riding trails, expanded carriage lanes, rubber standing mats for carriage horses while they wait for patrons, and maybe a “living museum” or educational event that pays tribute to the city’s equine past are just a couple ideas to get started on expanding the Park’s equine amenities.
As for the existing stables, I did not witness conditions that I would consider detrimental to the horse’s health or safety. In fact, I was quite impressed by the care and concern that the horse owners, drivers and other handlers provide the animals. Sure, they operate out of an historic structure that could use significant physical improvements, but in my 30+ years of experience designing for horses, I have never encountered an occasion where a horse required “new” finishes, fresh paint, or other nice finishes that humans enjoy. A horse’s basic needs (light, natural ventilation, quality feed, comfortable/ clean bedding, regular exercise, etc) are what need to be met and I feel the Clinton stables provide that. I would, of course, be happy to provide recommendations for improvements should the owners ever want to upgrade. The stables embody a lengthy heritage of metropolitan horse stabling and continue to operate safely and effectively to that purpose.
Ultimately, we need to support the horse carriage industry and encourage more use of horses in the city, not less. I remain adamant in my concern for the protection, health and safety of all horses in all activities and I continue to fight for the preservation and expansion of equine related activities in everyday life (riding, showing, therapy, sport, etc).
Barn managers across the nation are gearing up for the winter by gathering and storing the last of the season’s hay yield. After reading several recent articles on barn fires as a result of spontaneously exploding hay bales, I thought I’d recommend another hay storage option from a planning (and horse health and safety) perspective.
Barns are often portrayed in art and media with prominent, overflowing haylofts. And why not?! They make for convenient, easy-access storage. There are countless pop-culture depictions of haylofts as hiding places, romantic destinations, and play areas (I spent a good bit of childhood playing in haylofts, to be honest!) And though these images are mostly innocuous, they, unfortunately, reinforce the idea that this space is the “of course ”option for hay stockpiling. Historically, hay has almost always been stored in the barn, but as hay curing and combustion research further developed, it became evident that these traditional storage methods were contributing to unsafe conditions for the barn inhabitants and the structures themselves. The popularized image of haylofts did not keep up with the findings. I have long argued that haylofts in barns should be avoided. As convenient as they may be, there are better options to safely store bulk hay.
Recent articles in both the Paulick Report and The Horse have excellent, detailed information about the hows and whys of spontaneous hay combustion and how to quell the effects of improperly cured hay. Eye-opening reads for sure, but I must stress the benefit of alternative bulk hay storage as an additional preventative measure.
We typically recommend bulk hay to be stored in a separate hay-barn altogether. Ideally, this structure would be at least 100 ft. away from the main barn. With proper planning, this method can also contribute to efficient farm circulation by establishing pathways that do not obstruct main throughways and drive unnecessary noise and commotion out of sight and earshot of nervous equines – another safety factor to think about. Driveway access and asphalt surfaces can also be confined to the hay barn area too, eliminating – or at least reducing- asphalt use around the main barn, which can be uncomfortable footing for horses and, in some parts of the country, potentially dangerous in winter. The added bonus of less installation cost and hassle is also something to consider!
Perhaps you’re now anxiously biting your nails at the thought of having to haul hay from the hay-barn 100 ft. away every single day. We wouldn’t want to do that either! For convenience, we recommend 7-day storage within the main barn, usually as an isolated stall, but arranged in such a way that it is easy to load, convenient for access, open to natural ventilation, sheltered from precipitation, and set upon a moisture-absorbent surface. Though we do not recommend bulk storage within the barn, we understand it’s not always feasible for a barn owner to commission an architect to design a separate storage. In some cases, the owner has simply “always done it that way” and is adamant about continuing to do so. Regardless of budget or insistence, we make it a point to at least create a solid fire and smoke separation between the main stalling area and hay storage. Our first priority is always the horse.
Hopefully the “hayday” of the hayloft is behind us and we can continue to encourage owners to consider relocating their bulk-hay stores. For now, if the barn is hosting 7 days worth of hay or the entire supply, we take every precaution to minimize health and safety risks to your horse.
Central Park should be a place to escape the congestion, noise and stress of the city and cars have become something of an intrusion to the pace and tranquility of the park. In an effort to protect the safety of park-goers and reduce pollution, the de Blasio administration has shut down car access to drives along the parkland above 72nd Street on weekdays. Cars are already restricted from the park on weekends. A recent article in the New York Times and a subsequent opinion piece on the topic has me thinking once again about the ongoing New York horse carriage issue and how these recent decisions regarding car access could be a starting point to resolving both sides of the conflict.
For those unfamiliar with the issue, a selection of animal rights advocates would like to put an end to the horse-drawn carriages operating in the city. Having secured the support of the de Blasio administration, these groups cite the health and well being of the horses as their primary motivation for seeking the ban. They have proposed to replace the horse-drawn carriage tours with vintage inspired electric cars. The carriage industry, with its deeply rooted history as a staple of New York City, objects to the push and has staunchly defended that the working and stabling conditions of the horses are healthy and safe. The issue has vocal and high-profile supporters on either side and it has been the topic of documentaries and long-form media. Of course, the issue is much more complex than I’ve illustrated here.
I oppose eliminating horses from NYC streets but I do continue to advocate for their protection, health and safety. Horse-drawn carriages are part of New York City’s rich heritage and it would be a shame for it to be effectively replaced with something the city has more than enough of – cars. For a long time now, I’ve been an advocate for expanding equine activity in the city by delegating the horse-drawn carriages to the park and introducing more horse trails, equestrian programs and stabling options. Concrete and asphalt are not ideal footing for horses for extended periods of time but they’re not inherently “bad” for them either. I understand that the new restrictions will be a hindrance to taxis and others who use the park as a shortcut across town. It’s difficult to relinquish convenience, but I look at it as an improvement to the park experience and an opportunity to increase the presence of horses through a variety of activities and horse drawn carriages is just one of them.
Though horse-drawn carriage use in the park will not be affected by NYC’s new policy, it does raise questions about how the park will be traversed in the future. If horses are banned in the city and replaced with electric cars, the park would become inaccessible to many visitors seeking a scenic, non-pedestrian tour. Perhaps the reduction of car use in the park and the increase of equine activity can benefit everyone. The carriage industry can continue, pollution is reduced and pedestrians can maneuver safely.
I agree with the author of the opinion piece regarding the original intentions of the paved pathways. Frederick Law Olmstead had horse-drawn “vehicles” in mind for those Central Park roadways. Reducing car-use in the park and horses on the city streets just might be first step to revitalizing and expanding equine activity in the city.
Pat Raia’s recent article about the California barn fire blamed on exploding manure raises legitimate concerns about the dangers of improper waste management. Standing piles of manure contain rapidly reproducing bacteria and methane gas build up (as the internal temperature rises you might see smoke rising off the mounds!). The impending “explosion” could ignite any combustible material in proximity to it and you could be left with a devastating mess similar to the California barn fire.
Manure storage in the barn is a fairly rare occurrence in my experience and I agree with the recommendation that it should be stored outside and away from the barn. Not only to reduce the catastrophic events that could be caused by spontaneous combustion, but also to prevent flies, mosquitoes, and odors (not to mention the unnecessary risk to the safety of the horses from outside service vehicles and haulers tending to it). I find that most people store their manure in a dumpster or muck pit. As an alternative, I recommend and frequently specify a composting system close to the barn. A composting system like O2Compost is great and can be designed to accommodate large to small horse barn operations.
They’re also compact, customizable and can quell the influx of flies and mosquitoes. The heat created by the decomposing manure “cooks” it until it is reduced to a manageable amount. It can then be used in more productive ways such as providing fertilizer for the farm and paddocks (the cooking process has killed the harmful bacteria by this stage) and preventing weeds. Always be cautious, though, when handling or transporting waste materials so as to avoid mixing with other combustibles. This could increase your risk for fire as well. Most farms do separate them because the hauler typically objects to combining other trash with manure.
Spontaneous combustion is not limited to manure, however. Hay is a serious factor where barn fires are concerned, in my opinion. It is all too frequently stored in improperly ventilated barn lofts where it can easily ignite. Unfortunately, many owners house their horses alongside hay storage and have no idea how potentially deadly it can be. They think it won’t happen to them. With daily convenience in mind, I usually design a ventilated, isolated area to accommodate only a week’s worth of hay storage at a time. Generally, hay should not be amassed in lofts, but whenever it is stored there it should only be in small quantities. Special precautions need to be taken such as installing alarm systems and reducing exposure to electric lighting and equipment. I recommend natural lighting through a skylight or clerestory windows. I strongly encourage installing a sprinkler system in the barn. I know it’s expensive but think of it this way, “ can you afford to lose your barn, your horses, and everything else in there?” It may be worth the investment considering what’s at stake.
I want to thank Pat Raia for writing the article, as it will, hopefully, raise our collective consciousness to the presence of latent hazards around the barn.Whenever designing for horses, my goal is to find every way possible to make the barn (and the entire farm for that matter!) a safe and healthy home for them and their handlers.
John Blackburn, AIA, Senior Principal at Blackburn Architects, P.C. and author of Healthy Stables By Design has over 35 years of experience in the practice of architecture. He is responsible for the overall firm management. His award-winning designs include a full range of project types and services, from programming, existing facility evaluation, and master planning to new construction, adaptive reuse, and historic preservation. Please contact him here
The debate on whether horse carriages belong in the streets of New York City continues. Over the last few months I have published two, two-part blogs on the controversy of horse carriages in New York City. Those articles can be read here: “New York City: No Place for a Horse (Part 1/2),” “New York City: No Place for a Horse (Part 2/2),” “Horses in Cities: Part I- No NYC Horse Ban Just Yet,” “Horses in Cities” Part II – Arabbers in Baltimore.” New York Mayer Bill de Blasio is the root to the controversy, as he stated his intention to remove the horse carriages from the city altogether due to his feeling the industry is inhumane. I will argue there is a fine line of what’s inhumane about the situation at hand. Horse carriages in New York City are not in themselves inhumane. What’s inhumane in my opinion is having the horses stand for hours on hard surfaces while harnessed to a carriage and having to share space with hectic street traffic.
A solution? I think there is a positive solution to rid any question of inhumanity towards the horses while still keeping the horse-carrying business alive and the amenity available to the public. I recently read a statement by Mindy Levine, the wife of New York Yankee’s president, Randy L. Levine where she proposed the idea to have the horse carriages operate solely in Central Park along with riding stables and therapeutic riding facilities. I completely agree. I worked for a similar concept about six years ago though it was not in relation to the horse drawn carriage controversy. At the time my interest was to see more equestrian amenities provided in Central Park. Though that effort was largely unsuccessful, I still feel it would be good for Central Park and an obvious solution to the horse drawn carriage controversy. It could be the best solution.
In a recent New York Times publication written by actor Liam Neeson, the latest Quinnipiac poll proves 64 percent of New York participants want to see horse carriages remain in the city. A true advocate for horse carriages in New York City, Neeson pointed out most of the horse carriage drivers are immigrants who often times were brought up living on farms and tending for horses stating, “they love their jobs and their horses, and they take pride in being ambassadors for this great city.” I am not qualified to address that issue or the condition of the stables in which the horses are stabled, often an argument provided as proof of inhumane treatment and for eliminating the industry. If that is a problem and I have no way of knowing since I have not observed their stable care or visited the stables, then that issue could possibly be addressed without eliminating the industry entirely from the city or eliminating the drivers, grooms, or caregivers their jobs.
I will continue to be tuned in to any developments in New York City, as I am very passionate about the equine industry, the health and care of horses and would like to keep horse carriages in cities. Horses in cities are part of our heritage and I think there is a solution for retaining some form of that heritage. Fake vintage electric cars do not do it for me but neither does horse drawn carriages on busy 21st century crowded urban streets either. They belong but they belong in the park. Horses have been domesticated to be our “beast of burden” and in my opinion, there is nothing inhumane about the existence of horse carriages when treated properly and appropriately placed.
Renowned equestrian architect and author of Healthy Stables by Design, John Blackburn spoke at the National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg, VA on April 17. The successful event lasted for about two and a half hours including Blackburn’s book signing and a presentation on his approach for designing barns for the health and safety of horses. The presentation was followed by a question and answer period and individual discussions about barn design and barn preservation. Curator of Fellowships and Rare Books at the National Sporting Library, Lisa Campbell introduced Blackburn at the event.
Among those present was Jacqueline Mars, an avid equestrian supporter shown through her efforts as a trustee of the U.S. Equestrian Team and a Board member of the National Sporting Library and Fine Art Museum. Joe Fargis, a U.S. Olympic gold medal winner in show jumping; Vicky Moon, a talented equestrian writer and photographer; Mariann Payne, Director of Principal Gifts of the Trust for the National Mall; and Lester Buckley, a client of Blackburn’s in Hawaii and owner of Buckley Sport Horses, LLC. were also in attendance. Buckley’s website can be seen here.
The presentation was broken into three parts in which Blackburn began with a little history and background on how he got started designing for horses and the topic of designing stables around the health and safety of horses. Blackburn also discussed the details of his book Healthy Stables By Design. While telling the history, Blackburn included his first client Clarice Smith, owner of Heronwood Farm in Upperville, VA. Blackburn recognized Clarice Smith as an extremely valuable client. Mrs. Smith was unable to attend due to injuries from a fall just days before.
Incidentally, Clarice Smith has a special show of her equestrian art at her National Sporting Museum on view from April 11 to September 28 2014, adjacent to the library. Her show called Power and Grace illustrates her talent for painting, her passion for horses, and her love of her farm, Heronwood.
A number of copies of Blackburn’s book were sold, with proceeds to the National Sporting Library to support funding efforts.
The Town Council of Middleburg, VA hosted a book signing on April 6 for award-winning architect John Blackburn at The Hill School auditorium. In addition to discussing his latest book Healthy Stables By Design, Blackburn spoke on methods of building green and sustainable barns. Second Chapter Books, a local bookstore organized the event that was sponsored by the Middleburg Go Green Committee.
Blackburn discussed his methods of using natural, local, and recycled materials in conjunction with natural climate to create healthy environments for horses. Also at the event, Co-Owner with husband Michael Alba of Solar Odyssey, Ann Alba gave a presentation on renewable energy methods in your home. Alba serves as the Vice-Chair of the Purcellville Environment Committee and as the Vice President of Sustainable Loudoun. Solar Odyssey specializes in installing residential and commercial solar powered systems.
Blackburn’s book is currently available to purchase at Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, VA. In addition, Healthy Stables By Design can be purchased here with all author proceeds given to equine charities.
It was a very busy day for author and award-winning equine architect John Blackburn at Cazenovia College in New York. On April 14, Blackburn spoke in the college’s McDonald Lecture Hall to over fifty equine business students as well as various other faculty and students interested about his book Healthy Stables By Design, and his philosophy on designing barns and planning farms for the health of horses. Blackburn believes focusing on the health and safety of horses is important above all when designing a barn and planning the farm.
Associate Professor of Equine Business Management and Head Equestrian Team Coach, Amy Sherrick-von Schiller organized the event. Barbara Lindberg, Program Director of Equine Business Management, and Associate Professor of Equine Business Management at Cazenovia College drove all the way from Lexington, KY that day to attend the event.
Blackburn’s trip to Cazenovia was full of tours as he had the pleasure of visiting the farm of John and Beezie Madden guided by Farm Manager and Cazenovia Equine Program graduate, Amy DeVisser. Beezie is a two-time Olympic gold medal winner in show jumping, coached by her husband John, who runs his business John Madden Sales from their farm located in Cazenovia. The other tours included the equestrian center of Cazenovia College and the barn and arena of Sherrick-von Schiller.
Blackburn also spoke about incorporating sustainability into the design of the horse and layout of the farm, and described the Blackburn Greenbarn Concept (http://www.blackburngreenbarns.com.) He stressed the importance of protecting the horse in order to protect the owners four principle investments: the initial cost of the horse, the training of the horse, the maintenance and upkeep of the horse, and finally and perhaps the most important the emotional investment the owner has in the horse.
Blackburn presented a signed copy of his book to the school library for the benefit of current and future students.