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NYT: Europe Wants US Racing to Address the Drug Debate

I read another interesting article in the New York Times on Saturday, December 8th.  The article, “Racetrack Drugs Put Europe Off US Horse Meat” is another in a series of articles the NYT has reported on this subject in recent months and years.  I applaud their efforts to report and raise consciousness on this issue and other stories about the mistreatment and handling of horses.

This story has both a positive and negative outlook.  First, I think it is constructive that the issue is raised and reported.  I hope it has the positive effect of pushing the US racing industry to enforce current anti-doping laws and work to eradicate the use of performance enhancing drugs on horses.  I am encouraged by the decision taken by the European Food Industry as reported in the article.

My only concern is if it does have the positive effect of eliminating performance enhancing drugs in racehorses in the US, the European Food Industry will drop its ban with the result being an increase or resumption of the slaughter of horses in the US for consumption.

Though there could ultimately be a down side to the reduction of drug use, I am pleased at the decision of the European Food Industry and hope the various racing associations in the US take more of an active role in outlawing and enforcing current laws against performance enhancing drugs in the racing industry.

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Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program Fund Raiser

There is some exciting news coming to Northern Virginia and the therapeutic riding community.  The Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program ( faces a new chapter in their history from their plans to build a new indoor riding arena at their new property, Little Full Cry Farm, located Clifton, VA.  They completed Phase I in 2008 with the purchase of the 5.5 acre property and construction of the arena will complete Phase II.

I recently had the pleasure of attending an event sponsored by John Marshall Bank at Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton, VA (  The event, held in the beautiful new wine tasting room, was an opportunity for Blackburn Architects to unveil the design for the new arena (Phase II) and a future 24-stall barn (Phase III). The new facility, Northern Virginia’s first comprehensive therapeutic horsemanship center, will be financed by John Marshall Bank ( who has been instrumental in assisting the NVTRP in acquiring the property and in helping to promote the good work that they provide.


Having designed other therapeutic riding facilities from as far away as Greece to as close to home as Northern Virginia, it is a very rewarding experience to be involved in the creation of any therapeutic riding facility.  Blackburn Architects is pleased and honored to have the opportunity to assist the NVTRP in achieving their goals.  From their new permanent home and the new physical infrastructure, the NVTRP will gradually be able to:

  • double its ridership to 150 students,
  • expand to include at-risk youths and recovering military service personnel,
  • offer a full-range of complementary therapies and resource network to its riders and their families,
  • customize training programs for specifics needs within the greater communities NVTRP serves,
  • create a Northern American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) regional training center focusing on certifying a new corps of instructors.

Below is a perspective of the concept design and a proposed floor plan designed by Blackburn Architects.

For more information about how you can help the NVTRP “Raise the Barn!”, please contact Breeana Bornhorst at (703) 764-0269 or by email at

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The Agricola Barn Dinner at Great Road Farm

One of the more enjoyable parts of my work designing horse farms, beyond the satisfaction of seeing it built and come to life, is the excitement expressed and seen in the faces of a satisfied client.  That is often demonstrated in how they use the barn and the farm and that is certainly the case at Great Road Farm.  On September 29th, I attended “The Agricola Barn Dinner at Great Road Farm”, located on the outskirts of Princeton, NJ.  What a “tasteful” event it was.

Great Road Farm is the home of Jim and Ann Nawn and their four sons.  Not only is it their home but a farm where they both have been able to combine their passion for horses and farming with their profession.  Ann, who is an equestrian and a licensed social worker,  has developed a therapeutic riding facility on the farm.  Jim, a former owner and operator of 37 Panera Bread franchises, sold his successful business, went back to school at the Institute of Culinary Education and after addition training in the kitchen of Veritas in NYC became a farmer and will open Agricola Eatery ( in Princeton in January 1013.

The party was an introduction of his new restaurant concept to a large group of family, friends and invited guests (such as the likes of their equestrian architect). Dinner prepared by Agricola executive chef Josh Thomsen with food grown on the farm by farm manager, Steve Tomlinson, and served in the agricultural barn was fantastic.  Most of the natural ingredients were grown locally and on the farm (see menu below).  It was a perfect Fall evening and we were all treated to the fruits of a very successful harvest and what promises to be a unique and exciting new restaurant to be located in “downtown” Princeton (the site of the former Lahiere’s restaurant that occupied that location for generations.)

Blackburn Architects developed the overall master plan for the farm, designed a 12 stall barn and enclosed riding arena for Ann’s horses that was completed in 2011.  The arena was designed to serve as a riding arena for Ann and friends to enjoy but also to serve as a therapeutic riding and teaching facility for her work.

The farm appears to be serving both Jim’s and Ann’s needs well, and, as the architect for the farm, that brings me a great satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. One of the reasons I have pursued my career.

If you find yourself in or near Princeton, anytime after January 2013 (check their web site for exact opening date), do yourself a culinary favor and stop in at Agricola Eatery.



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A Great Night at the WIHS

I hope many of our readers where able to get to the Washington International Horse Show this year.  I was there last Saturday evening.  We had a table in the Acela Club overlooking the arena and the view of the events that evening, not to mention the great food, wine and conversations among friends, was fantastic.  I will not bore you with a recount of the events as you can find an excellent write up on the WIHS web site ( I thought the WIHS staff including the participants, sponsor, vendors all contributed to an excellent show as they do every year.

I have included a few photos below taken by myself and staff at this years show.  I’m not sure how many of you are aware that Blackburn Architects has been providing pro bono services to the WIHS every year since it moved from the old Capital Center in Landover to the Verizon Center (former MCI Center) in 2001. In it’s first year we helped with the modification of the arena floor, modifying the side walls including removal of the penalty box areas and removing the end walls of the ice hockey rink to transform it into an indoor riding arena.  What would have been a daunting task in 2001 turned out to be fairly simple having previously accomplished similar modifications at Madison Square Garden for the National Horse Show during the mid 1990’s.

The challenge came with trying to squeeze as many horse stalls inside the arena (under the grandstands) and in the streets surrounding the arena.  Though the arena modifications remain relatively unchanged from year to year, the street scene around the Verizon Center changes every year.  The requirements from the City, especially the fire department and EMT needs change plus there is always construction of some kind going on in that area which require revisions and modifications every year.

We are always pleased to offer our assistance as the horse show is a very exciting event in downtown DC.  Even if you never attend the horse show (which is your loss by the way if you haven’t), it brings a special excitement to the streets of Washington. For me it reminds me of when the circus used to come to town and parade the animals through the town (yes, I’m old enough to remember it) and though they don’t do that with the horse show, the excitement and memory is still there.  Having horses stabled on the streets of the city is a great introduction to the non-equine public to the sights, sounds and yes, the wonderful “aroma” of horses. If you haven’t experienced it, you are missing out on what is a unique Washington annual event.

Last year we were able to assist the WIHS with the design of additional VIP seating platforms on one end of the arena and this year they were able to add another VIP area to the opposite end.  The success continues.  So, if you missed the show this year, remember it comes around every October and next year there may be something special in the air.  I hope to launch my new book, Healthy Stables by Design, at the WIHS next year.  A very special event for me and I hope that you will attend and enjoy.

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Barn Party!

Barns make some great spaces for parties (provided the horses are safe).

On Saturday, September 22nd, I attended the Second Annual LiveAART Horseshoe Hoedown at River Farm Stables.  A charity event to support AART (All Ages Read Together) an organized founded by Karen Schaufeld and who hosted the event at her River Farm Stables, a facility designed by Blackburn Architects.

All Ages Read Together, a Loudoun County Virginia based non-profit organization is dedicated to serving low and moderate income pre-school aged children.  Please visit their website ( to learn more about AART.  All proceeds from the “Hoedown” will help AART deliver reading and school readiness programs to disadvantaged children in Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

It was an evening of filled with some good ol’ down on the farm country fun.  Below are a few images taken during the festivities.  It was a perfect evening for the event that took place outdoors in the courtyard space between the barn and the indoor riding arena. (Last year it took place in the barn due to inclement weather but it too was fun and a wonderful space to party.) Last evening’s event began with a series of light hearted games organized in a tournament with prizes for the top two finishers in each event and some great bluegrass music by The Gold Heart Sisters. At sundown, some great bar-be-que was served in the arena observation area followed by square dancing with a professional square dancing caller in the courtyard under the stars. An auction and raffle with some great items was also part of the night.  Blackburn Architects was one of the sponsors of the event and provided one of the auction items.

It was a great party in support of a very worthy cause.  I am sure most of you barn or farm owners have charities you support or would like to support.  We recommend more of you who own barns and arenas consider sponsoring charity events at your barns or indoor riding arenas.  It’s a great way to support your favorite charity and to shown off your barn. Just be sure you isolate your horses for their protection (turn them out to pasture during the event is a good way to do that) and make sure fire hazards are eliminated (remove bales of hay, provide plenty of fire extinguishers and do not allow any smoking in the barn.)  Another common sense protection is to not serve anything in glass containers. With a few simple precautions like these, you can do a lot to promote a local charity, enjoy your barn, make new friends and have some fun in the process.

My thanks and congratulations to the Schaufeld family for hosting this successful event.

Epilogue:  Blackburn Architects has designed and constructed over a hundred farms during its 30 years in practice and we would encourage many if not all our clients to consider a similar function if possible and it can be made safe.   Sponsoring a charity event, as they say in the milk slogan, “It does a body good”.

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Barn Fire In Bedford, NH

I hate to see these kinds of news stories: Last week there was news of another barn fire that took the lives of 14 horses in Bedford, NH.  It’s a terrible tragedy and sadly, is something that happens far too often.  While the cause of this fire remains undetermined, it is important to know that there are many ways that the risk of fires in a barn can be reduced.  News of these types of events should provide a wake up call for all barn owners, managers and horse owners to pay special attention to your daily maintenance routine, your operation and to look for long term design improvements that begin to reduce the risk of fire.  There are lots of things that can be done to maintain a healthy and safe environment for horses.

Thorough cleaning procedures, i.e. removal of cobwebs from light fixtures, removing excess hay and bedding where it accumulates, removing of trash and isolation of cleaning fluids and other flammable products are just some of the areas to focus on.  Others are more long term and permanent such as keeping all electrical equipment in good serviceable working order, running all electrical wires through conduits (to prevent those pesky barn mice from chewing through the plastic lined wiring), and proper hay and bedding storage can all significantly reduce the risk of fire in a barn.

Furthermore, do not store motorized equipment in or around your hay storage. I recall a barn fire a few years ago when a barn worker cranked up a small mower to mow around the barn, the mower back fired, ignited a bale of hay siting close by and before anyone could do anything about it, the barn went up in flames.  So it pays to always remain conscious of the hazards that exist in a barn and make sure fire extinguishers are posted at least at each end of the barn and another at the center. Though I’ve seen many locations where fire extinguishers were improperly or poorly mounted, I don’t recall a case where there were too many.

These are just a few of the issues to always remain aware of.  There are so many more. I could go on and on….

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What’s Wrong With This Photo?

Over the years, I have come across many less than ideal conditions for the health and safety of horses in barns. So I thought we would have a little fun with our readers. See the photo below of a wash stall in a barn that I visited a few years ago. Can you identify the potential hazards in the photo? To give you a hint and get you started there are at least 20 hazards. Click on the image to see a larger version, and send me your list of all those you can find.

Our goal at Blackburn Architects has always been to create an environment that promotes a safe and healthy environment for the horse.  From selecting flooring materials that are comfortable for a horse to eliminating potentially dangerous conditions such as sharp edges, trip hazards, and excess clutter, we are always looking at ways to make the equine spaces function as safely as possible for the horse and the handler.

I have lots of photos of similar unsafe conditions and we will periodically post them for your viewing entertainment. Stay tuned for more in the weeks to come.


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The Zweig Marketing Letter

Zweig Marketing Letter, a monthly marketing newsletter for A/E/P and environmental firms, recently did a short piece about our little blog we run here. The author is also an equestrian and small horse farm owner.  In the small world category of things, she grew up keeping her horse right behind Round Lot Farm, one of our projects, in Medfield, MA.


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California Wildfires: Seven Fire Hits Close to Home

With all the recent horror stories we have been hearing about the wild fires across the southwest and California, it is nice to hear a good outcome on occasion. We received such an email last week from  one of our clients.

The message notified us that their residence, designed by Blackburn Architects, PC and constructed by Crocker Homes, found itself in the middle of the Seven Fire, a wild fire, that blew through the foothills of the Sierra Mountains on July 10th. Finished earlier this year, the four bedroom, 3,950 square foot private residence is located in Seven Legends Ranch overlooking Lake Don Pedro.

Luckily, the wild fire was first spotted by a plane that was helping fight another fire in the area. According to authorities, the fire destroyed over 800 acres in a very short period of time. Though the entire area around the property was consumed by the fire, the house survived the conflagration due to the defensible space fire protective measures installed during construction.

Defensible space fire protection measures, also known as “firescaping,” are fire control methods instituted in the California code that focuses on the landscaping around a building. The concept targets the area within 100 feet of the building and emphasizes fuel reduction by specifying appropriate spacing and separation of plant types. Plant selection, segregation, and spacing all play a major role in preventing the spread of fire between different types of vegetation and in an effort to reduce its ability to reach the structure.

Although the design and installation of the measures tend to add to the initial cost of construction, they have been proven to work. Not only does this helps save lives, but it also helps prevent rising insurance costs in the country’s fire prone areas. In Seven Legend’s case, the firescaping provided sufficient time for the local fire department to deploy to the property, spray the home with fire retardant, and save it from being completely destroyed. Our thoughts go out to all those who have not been as fortunate.

Photos and news footage below.

Local news footage

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About Stable Minded: An Equestrian Design Blog

“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.

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