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Feature in Equestrian Quarterly: “Let There Be Light”

This summer, Equestrian Quarterly has published an article discussing the elements of well-designed barns. The article features several equestrian architects, including John Blackburn. Check out the article to hear John’s thoughts on what make a well-planned facility, as well as to see a few photos from our assorted projects. There is even mention of John’s new book, Healthy Stables by Design, that will be coming out this fall.

Click here to access the article “Let There Be Light”.

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Feature in Equestrian Quarterly: “Let There Be Light”

This summer, Equestrian Quarterly has published an article discussing the elements of well-designed barns. The article features several equestrian architects, including John Blackburn. Check out the article to hear John’s thoughts on what make a well-planned facility, as well as to see a few photos from our assorted projects. There is even mention of John’s new book, Healthy Stables by Design, that will be coming out this fall.

Click here to access the article “Let There Be Light”.

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Grafton Estate: Upperville, Virginia

A historic mansion, the Grafton Estate was renovated for use as staff housing and office space for Heronwood Farm. As part of the renovation, mechanical and electrical systems were replaced and the structure was waterproofed. Despite complex structural and system repairs, Grafton was successfully adapted to its new use with minimal disruption to the building’s historic character.

Program renovation of mansion into five one-bedroom apartments and one farm office

Completion 1985

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Virginia Tech Equine Nutrition Research Facility: Middleburg, VA

The Virginia Tech Middleburg Agricultural Research & Extension Center is a 419-acre working farm. The Center’s mission is to improve the care and nutrition of horses, by conducting research on nutrition, stress, growth and development, reproduction, and forage management. The project includes a clinic for examination and treatment, classrooms, administrative offices, a conference center, a research laboratory and a foaling barn. The buildings were designed to keep with the clinical nature of the facility and to be consistent with local architectural traditions.

Program examination/treatment clinic, research laboratory, 10-stall foaling barn, classrooms, conference center, and administrative offices

Completion 1992


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Wall Street Journal Mention of Lane’s End Farm

Lane’s End Farm, designed by Blackburn Architects, was featured in the Wall Street Journal today as “the Central Park of Horse Farms.” (Click this link to see the article “The Versailles for Thoroughbreds”, by Pia Catton).

Built in Versailles, Kentucky, this leading commercial thoroughbred operation situated on 2,000 acres of land was significantly expanded from 1985 to 1990. We added broodmare barns, yearling barns, foaling barns, stallion barns, breeding sheds, and an entrance/guard gatehouse in 1990. Here are some pictures from our collection:

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Barn Door Design

After reading the article “Common Mistakes in Barn Door Design” included in a recent Lucas Equine’s newsletter (a great source for helpful hints on stall and door design), I thought I would share a few of my own opinions about barn door design. Throughout my 30 years designing equestrian structures, I have developed my own personal preferences about door design and can also suggest a few tips.

One of my personal pet peeves is using glass in a door that will primarily rest against a wall when left open. This tends to be more of an issue in warmer climates, where aisle doors stay open for a good portion of the year. In this case, unless cleaned regularly, buildup of cobwebs, dirt, grass clippings, and other debris can collect behind the door. Because of the glass, there is the added issue of the paint or wall finish fading on the exterior. Although, dirt, snow, and other things tend to get trapped behind the door regardless, without the window this is not directly observable.

No matter what option you choose, your barn door will require maintenance to keep it in proper working order, as well as looking beautiful. This means regular cleaning to remove debris on either side of the door or in the track. By not cleaning them regularly, you run the risk of permanent damage to the finish or function of the door.

Keep in mind the location of your farm as you design your barn entrance. In areas with a lot of snow, snow hoods can be both convenient and essential. These slight protuberances over the door prevent snow from restricting the door’s movement by covering the track and the ground around the door. In those rare cases when it is necessary to get in and out of the door quickly, this detail can be incredibly timesaving.

In my opinion, a pocket door system is a more aesthetically pleasing solution than either of these previous options. In this case, the door slides into a cavity in the wall, which reduces the possibility of build-up, but also allows the door to be out of the way when it is not in use. On occasion, under owner requests, budget restraints, or design issues, we opt away from the pocket door option. But it is a nice rule to follow when you can.

I always recommend against hinge doors whether they be the aisle door, outside stall door or interior stall door, as they can become dangerous if they swing shut or open unexpectedly. The inability to know if they are latched is another issue. When looking down an aisle, it is obvious which doors are open and unlatched and which are not. This is not the case with a hinged door, as it could be closed and unlatched. These doors, if unlatched, can easily be caught by the wind and could risk injury to the horse. Even if a sliding door is unlatched, you do not run this same risk. Sliding doors are also more practical when taking a horse in and out, as they can be left open when the horse is not in the stall. A hinged door has to be opened and closed when taking the horse out, and opened and closed when returning the horse. For all these reasons, I advocate against their use for these purposes.

Although barn doors may seem like a minor detail, they have a large impact on making an aesthetically pleasing entrance and provide a necessary and primary function for an equine structure.


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“Twilight at the Track”: an Interesting Read about the Future of Thoroughbred Racing

On the 3rd of May, the day before the Kentucky Derby, I was sitting on a plane having just completed the final edits to my forthcoming book, Healthy Stables by Design, and reading the Time Magazine piece “Twilight at the Track” by David Von Drehle. I congratulate Time Magazine and Mr. Drehle for his article, as well as the numerous articles published by the NYT about horses and racing that I read frequently. I thought I would share a few of my thoughts about the things discussed.

Mr. Drehle’s article describes the sad situation of thoroughbred racing in the US. As tracks close, purses dwindle, breeding declines, and trainers and breeders retire, fewer and fewer people are attending, betting at, and enjoying the races. Surprisingly, the article states that only 46% of horse racing fans would even recommend the sport to others. Perhaps this fact should not be so shocking, as only a few races, such as the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, and Breeder’s Cup, still manage to attract large numbers of excited spectators.

Having designed horse stables and planned many horse farms in my thirty-year career as an equestrian architect (some even for leading thoroughbred farms such as Sagamore Farm, Lanes End, and Heronwood Farm), this story does not actually tell me anything new. That’s not a criticism, as I think most people connected with thoroughbred racing in this country are aware of its sad decline. There are some passionate breeders out there with a desire to restore racing to its glory and to build on its history.  Kevin Plank (Sagamore Farm) and Will Farish (Lane’s End) are two that embody the spirit and love of the sport.

Let me just say that I simply love horse racing. For me, it is the most fantastic sport in the world. With the parade to the paddock, the showing of the horses in the parade ring, and the procession to the starting gate, excitement builds with every step. Though one race is typically only two minutes long, those two minutes are definitely “the most thrilling two minutes in sports.” Since each race has various changing elements, such as length, track surface, and horse gender and age requirements, no race ever runs the same. By watching various races throughout the day, one can truly spend a great and full day at the track.

Having attended a number of races, I have my own methods that add to the excitement. Starting the day with a review of the racing form and the “pink sheet,” I begin to make my choices. This can be a long and tedious process or it can be a quick review of basic facts and data, like the jockey, horses’ record, trainer, and field. Mind you, I am certainly no expert at playing the horses and I never wager large sums, but betting definitely adds to the excitement and the thrill of victory. Once I have made my preliminary choices and stopped at the wagering window, I make my way to the top of the home stretch at the rail. This is my favorite spot to see a race because you cannot only see everything, but also feel, smell, and hear it. There is nothing like the excitement that floods your veins when a herd of horses rounds the turn into the homestretch galloping at top speed with leather rubbing, hooves pounding, dust flying (or at the Derby this year, mud flying), and the crowd cheering. While some may prefer the finish line or the expensive seats high up in the stands, I need to be where I can see, feel, smell, and hear it.

My experience with racing is based on this excitement and entertainment. Now the question is what can we do to bring this excitement back to the track and make the experience of going to the track enjoyable (whether one wins a little money or not)?

From my point of view, there are two main problem areas with racing. First, drugging and doping is still a sad negative pulling down the most exciting sport in the world. Not only does this severely endanger the horses, but it also detracts fans from the sport. Laws need to be restructured so that the punishment for drugging deters owners and trainers from the practice. Perhaps then, racing will truly be about the quality of the horses. Although strides have been made to remedy this problem, the restrictions have not yet solved the issue. Second, a change to the racing experience is necessary. The “racino” culture proposed as a “fix” to infuse money into an ailing industry is not a long-term benefit and may not be a “fix” at all for the sport. Though it may have helped by creating larger purses, improving competitiveness, and bringing bigger fields, it does not return the public back to the track. In fact, I believe it drives them away by cheapening the experience.

Perhaps with these two fixes, racing can begin to deliver everything that people used to love. One only has to attend Saratoga in August to understand the excitement that a full track can bring to thousands of diverse people and families, who gather to enjoy a full day of fun. It is this type of full-day experience, where families, couples, or individuals can go and hang out at the races, eat at good restaurants, and enjoy the spectacle of the day, that may restore racing to its former glory. I think some of the tracks in the UK might be a good example for our American tracks to consider. Having attended thoroughbred tracks in the UK (Windsor and Goodwood), I have seen first-hand how the experience can be thoroughly enjoyable. Though the British are known for betting on virtually anything that moves (and probably some that don’t), there were no tacky racinos, but rather, a pervading sense of pageantry and style. With this atmosphere, the racetrack became a place I could take my wife and enjoy a delightful afternoon.

In the US, Keeneland Racetrack, which only holds 32 days of racing each year, has reduced the amount of race days in order to have every race feature strong horses and large fields. Interestingly, their attendance and profits have rose amidst the closing of tracks across the country. By being able to restore the integrity of the sport, they have been able to make racing successful despite the declining industry. Let’s hope that other racetracks take note and restore the enjoyment of a day at the track. While the professional bettor or the individuals who hope to hit the perfect Trifecta may not be deterred, the future of Thoroughbred Racing lies in making it an experience that everyone can enjoy. By stopping the current drugging problems and the overall cheapening of the racetrack experience, I believe it can be done.



You can check out the article yourself at:,9171,2142495,00.html

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Sagamore’s Preakness Party

I attended the Sagamore Farm Preakness Party on Friday May 17th.  The party is an annual event on the farm primarily for friends of the Sagamore Farm, Sagamore Racing, and the Owner as well as many of the staff from Under Armour. I would guess there were a few thousand on hand to celebrate Preakness Weekend.
It’s always a great party and this year was no different.  The only difference was the incredibly great weather.  In years past it has often been cold or rainy, or both, but Friday was a perfect night for partying under the stars at the “Big House” or the conference center on the top of the hill that overlooks the Farm.  The food was fantastic, the drink was plentiful and the music was great and loud.  What a great way to celebrate the Preakness and the beautifully restored Sagamore Farm.
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Woodstock Equestrian Park Grand Opening

On Saturday April 27th, Ian Kelly and I attended the Grand Opening of the Woodstock Equestrian Park in Beallsville, MD. Ian was the project manager for Blackburn Architects who was the lead designer for the renovated facility.  It was a fantastic day with perfect weather for the event.  The ceremonies included the dedication of the recently completed outdoor riding ring, beginner novice cross country course, and the stabilization and restoration of the historic Brewer Farm.

Blackburn Architects helped design the layout of the park and directed the restoration of the four historic structures. The Grand Opening event included a ribbon cutting ceremony, jumping demonstration by Bascule Farm, a polo match featuring the Capitol Polo Club, a demonstration of the new cross country course by the Seneca Valley Pony Club, and a presentation of the Maryland Horse Industry Board’s April Touch of Class award to Tracey Morgan.  I’ve posted some photos below of the highlights from the event.

For additional information please see:

Facebook links of participants:

Bascule Farm


Capitol Polo Club

Seneca Valley Pony Club


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We’re Back from the Holidays: Another Great NYT Article

The following article, “Wild Horses Are Running Out of Room, On and Off Range,” appeared in the New York Times on Saturday December 14th, 2012.  Once again, I commend the New York Times for its reporting on the regrettable treatment that horses are subjected to daily by humans.  The article brings attention to a very disturbing situation with our wild horses that roam vast stretches of federal lands of the rural west.  The Bureau of Land Management appears to be engaged in a systematic relocation and destruction of our wild horse population.

The NYT has brought to light many dangers that horses face in the United States: drug use and other abuses at the race track and other equine training and performance facilities (see NYT article, “Sudden Death of Show Pony Clouds Image of Elite Pursuit,” 12/27/12); the selling and transport to slaughter houses (NYT 10/23/11, “Slaughter of Horses Goes On, Just Not in U.S.”); and the situation involving our wild horse population.  It’s not the first article that we have read about this situation and regrettably it will most likely not be the last.  Hopefully, institutions like the New York Times will continue to bring these situations and abuses to the public’s attention and raise consciousness to the abuses that horses are subjected to on a daily basis.

Below are the links for each of the articles I mentioned above.

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