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02.16.11

Ron Samsel: A Court Case Equestrians Should Know About

Navigating codes and permit issues can create confusion and headaches for clients who seek to build a horse barn in a state or municipality that lacks special classification for agricultural buildings. Several states, including Pennsylvania, offer building permit exemption if a horse barn can be classified as an agricultural building. This usually means that the barn is privately owned and used and is not a place of employment or residence. If a jurisdiction does not allow a horse barn to be classified as “agricultural,” the property and its buildings are subjected to rather excessive restrictions. (I should note that agricultural buildings still must meet the established zoning and building code requirements.) At Blackburn Architects, we run into excessive restrictions in many states and local jurisdictions if the equestrian facility cannot be classified as agricultural.

That’s why when I came across the following article about a horse farm owner in Pennsylvania, I knew I had to share it. Ron Samsel, the owner, simply wanted to build a private horse barn for his friends and family to enjoy. Instead, he entered a battle with his township that landed them both in court: all over a building permit. While Samsel eventually won the case– his horse barn was declared an agricultural enterprise and, therefore, a building permit was not required– he spent a large chunk of time and money fighting a battle against the township he felt was acting irrationally and irresponsibly.

The court ruling may set a precedent for similar cases or disputes, of which I’d guess there are many, in Pennsylvania and possibly even surrounding states. I am glad attention has been brought to this issue and can only hope for greater clarity and consistency in what has become a convoluted issue for many equestrians who seek to build a horse barn to call their own.

EXCERPT FROM PENNSYLVANIAN EQUESTRIAN

Considering this nightmare, Samsel says he can understand why individuals rarely seem to fight township rulings, even when the townships are clearly wrong. “The townships always win because they push the little guy out,” he says. Each time he won his case in court, the township was given 30 days to appeal the decision. Each time, the township waited until the 29th day to announce that they would appeal.

Old Woodlands is a private horse farm in South Carolina

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12.30.10

Composting Horse Manure: A Guide to the (very) Basics

Composting, or deriving decayed plant matter from manure into nutrient-rich soil-like material, may be as old as, well, dirt. Still, the practice of composting remains a relevant option for barn owners; especially as sustainable farming methods gain popularity.

Beyond sustainability, compost pros often cite sheer quantity as initiative: a single horse (1,000 lbs. or so) produces between 40 to 50 pounds of manure daily. That brings a phrase to mind that I won’t type, but you get the gist: horse owners deal with a lot of muck that can’t be ignored.

So you have the raw material to work with…now what? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as piling it up and letting nature run its course. You have to turn (often literally) manure into compost—a feat that isn’t overly difficult, but involves a few steps. However, with a little effort, complete composting can occur within four to six weeks.

Most of what I’ve learned about composting comes from attending a seminar hosted by the Horse Outreach Workgroup (HOW) on soil management and land use issues and working with Peter Moon of O2 Compost – both are fantastic resources for more in-depth review.

According to Peter Moon of O2 Compost, controlling the composting process is the real challenge, since horse manure often contains a high wood content from bedding as well as even weed seeds—meaning it’s only garden-friendly if properly composted. Moon recommends inducing oxygen through one large compost pile using an electric blower, which stimulates microbial activity and jumpstarts the composting process. Known as aerated static pile composting, this may be an option to consider if you are dealing with a large volume of manure (more than four horses), as it eliminates manual turning. Another method is to manually turn windrows (elongated piles) using a shovel or front-end loader to tumble the manure to introduce oxygen throughout the mix. Regardless of method, the goal remains the same: naturally heated compost that ranges between 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that kills most internal parasites and weed seeds.

An aerated static pile on O2 Compost's website

The Horse Outreach Workgroup (HOW) identifies oxygen, moisture, and carbon to nitrogen ratio as measurable qualities essential to composting successfully. To calculate proper levels of each, I recommend the tools available through the Cornell Waste Management Institute.

Oxygen

Whether turning your compost up to three times a week manually or utilizing an electric blower, pipes, fans, or other tools, getting oxygen into the mix is paramount. Without oxygen, it’s just a smelly pile of manure. The process of introducing oxygen into compost is called aerating; aeration allows faster decomposition.

Moisture

HOW notes that compost piles should feel like a wrung-out sponge: not too wet and not too dry. Overly wet compost can be tampered with leaves, straw, or yard trimmings, while a little water can aid dry compost. Covering the pile with plastic can also help retain moisture.

Carbon: Nitrogen Ratio

While it can get much more technical, basically a compost pile should be carbon based with a touch of nitrogen. Various compost components contain different levels of each, so calculation tools such as the ones available from Cornell Waste Management come in handy. HOW lists the ideal carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio as 25-30:1. Horse manure itself is about 50:1 (a number higher still with bedding factored in), which is why leaves and other materials must be added to achieve the proper C:N ratio.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Benefits

  • Enrich pastures and gardens
  • Improve soil structure, texture, aeration, and water retention
  • Lighten clay soil types
  • Increase water retention in sandy soil
  • Help control erosion
  • Increase soil fertility
  • Balance pH levels
  • Control odors, flies, and pests
  • Capture over 95% of industrial volatile chemicals (VOCs) in contaminated air
  • Reduce manure volume by about half

Tips

  • Switch bedding from wood shavings to wood pellets to improve the carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N)
  • Start in late summer/early fall to take advantage of longer daylight hours and decent weather
  • Compost is worth about $20 to $40 per yard, according to Peter Moon of O2 Compost
  • Do not use treated wood scraps or yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides in your compost pile
  • “Done” compost is about half of its original size

Resources

Above-grade muck pit at Kindle Hill Farm

Below-grade muck pit at Sheik Island Farm

 

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12.14.10

Lucky Jack Ranch in Rancho Santa Fe – Southern California Dreamin’

Just over a year ago, I wrote about visiting a project in Rancho Santa Fe, California that had just began construction. A year later, I am happy to report that the construction effort is complete and was a great success. Lucky Jack Ranch, as its owners have christened it, is located in Rancho Santa Fe California and is made up of a 3,900 sq. ft. clubhouse with guest residence, a 15-stall barn plus a large wash stall, six outdoor tacking stalls, and an open riding arena. The Ranch also has a famous neighbor: the Pacific Ocean.

The family’s private equestrian facilities take full advantage of seven acres of the site, with the structures placed upon an overlook to capture Pacific Ocean breezes, not to mention an ideal view of the sunset. The Ranch emphasizes the leisurely aspects of horse riding, from cool-down trails surrounding the property to a large patio that invites riders to relax and socialize after riding. There’s a romantic feel to the architecture, which was designed as a modern tribute to Lilian J. Rice, the architect responsible for much of the site planning and architectural design within the community of Rancho Santa Fe as it formed around 1922. The architecture is heavily influenced by Spanish and Spanish Colonial design, using stucco, terra cotta, and wood accents. A trellis stretches from the clubhouse to the barn to connect the Ranch visually.

The property focuses on an ultimate rider experience, apparent in the full amenities at Lucky Jack (there’s even a wood burning pizza oven), but there’s no mistaking that this is a serious working horse ranch; complete with a hotwalker, round pen, custom Lucas Equine stall systems that include indoor and outdoor wash stalls, a tack room, and several areas for riders to lounge and observe the activity of fellow riders.

A fully equipped kitchen and dining area in the clubhouse opens to a smaller, more intimate patio space for dining al fresco while the main patio (with that enviable, wood burning pizza oven I mentioned) prompts larger gatherings. Lounge chairs and tables invite riders and non-riders alike to relax and take in the refreshing ocean breezes and unwind. The owner’s family and friends can even stay in the clubhouse, which has two bedrooms, terraces, and a laundry room. The only real difficulty might be getting guests to leave.

[slideshow]

Allard Jansen Architects, Inc. of San Diego was a local design consultant and permit facilitator for the project.

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11.05.10

Completed Project – A Final Update on Family Farm in Marshall, Virginia

A few weeks ago, some of my staff and I were able to tour one of our recently completed projects, a new horse barn, arena, and residence (for which we did some renovations) in Marshall, Virginia. Marshall is located in the Northern Virginia piedmont, just outside of the well-known horse communities of Middleburg and Upperville. With beautiful, sloping land, the area is home to several farms, vineyards, and country homes.

The 8-stall barn has a lounge with an office on the second floor and an attached arena for the owner to practice dressage. I’m very pleased with how the new facilities have turned out and hope the owners are too. For more information on the scope of work, please see my previous post. [slideshow]

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10.12.10

The American Horse Council: A Free Tax Seminar in VA

I’d like to pass along the following information from The American Horse Council for my Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC area readers.

The American Horse Council will be hosting a FREE Tax Seminar featuring Tad Davis on Thursday November 4, 2010 at 6 p.m. at the Tri-County Feeds in Marshall, VA.  This is an open invitation, so feel free to share it with other members of the horse industry so they can learn how current federal tax laws affect them and their equine businesses.  Please see the attached invitation for more details.

This invitation is also posted on the AHC website, so feel free to visit the Events Page on the AHC website for information.  We are asking that anyone that plans to attend please RSVP so w e can have an estimate of how many people to expect.   Please direct all RSVPs to Bridget Harrison at bharrison@horsecouncil.org or 202.296.4031.

TaxSeminarVA

 

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09.03.10

Arena Design – Tips and Considerations

Size & Scale

When designing, I’m often concerned about maintaining proper scale and proportion. In equestrian design, arenas in particular pose a challenge simply because they are such large structures. An arena is never small, but since different riding styles determine the amount of space required, it’s important to first understand how much space you need. Once you gauge the room necessary to ride, you may consider some of the following elements to design a proportionate and functional arena.

Lower the Stakes

Arenas of all sizes benefit by lowering the structure within the site. Push the structure into the ground and the visual height is greatly reduced. Typically, I recommend lowering the arena four to five feet into the ground. That way you can create an observation area on one or more sides, that has visibility over a kick wall or fence, with an on-grade entrance from the exterior. The “bird’s eye view” observation area is excellent for spectators and the lowered grade takes full advantage of the site without increasing the structure’s bulk.

If there are several facilities on your site, carefully placing the arena amongst the facilities you have—or the ones you plan to build—can help to break up the arena’s large scale. The slope of the roof is often overlooked in prefabricated arenas; often too-low roofs of these structures offer only a massive, box-like look. If, however, the roof is sloped at five in 12 or greater, the arena can appear smaller and fit more naturally into the landscape. Sometimes you’ll run into zoning or code restrictions with height, so lowering the arena into the ground can literally give you more working room.

Covered vs. Enclosed

Geographic location is everything when considering an enclosed, covered, or open arena. An enclosed arena is probably necessary in cold or windy climates. Roll-up garage doors with translucent or clear panels on all sides of the arena can provide an indoor-to-outdoor feel; just open it up when the weather permits or, alternatively, close it up during inclement weather.

Lighting

We try to take advantage of natural light in all of our designs—from equestrian to residential—because natural light really can’t be beat. A continuous ridge skylight is the most effective method to achieve this, and the technique also increases natural ventilation within the arena. Operable louvers can further contribute to natural light and ventilation while maintaining control as you adjust them accordingly. Any glazing used should be translucent to avoid creating shadows that might confuse a horse. While a large skylight is a more expensive option, various materials can reduce its cost. A naturally lit arena doesn’t rely on electric lights during the day, which is another bonus for horses and riders.

The arena at Glenwood Farm

View from the inside at Glenwood

Arranging the farm to minimize the arena's impact at Winley Farm

An example of an observation/lounge area in a private facility

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08.10.10

Winley Farm: a Millbrook, New York Destination

ELLE Magazine recently featured Millbrook, New York in the “Jet-Setter” column of its magazine and website. Of particular interest to us at Blackburn is its mention of the riding facilities at Winley Farm. We designed this project a few years ago, which has a 40-stall barn, an enclosed arena, a veterinary facility, and other amenities. It’s a terrific spot to safely board your horses or to attend a public riding clinic. I’m happy that Winley is getting the recognition it deserves as it couldn’t be run by a nicer group of people.

The arena at Winley Farm in Millbrook, New York

The barn at Winley Farm

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08.09.10

DCmud: Blog about Blackburn

I’m excited to share today’s blog entry about Blackburn Architects on DCmud.com contributed by Beth Herman. DCmud is a top blog in the world of architecture and design in Washington, D.C. and is presented by DCRealEstate.com. Hope you read the article and enjoy!

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07.28.10

Project Update: Construction Progress of California Ranch

One of our project managers, Dan, traveled to California last week to check in on the construction progress at Lucky Jack Ranch in Rancho Santa Fe. The last time I blogged about the project—about 8 months ago—the construction was just underway and where it was headed may of been difficult to visualize.

I’m now happy to report that visualization is no longer necessary to gauge the progress of this project, which will wrap up construction before we know it. Personally, I find it hard to believe the following photo isn’t a rendering. I’ll include the rendering too so you can compare for yourself. I hope the owners are as pleased as I am with how their project is turning out and that they will be able to enjoy the new facilities very soon.

Rendering of the project, Lucky Jack Ranch

Photo of the construction progress as of July 2010

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07.26.10

Saratoga Special and HRTV: Coming Soon to a TV Near you?

I thought I’d share some news I received today for the thouroughbred racing fans out there. Starting July 24th, HRTV is airing the Saratoga Special Show live from 10-10:30 a.m. EST on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the meet. For more information, please click here and be sure to check your local listings.

A really terrific photo of the Saratoga Race Course by the Saratoga Arms Hotel. http://www.saratogaarms.com

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