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Weekend in Wellington

Every year the village of Wellington in West Palm Beach, Florida hosts one of the most anticipated horse events across the globe. The FTI Winter Equestrian Festival is the longest yearly equestrian event worldwide, held this year from January 8th to March 30th. I attended the festival for the first time 15 years ago. I would go on to attend at least once a year for 8 consecutive years after that. Breaking a 7-year hiatus, I traveled to again from February 28th through March 1st to the Wellington Winter Equestrian Festival. This was the 8th weekend of 2014’s event and I was reminded of what I had been missing. I was amazed at how much the place has changed and how much more crowded it had become (for the better from my perspective at least, though probably a nightmare to many.) There were more horses and riders than you can imagine in one place.


On Friday I had the pleasure of attending the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup presented by G&C Farms, a competition of equine show jumping. The competition lasted late into the evening and included 45 riders from 12 countries. Canada prevailed in the $75,00 competition, followed by Great Britain in second, and the United States in third. There was some outstanding competition from the other countries participating; including Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, and Venezuela.

On Saturday morning I had the opportunity to tour the farms of Victoria McCullough and Marcia Radosevich, two prominent names in Wellington and the world of horses. Victoria is a familiar face on Capital Hill where she advocates against horse slaughter and the distribution of horsemeat for human consumption. We will feature Victoria soon in a special blog series called “Crusaders for Equine.” She has rescued hundreds of horses, 20 of which reside on her Wellington Farm. She is looking to purchasing a large farm in Maryland.

Marcia, a Wellington resident and Wellington board member has lent her voice to the debate of the commercializing the city’s Equestrian Preserve. She, like many others who have invested significantly into their horse properties, sees the good in the continued development of Wellington as a hub for equestrianism but not at the cost of the land values. Marcia is an advocate for green concepts as is evident in exploring her property. The roof of her barn is covered in solar panels, which have taken the building completely off of the grid. She also uses recycled rainwater collected from her paddocks employing a unique sun shelter design that not only collects rain water but allows the shadows to move with the sun protecting the grass and soil.

That afternoon I attended the horse show and hung out at the Amberway Equine booth were I met riders, trainer, owners, some potential clients and signed copies of my book “Healthy Stables by Design.” It was a beautiful day, especially considering I left DC with 6 inches of snow on the ground and temperatures in the teens and single digits.

Sunday marked the day of the premiere polo match at the International Polo Club of Palm Beach. The weather was absolutely perfect and brought out a great crowd. I was a guest of Mason Phelps, founder and president of Phelps Media Group and sat at his table of 12 on the rail.

Important to note is the tragic loss earlier that week in the untimely death of Carlos Gracida. He died in a freak polo accident while playing polo in Wellington. Flags remained at half-staff in honor of Gracida who trained royalty or his lifetime. A memorial service was held at International Polo Club the day before. He will be missed but never forgotten.

The polo match that afternoon put Team Orchard Hill and Team Valiente head to head in the finals of the C.V. Whitney Cup. The match was closely contested in the beginning but saw Valiente pull away to a 12-8 victory.

Following the match I rushed to the airport to fly back to DC only to find all flights north had been cancelled due to bad weather in the Northeast.  I was “forced” to stay in Wellington another two days and suffer through the 70 to 80 degree temperatures and gorgeous sun while everyone in DC was digging out of yet another snowstorm. Woe is me.

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Horses in Cities: Part II – Arabbers in Baltimore

In Horses in Cities: Part I I wrote about the on going debate for the place of horse carriages in metropolitan areas such as New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Similar to that discussion is the argument over Arabbers in Baltimore. Arabbers are merchants who travel door-to-door selling fresh produce that is pulled by a horse and wagon. Arabbers have been part of Baltimore’s history for over 100 years. The carts have developed a base of frequent costumers, many of whom are senior citizens who cannot travel to grocery stores as often as they might like. This convenience and historical significance make powerful cases for maintaining place Arabbers on city streets.


Much like the debate in NYC, these horse driven wagons came under fire from animal rights activists who claimed that stabling conditions for horses were inhumane. Stables housing horses have been shut down due to building code violations and accusations of mistreatment. I agree current stabling is in poor condition and definitely needs replacement but that does not justify the removal of the Arabbers from the street.  They play an important and integral part of the inner city community.  Daniel Van Allen is the president and founder of the Arabber Preservation Society and has been at the forefront of the effort to keep Arabbers on Baltimore’s streets. In 2013, the APS added new stalls and renovated old stalls at the Arabber Center and released 8 new carriages to operate in Baltimore.  It is a step in the right direction and like many good causes they need funding, donations, grants, etc.

It is interesting to compare the use of horses in NYC to those in Baltimore. Generally conditions in Baltimore are not as tough as those in NYC. My argument against horse carriages in NYC is their use on busy congested city streets, their standing long hours on hard surfaces waiting for a customer and their questionable stabling situation. Arabber horses are typically used in residential areas and not high traffic areas, which the horses in NYC encounter. They provide a useful service to the poor communities of the inner city and employ the use of horses in a traditional way. For these reasons, we are hoping to work with the Arabbers in Baltimore to provide them decent stabling and a museum about the history of the Arabbers. Our goal in that effort is to provide them safe healthy stabling and care at the same time we preserve inner city heritage, jobs and provide a community service.

I support preservation of our historic heritage especially when it serves as a useful community service (food services to the poor inner city neighborhoods) as in the case of the Arabbers and independent employment to members of the community. There are a lot of other efforts (community farming, farmers markets, community supported not for profit groceries and buyers clubs, etc) being made today to provide quality food to the under served communities of the inner city. Arabbers are a part of this service and while they predate many of the newer ones, they are an initiative worth protecting and preserving.

Are you interested in learning more or getting involved with Arabber preservation?

 aps logo

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Horses in Cities: Part I – No NYC Horse Ban Just Yet

A couple of months ago, I published a two-part blog on the controversy of horse carriages in New York City. I shared that while I believed there is a place in NYC for horse carriages, I do not believe the city’s streets are this haven. I believe a better place to offer horse carriage rides is Central Park, not only for the horses but for business as well. I will not belabor that point in this blog but I encourage you to take a look back to New York City: No Place for a Horse to grasp my complete perspective on the matter.

Since the first mention of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s intent to remove horse carriages from NYC streets (and my previously mentioned blog) there has been no definitive action toward this resolution. Parties in support of the mayor’s initiative say they simply have not introduced a bill or selected sponsors. Their side now faces added pressure from a new medical study. Recently, Veterinarian Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVN, a professor in the Rutgers University Department of Animal Sciences, has provided her expert opinion to the debate. She does not believe horse carriages to be inhumane and finds a ban would not be necessary to protect the animal’s best interest. In fact, she believes the routine of carriages horses enhances quality of life and helps to better maintain good health.

Pat Raia, journalist for The Horse and author of Carriage Horse Controversy Extends Beyond New York City quotes Ralston as saying:

“The carriage horses, on the whole, are showing no signs of distress or unwillingness to work when asked to do so,” asserted Ralston. “They are well adapted to their environment. If they weren’t, they would not last long on the streets… If a horse is in its stall without access to pasture, but is getting quality basic care and regular exercise, should we say that this horse is being abused, or is it cruel to ask a horse to do a job that it is well-trained for and capable of doing without distress? … This is the norm for a majority of the horses kept in urban and suburban settings, and this (kind of legislation) sends a terrible precedent that should have the entire horse industry up in arms” (Raia).

In my opinion, Ms Ralston’s argument that horse carriages in themselves are not necessarily inhumane is correct but I do not necessarily accept her argument that “They (horses) are well adapted to their environment. If they weren’t, they would not last long on the streets.”  Not the most sensitive concern for the welfare of the horse in my opinion.  Do the horses have any say in the matter?  Of course not.  They are there because they are domesticated beast of burden but that doesn’t mean they should be subjected to a live or die trying situation.  I repeat, my concern that horses standing for long hours on hard surfaces whether it be on the city streets or in a barn aisle or wash stall is abusive treatment.

Previously, the preeminent argument of the side in favor of horse carriages was fear of mass job loss and the removable of a historical and cultural fixture in the city’s history. Surely, the debate will become more interesting given this development.

New York City is not the only metropolitan taking a look at its regulations for horse carriages. Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, and Chicago are all following suit. Each city has recently reviewed regulations surrounding horse carriages. While Philadelphia and Salt Lake City’s revisions would allow horse carriages to remain a part of city life, legislation has been introduced Chicago that could potentially put an end to carriage ride, ceasing the issue of new “licenses until all such licenses have expired.” I will certainly be tuned in to developments in these cities as well as New York City.

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Healthy Stables by Design featured in AIA|DC Newsletter

John’s book, “Health Stables by Design,” has been featured in the February issue of the AIA|DC Newsletter. Check out the blurb: AIA Newsletter February

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Healthy Stables by Design, Healthy Wife by His Side

Saturday, February 10th marked a celebration for two people at the core of Blackburn Architects—John Blackburn and his vibrant and very entertaining wife Jenni Blackburn. In recognition of the success of John’s book Healthy Stables by Design and of Jenni’s road to recovery from injury, over 60 of the couple’s closest friends, family, and colleagues gathered in their Washington home to celebrate John and Jenni’s success. Guests were treated to an impressive meal catered by Occasions Catering and an open bar. While the evening was full of fun, the couple did take a moment to thank the many people who played a part in their journeys.


 John shared that while he was apprehensive about writing a book at first he was very happy with the outcome and with the money he was able to raise for horse charities (all of the author’s proceeds from sale of the book go to horse charities). During his moment of sentiment John shared this thought, “For 30 years horses have fed me—it was time that I fed the horses.” Since September 2013 when the book was published, John personally sold about 300 copies of his book and raised $8,000 for equine charities. He also took a moment to note a major flaw in his book. As guests from the Blackburn office looked at each other in confusion John shared that he had forgotten to include in the acknowledgement of those who had contributed to his book the one person who had the most influence on the completion of Healthy Stabled by Design—his wife, Jenni, who stood by him throughout his 30 years of equestrian design and pushing him to get the book written.


Jenni followed John with heartfelt remarks of a 7-year journey to recovery from numerous orthopedic injuries resulting from being hit by a car as a pedestrian in 2005, followed by two hip replacements (on the same hip) and a knee replacement, all on the same leg. Jenni recognized various friends, many who helped her along that road, from her best friends Kristin Eddy and Tinka Pritchett to her physical therapists Christina Stayeas and Nancy Menepace Wilson, her Pilates instructor Amber Yancey, her hair stylist Keith Spangler, and her manicurist Pascale Fernandez. While Jenni managed to bring tears to the eyes of many of the people in room she also made sure to inject her unique and undoubtedly hilarious brand of humor as well.

John and Jenni are two people who are passionate about life, horses (well, at least John), and who love to laugh. They keep the ship that is Blackburn Architects afloat and sailing smoothly. We all wish them continued success, healthy, and prosperity.

By Staff at Blackburn Architects


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Blackburn Architects featured in Equestrian Magazine

Blackburn Architects has been featured in Equestrian Magazine! Check out the article and photos of the Ohio renovation project here.

2014janfeb_Equestrian Living

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Barn Fires: Occurrences, Causes, and Prevention

I recently posted a blog on heated barns and the unnaturalness of the environment that they create. For animals, including horses, heated lamps, or other methods of adding heat to barns is sometimes necessary. However, these methods present a huge risk and should be used in only extreme weather conditions. Of course, “extreme” is a relative term dependent upon your horses, their winter coat, their feed supplements, the design of the barn, etc.

Horses are animals that are “designed” by nature to withstand the cold temperatures of winter even down to zero degrees Fahrenheit. When they are too cold in the wild there is no artificial heat source to relieve the animals. In the wild they are able to run to generate heat to stay warm or run behind a hill to avoid a cold wind. One of the problems with confining horses in paddocks, and even more so in barn stalls, is that horses lose the option to control their environments for health and safety needs.

Apart from their effect on the natural aspects of a barn, heating fixtures are one of the many potential causes of barn fires. While they may differ in their origins, fires are nonetheless devastating for barn owners. One only needs to search through Google’s recent news headlines to find barn fires are not uncommon occurrences.

Courtesy of Mansfield News Journal

Courtesy of Mansfield News Journal

Fire Caused by Added Heat Sources

The majority of the barn fires I read about in the last month were caused by electrical malfunctions or by heat lamps that had been left unattended or were knocked over. Of the 7 fires researched, 5 were caused by added sources of artificial heat. The cause of one of the other fires is still under investigation but it has been reported that a heat lamp could potentially be the culprit. Even the smallest spark or overheating from heat sources, electrical appliances, or cigarettes is enough to send a barn up in flames. Barns, which are often made of wood and store hay, are the perfect fuel source for a raging fire. A metal clad pole barn can be just as hazardous because of the light wood framing of the wood purlins and wood trusses (that collect cobwebs and bird nests).  Once those elements catch fire it is often only minutes before the barn is engulfed in flames and collapses.

In an article, “Barn Fire Prevention,” for TheHorse.com, Les Sellnow writes, “It takes two to three minutes for a straw fire to burn an area 10 feet in diameter. Compare this to the size of a common horse box stall that is 10 to 12 feet square. After a fire starts in a stall and spreads to only four feet in diameter, most horses are injured. By a six-foot diameter (fire), (the horse’s) lungs are seared. With an eight-foot diameter fire, the horse will start to suffocate. By 10 feet, the horse is dead. All of this occurs in two to three minutes. If a horse is to survive unharmed, he must be removed from the stall within 30 seconds” (Sellnow). This is a difficult task to do in any situation. The best answer to that risk is to design and operate the barn that reduces fire risks.

In two of the cases we found horses were able to escape the blaze by retreating to nearby paddocks and pastures. In other instances the horses and other animals dwelling in the barn were killed. In all of the cases firefighters arrived to find the barn completely engulfed in flames or close to completely.

Fires Caused by Natural Occurrences

Every once and a while a fire is caused without the help of human interference. Lightning and spontaneous combustion of hay are two natural sources of barn fire. It should be noted, the conditions that lead to spontaneous combustion are often cause by humans ignoring the proper precautions necessary when storing hay to prevent this phenomenon. A lightning bolt carries as much as 200 million volts of electricity, more than enough to spark a fire. The only instance of a lightning caused fire that we found occurred in Huntsville, Alabama on 1/14/14. By the time news of the blaze reached firefighters at 4 a.m. the entire barn was engulfed and 12 horses, 13 cats, and a dog perished.

Spontaneous combustion of hay occurs, believe it of not, when hay is too wet. “According to a pamphlet from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), heat is generated by the bacterial reaction during the curing process, which begins while the hay is on the ground prior to baling. The moist interior of the hay might smolder unnoticed for some time before the edge of the stack is reached and spontaneous combustion ensues.” This reaction is preventable with proper maintenance.

Prevention Techniques:

“Prevention is the best medicine”; The barn, in fact the entire farm should be designed with the health and safety of the horse the primary concern.

Some suggestions to reduce risk of fire:

  • Use natural light as much as possible to reduce need for electric lights, especially in lofts
  • Avoid haylofts when possible and if hay storage is included ventilate, ventilate, ventilate but also isolate, isolate, isolate. Ventilate so hay breathes and cures but isolate in case spontaneous combustion should occur it is contained from spreading (or at least slow its spread giving time to get horses out of the barn.)
  • Design barn to create natural vertical ventilation to cool the barn in summer and exhaust humidity and bacteria in winter. Reduces dependency on electric fans. Damper the ventilation so the horse is not left in a cold draft in the stall in winter.
  • Blanket the horse when necessary and when weather conditions are extreme in lieu of heating the barn.
  • Provide exterior Dutch doors at stalls when possible for better ventilation control, improved day lighting of the stall and as a fire escape when necessary (remember to design latch so they are accessible from exterior.)
  • Create fire separations within larger barns in particular between heated and human occupied spaces and the stall area and to isolate arena from stall areas.
  • Avoid including full time residence within barn whenever possible to reduce fire risks. Better to locate in separate structure but if not possible, isolate by rated firewall.
  • All electrical wiring should be in metal conduit or metal sheathed wiring, even inside wall, floor and ceiling cavities (rodents can gnaw on the plastic cable).
  • Use explosion proof switches and outlet covers
  • Do not use barn for storage of motorized machinery or fuel
  • Design interior framing of barn to be easily accessible for cleaning and to reduce options for bird nesting and cobwebs
  • Design barn with masonry or heavy timber framing when possible and affordable as it is much more fire resistant than light wood framing



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John featured in Wellington

The January 2014 issue of Wellington the Magazine features John Blackburn and his book, Healthy Stables by Design. The article, “Award-Winning Architect John Blackburn Puts Focus On Health & Safety of Horses,” was written by Carrie Wirth and Beth Herman.


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New York City: No Place for a Horse (Part 2/2)

Rather than fight totally for one side or the other on this issue, as personal opinions will generally differ, I would support continued horse riding in the city, specifically in Central Park, so long as conditions are comfortable, humane and safe for horses. Several years ago I worked with a NYC resident, an equestrian and others who wanted to bring trail riding and public horse stables back to Central Park. From 2007 through 2011, trail riding was provided by the Riverdale Equestrian Center but this offering has since ended with no indication of when or if it will recommence. The Claremont Riding Academy, located at 175 W. 89th Street, operated for a number of years but closed because of limited funding and declining support from patrons and city government.

I think the park should designate an area, preferably an existing building, as a hub for equestrian riding in NYC. I have looked at several existing historic structures in the park and found one that would allow for this idea to be accomplished. However, the “powers that be” saw it differently and found other uses for that structure which in my opinion would have made a perfect historic stable for both trail riding horses as well as carriage horses.

Courtesy of Horsebackmagazine.com

Courtesy of Horsebackmagazine.com

Therefore, in summary my resolution to the issue is to “make lemonade from lemons”:

  1. Take the horse drawn carriages off the public streets;
  2. Continue horse drawn carriage rides inside Central Park;
  3. Provide decent, healthy, safe, regulated stabling that is either inside the park (preferable) or very close by;
  4. Regulate the handling of the horses so they have the proper stabling, exercise, feeding, and care to address their other needs such as vet and farrier;
  5. I do not know how many carriages there are and how often they are used but it appears to me there are more than is necessary (if one judges by the number waiting and literally standing on the on the street). If that is the case, regulations should license and restrict the number so they are not left standing, harnessed for hours on hours. Harnessing a horse and requiring that they remain that way for long hours strips the animal of control and can cause stress, fear, anxiety, etc. And yes, horses really do have these feelings and it is inhumane to not recognize and respond to those needs.

As mentioned above, I worked on a project pro bono several years ago to bring horseback riding with permanent stabling inside Central Park. It went nowhere. I was especially disappointed that it was unsuccessful because the mayor at that time, Michael Bloomberg, has an unusually strong connection to the equine community and could have, in my opinion, done something to make it happen.  Perhaps he was unaware of the project or maybe he was opposed to it. I don’t know. There were and still are a number of people, historical groups, environmental groups, parks and recreation departments who have their own concerns and agenda for Central Park. It is such an amazing space and I do not disagree that it needs to be protected and preserved, but horses in NYC and in Central Park are also historic. Merging these two legacies without sacrificing the authenticity of either is surely not impossible.

I think both sides, and most importantly the horses, can come out a winner on this. The health and safety of the horse must be our priority but that does not mean the other concerns cannot be addressed and served in some capacity. I would like to help. Please provide your comments and thoughts. I must be honest: if they are political in nature I am not that interested. I am interested in the humane treatment of horses and their inclusion within our society. They are, next to dogs in my opinion, man’s best friends.

Want to go back to Part 1 of this article? Click here.

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New York City: No Place for a Horse (Part 1/2)

Newly elected Mayor of NYC Bill de Blasio has plans to rid the city’s streets of horse drawn carriages, putting an end to a time honored tradition. Arguments pro and con the move make a powerful debate.

Mayor de Blasio and many animal rights groups argue that carriages are inhumane using statistics about recent accidents to support their claims. Groups such as NYCLASS and ASPCA are backing the mayor. Those opposed believe the NYC horse drawn carriage  trade is rooted in tradition, with antique cars or any other proposed replacement unable to replicate its fundamental appeal. Customers argue the horses are what attract costumers to this business, which earns the city nearly $19 million a year. Marriage operators, who fear the loss of jobs, are backed by the Teamsters Union and dismiss claims of inhumane treatment. They say each horse is given five weeks’ vacation time each year.

I have noted the debate, reading several articles on the subject. After reading The Daily Beast‘s “Mayor De Blasio’s Horse Policy Is a Pile of Manure” and perusing the predominately political comments, I found the space became a soapbox for libertarian issues, conservative and liberal politics, socialism and every other political persuasion. Readers showed very little concern for the horses or the focus of the article. After 30 years designing equine facilities that promote the health and safety of horses, and as illustrated in my book, Healthy Stables by Design, I am clearly an advocate for equine welfare.

Courtesy of New York Daily News
Courtesy of New York Daily News

Though I do not live in NYC, I know it well having visited many times. I own a timeshare two blocks from where the horse drawn carriages stand and wait (for what seems to be an endless amount of time). I spend about 3-4 weeks there annually, and periodically find myself running through Central Park for exercise when the weather allows. Neither resident nor tourist, I find New York the most interesting city and would love to live there full time. The only time I have had any “business” with horse drawn carriages was as a child and tourist with my parents. The only feelings I recall having at the time are a fascination with horses in the city and with the carriages in general, as I imagine any child would. I remember finding the whole experience odd in such a busy city, even as a child. That was over 50 years ago and it has only gotten busier.

My thoughts on the current situation are not based on the economics, jobs, tourism or historic context but concern for the horses’ wellbeing. Let me point out the act of having a horse pull a carriage is not inhumane in my opinion. During my visits I am always saddened watching these animals standing amongst polluting vehicles in traffic or waiting on the curb for patrons without the option of lying down to rest if tired. I have never seen the stables in which these horses are housed but have heard horror stories for years about the conditions that exist there. I imagine if people visited these terrible conditions they might think twice about their supportive stance on the issue of horse drawn carriages in the city. I certainly would welcome that opportunity if ever given the chance. I find it difficult to understand how people find an excursion at the expense of an animal condemned to these conditions inviting. I guess it is the history of horse drawn carriages that attracts riders and they are perhaps unaware that these animals are sentient beings who suffer the same way we do. Humans have domesticated horses for centuries and though they have been used as a so-called beast of burden, there is a difference between what “burden” is acceptable and when “burden” becomes abuse.

Part 2 of this article will be published on Wednesday, January 15, 2013 here.

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