Ask the Equestrian Architect: Part II

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One of our readers, Kelly, had a few great questions for me and I’d like to address two in today’s blog. (PS – Kelly writes a blog called Ride, Groom, Feed -the journal of a New Zealand Rider.) I hope my answers are helpful as it’s somewhat difficult to be specific since so much depends on your site, your program, and your goals. Thanks for your questions and for reading.

Q: “How can you allow flexibility for future development (that may never occur) without constricting the initial plans too much?”


Building for flexibility has its limits and you need to at least have a rough idea about how things might change in the future so you can plan for it in a reasonable and cost-effective way. Too much flexibility could ultimately end up adding to your costs, especially if the future needs are never realized. Here’s a couple of examples.

Regarding a site plan, say you want to build a 12-stall barn now, but may add or increase it to total 24 stalls later. I would recommend building a 12-stall barn with all of the horse stalls to one end so that you can add the future stalls to the other end to produce a 24-stall barn. That way the barn services (tack room, feed room, wash stalls, lounge/office, bathrooms) are all located to the center, where they are most efficient for a 24-stall barn. At the same time, if the services are at one end of a 12-stall barn, it’s still efficient for daily use.

Another example may be the question of where to build a barn and an outdoor arena with the idea that you’d like to add an indoor arena at some point in the future. A master plan can really help you to determine a phased build out of your entire program over time. If you do it once and take the time to fully plan for your entire potential program, you can determine the best placement for each structure and identify potential pitfalls to your site, understanding what can work best for your needs. There is no easy or simple explanation in this instance, but a master plan will help you (literally) visualize your success now and into the future.

Decisions, decisions

Q: “I live in an area where it rains a lot. What are the most effective drainage solutions? Where should run-off water go? What kind of drains are the safest?”

Make sure the barn is on high ground and that all grade around the barn drains away from the barn. Same with paddock gates and lead paths. You can create storm drainage swales that lead to bio-retention ponds or back into the ground without eroding the surface soils. Safe drains depend on where they are located and their size. I try to avoid any conditions where a horse can step into or off a ledge and suffer a foot or leg injury. Use French drains where necessary to drain water into the soil without creating surface conditions that become or create hazards. Good site planning is critical and is another area where an experienced equestrian architect can provide a valuable service that the inexperienced architect does not have (and you will rarely receive from the design build or prefab barn builder).

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5 responses to “Ask the Equestrian Architect: Part II”

  1. jon says:

    I’m still learning from you, while I’m making my way to the top as well. I certainly love reading everything that is written on your site.Keep the stories coming. I enjoyed it!

  2. biggiebeile says:

    obviously i have project to design in desert near the red sea in naama bay in Egypt Sinai . i wonder to know some information of how many seats i should spent in that area or what kind of style i will design the racecourse

  3. Hi Biggie,

    I appreciate your following of my work. Thank you. Unfortunately, I cannot help you with your design as I do not know enough information about your project, the site itself, budget, etc and I do not design horse racing tracks. I’d suggest retaining a local architect (I’m not sure of your experience level and if you’re a registered architect) and that you study the design of buildings throughout the area — it doesn’t have to be a barn or track — to get a feel for the style of the buildings and to study the design solutions to start. It also sounds like you might need a market study or something a little more involved to begin to develop a program that meets the needs of the future track (attendees, riders, trainers, etc.).

    There are some firms that specialize in horse tracks — Populous is an international design firm that’s done a few, for example. My firm specializes in the backstretch area (barns, equipment facilities, lounges, dorms, etc.) and my expertise on horse tracks is limited.

    Best of luck and keep us updated on your progress.


  4. Kelly RGF says:

    Thank you very much for your answer. I like the idea of a ‘split’ barn (build half then add half, with the facilities in the middle). I have never seen French drains used before but they sound perfect.

    Do you place any drains or special footing around high-traffic areas like water troughs and gateways? Those areas always seem to get awfully boggy in winter, even though we don’t have overflowing troughs or leaking pipes.

    Sorry to add one more question, but the site plan reminded me that I’ve always wondered about the layout of paddocks (or fields, I think you call them) that I have noticed at many of the nicer facilities in the states. Why is each paddock set apart individually? It seems like it wastes a lot of space and resources (double fencing where paddocks would otherwise abut) and would require more maintenance (mowing between the paddocks etc). Is it to prevent horses ‘talking’ over the fence and being more likely to injure themselves or each other?

    • Hi Kelly,

      To answer your questions…

      French drains can work very well in the right location when constructed properly. I’m sure you have seen them before but didn’t recognize them as they would not typically be noticed.

      As far as placing drains or special footing around high-traffic areas… You can, but it is best if possible to place high-traffic areas at high ground and ensure the grade slopes away from the water source. For example, place water troughs (where possible) near the top of a natural slope. The same is true of gates, if possible. Of course, the natural slope of your paddock may not facilitate that and, in such case, a French drain could help alleviate the problem.

      French drains can be a little costly but, in the right location, they work very well to solve the problem. One long-term concern with French drains is that over time they can silt up, which reduces their effectiveness. That occurs more frequently when sand or stone dust and other fine materials are allowed to wash into the drain. But, if properly constructed with a filter fabric protection over the drain tile, it should last and perform well for many years.

      Following is a Wikipedia definition of French drain:
      A French drain,[1] blind drain,[1] rubble drain,[1] rock drain,[1] drain tile, perimeter drain, land drain orFrench ditch is a trench covered with gravel or rock that redirects surface and groundwater away from an area. A French drain can have perforated hollow pipes along the bottom (see images) to quickly vent water that seeps down through the upper gravel or rock. French drains are common drainage systems, primarily used to prevent ground and surface water from penetrating or damaging building foundations. Alternatively, the French drain technique may be used to distribute water, such as a septic drain field at the outlet of a typical septic tank sewage treatment system. French drains are also used behind retaining walls to relieve ground water pressure.

      RE: Paddocks…

      Setting the paddocks or fields (whatever one wants to call them) apart is done for several reasons and you are right it could be considered a “waste” if you have limited land and the reasons for having them are not justified.

      I provide space between paddocks when there is sufficient land for several reasons:

      1.) Isolate horses in adjoining paddocks from biting or “fighting” over the fence. That’s not always a problem but because horses are herd animals and there is almost always a dominant horse in the herd, one is potentially going to assert that dominance or challenge another.
      2.) It provides a good lead path from the barn to more distant paddocks without going through another occupied paddock.
      3.) It provides a means for mowers or other farm equipment to move about the fields without disturbing horses within certain paddocks.
      4.) It provides a natural location for drainage swales so water doesn’t drain through the paddock and create wet areas as in those “boggy” areas you referred to in your first question.

      I hope these responses are helpful. Good luck.


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