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Economic Downturn Hurts Horses Too

With everyone focused on the economy and concern about eroding home values and savings at a peak, economic forecasts couldn’t be much bleaker.  Even so, I’d guess that Wall Street probably isn’t paying much attention to the trickle down effect on horses. Horse owners and horse rescue organizations all over the country can tell you though, there’s a lot to worry about.

Photo by David Webb

Photo by David Webb

With fuel and hay costs hitting record highs, many horse owners are finding it difficult to care for their animals. Horse rescue organizations across the country are faced with unprecedented pressure to care for surrendered and abandoned horses while simultaneously dealing with the same rising costs that force horses into their care. Worse still, both donations and adoptions are drying up as horse benefactors tighten their belts. Even previously adopted horses are returning to the shelters that found them new homes. National Geographic showcased the problem in a recent online article

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has two emergency funds set up to help non-profit equine welfare and rescue organizations, Equine Fund Grants and Emergency Hay Support Grants. Please consider making a donation, volunteering, or fostering a horse through a local equine rescue group or donating to one of the ASPCA grant programs. Sadly, equine welfare groups are predicting this problem to escalate dramatically.

Let us know how horses are doing in your area—much depends on local weather and economic conditions. Are you seeing hay prices soar? 

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One Last Note on HR 6598

Since my post on H.R. 6598, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008, I’ve received several comments from those of you in the equestrian community who express concern that the legislation is unrealistic and misguided. Recently, a colleague forwarded a very interesting article by Joe Scott for the St. Louis Dispatch on this very controversial topic. It seems that many feel the problem is rooted in romantic ideals that assert it’s best to protect the horses and save them from the throes of the slaughterhouse. It is argued that many of these horses invariably suffer a much worse fate: being shipped across U.S. borders in horrific conditions to meet even crueler deaths.

Many feel that if U.S. slaughterhouses were still open and regulated by the government to sanction humane killings, the equestrian community would suffer less economic distress. After all, under an operating U.S. slaughterhouse market, horse owners could receive compensation for horses they no longer use due to age, injury, or otherwise. But is that really the best we can do? It’s true that this law prevents owners from easily ridding themselves of horses they no longer deem fit for whatever reason. But, as many of you point out, where is the responsibility?

Practicing responsible breeding is essential as well as demanding standards of ownership. So please, write to your congressmen about the high prices of euthanasia and cremation services. Speak out against over-breeding. Donate to rescue facilities and support organizations like CANTER. This isn’t about whether or not the horse dies—but how it dies. If it cannot be retired or adopted, then humane euthanasia must occur. Please don’t accept the inhumane treatment and slaughtering of horses for human consumption. The animals that work so hard for us deserve better.

Thanks for all of your comments and insight. I realize this affects all of you in different ways and there is no easy solution.

Here’s a link from the Humane Society:

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Green-Washing: Stay Alert for Green Marketing Practices

Wikipedia describes Green washing, combining the concepts of “Green” and “Whitewashing,” as the misleading practices of a company that creates the appearance of a positive environmental impact with its products or services. Green sheen is another term for the same attempt to mislead consumers.

The true greening of American business is a positive trend in which a company reassesses its practices and effects changes that have a true positive impact on the environment or at least a less destructive impact than previous practices. Selling your product or service as if it were green is a scam. NPR did a story several months ago on the practice and listed the “six sins of greenwashing,” including hidden tradeoffs, vague claims, and out and out lying.

When it comes to planning and building your equestrian facilities—stables and arenas primarily—Blackburn Architects has been designing with true-blue green elements for 25 years. Here is a list of sustainable elements that you can incorporate into your facility planning without any worry that you’ve been subjected to greenwashing.


  • First, evaluate existing farm buildings for adaptive reuse opportunities. Don’t assume that old barns must be torn down. It is always greener to reuse than it is to destroy and discard. (Born Again, Washington Post Magazine
  • If a building is too damaged structurally to preserve, consider re-using as many materials as possible. Better to re-use old wood in your project than to send it off to the local landfill. (Second Chances, Green Builder Magazine)
  • Look for local materials for your project. If there is local wood or stone that can be incorporated into your design, you are saving the energy required to transport materials and this can be a significant environmental savings. Local materials also help your design fit the landscape naturally, as if it belongs on the site.
  • Search out opportunities to use recycled materials and renewable resources. For example, numerous flooring products are available now that are made from recycled tires, including Pavesafe. When choosing lumber, make certain that you are selecting species that are renewable and not stressed—harvesting redwood, teak, mahogany, and many other types of wood creates severe environmental costs. Buyer beware though: so called green products may be where you’re most likely to run into vague product descriptions and flat out lies.  Two independent companies, EcoLogo and Green Seal attempt to provide an easy way of discerning whether a product is eco-friendly. Look for those labels.
  • Passive lighting can save power, reduce fire risk, and improve the health status of your animals.
  • Passive ventilation creates the healthiest possible indoor environment for your horses without the use of electricity.


While no one can be all green all the time (take it from Kermit, it isn’t easy being green), every REAL step is a step in the right direction. Just don’t let yourself be sold on a faux-green product.  Remember the early years of the organic food movement—no regulation resulted in false and misleading claims and high-ticket prices adding insult to injury. It took a long time for consumer protection laws to catch up with false claims.


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Lighter than Ever

With energy prices increasing every day, it’s more important than ever to design your barn with intent to maximize its amount of natural light. Not only will careful design consideration reduce your dependence on electricity—saving money and energy—it fosters a healthy environment for you and your animals. I have several techniques that ensure I never take light lightly (excuse the pun).

One of the most effective ways of incorporating natural light into a barn’s design is through a continuous ridge skylight. Typically, this type of skylight runs the length of the barn, commonly down the center aisle, and results in ample natural light throughout the day. Most of my designs allow a barn to run without the use of electric lights during the day, with electric lights serving only as a backup during inclement weather and for nighttime use as needed. 

Other high placed windows, especially around the eaves of the barn, increase natural (and free) lighting even more. These higher placed windows allow the light to reach greater depths of the barn and reduce injury risk since they’re out of the reach of your horses. Still, the use of shatterproof glass is imperative.

For the electric lights you’ll inevitably have (but only occasionally use if the design is right), safety and the type of light are two primary concerns. For lighting in the aisles I tend to favor metal halide, which takes a moment to warm up and functions best in areas that are turned on/off infrequently. The higher up, the more effectively the lights can provide decent light. A three-way switch near end of the aisle can help you control what areas to light, which saves you from turning on lights in the entire barn unnecessarily.

Stall lighting generally uses one switch per stall with a light on each side to counter shadows, which is helpful when working on a horse. A shatterproof lens paired with cage protection is vital for the horses’ safety, and should never be overlooked. Typically, florescent lights are cheaper to operate and carry fewer fire risks than incandescent. While the light fixtures are more expensive—and ballasts may be needed to protect against cold weather—energy-efficient bulbs and fixtures will cut down costs and resource strain in the long run.



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Site Visit in South Carolina: New Stalls

A few weeks ago, Cesar, one of our project managers, and I went to Meggett, South Carolina for a site visit. We planned our visit to review the ten recently completed stalls added to an existing ten-stall barn on the property. Soon, the barn will also have a larger tack room and lounge.  In the next phase of work, our design plans include adding a full-ridge skylight across the length of the barn to maximize natural light as well as improve ventilation.

Upon our visit, two things struck us: the humidity and the regal old oak trees with Spanish moss scattered across the property that provide ample and much-needed shade (and, of course, natural beauty and Southern charm).  Otherwise, the 63-acre property set in South Carolina’s Low Country is relatively flat with large and open grassy paddocks.

This project required expedited design and construction, since the client had to move her horses across the country before the end of the month and the stalls had to be ready before their arrival. This timeline left our team less than a month to undertake concept design to completion of construction.  And, thanks to the efforts of Jack Hart and Jimmy Thompson of Advanced Construction, Corbin, KY, who put in overtime and weekend hours, in conjunction with extremely fast turnaround by stall systems production at Lucas Equine, the stalls were installed quickly and efficiently.  Given the heat and humidity, this was no small feat.

The property also has an existing 1-story residence, garage with apartment, small outdoor arena, and several existing paddocks. Future design plans include the addition of a riding field, 4-stall foaling barn, pool with pool house, round pen, covered arena, and hay/bedding storage.

Here’s a video of the new stalls, now home to some very grateful horses.


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Building Green Wins by a Mile

While the nation struggles with rising fuel prices and worries collectively about alternative fuel sources, offshore drilling, and new nuclear plants, there is an obvious and effective way to reduce our energy problems with immediate impact—conservation.

One of the best steps you can take to conserve energy is to not use it and the best way to not use it is to plan efficiency into your farm, stables, and home. Writing last week in The New York Times, Bob Herbert called this route to energy independence, “The Winning Hand” in his editorial responding to the Joint Economic Committee hearing on using energy efficiency to solve the energy crisis. Conservation has been advocated for decades by Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, Senator Chuck Schumer and many, many others as a huge step toward energy independence and reversing the trend of global warming.

The enormous potential impact of energy conservation may lack the punch of newer technologies such as solar panels and wind farms and the quick fix associated with offshore or Arctic drilling. However, the cumulative savings in the reduction of the energy we use across the board from personal transportation choices to household conservation can be a tremendous offset to our national demand for oil. 

I’ve been building energy efficiency into farm plans and stable designs for decades. Energy efficient details include designing for ample natural lighting and harnessing the power of the sun and wind to create passive ventilation.

Moving beyond designs that facilitate the conservation of energy, stables and arenas present nearly perfect opportunities for harnessing solar energy on their expansive rooftops. Farms and ranches often have the right conditions to harness wind energy.

Generally located in rural or open areas, the size and shape of barns and arenas offer perfect opportunities for channeling and capturing existing wind currents to create natural ventilation. But even if these steps are beyond your budget, designs that reduce your farm’s demand for energy are available and affordable and will create energy savings into the future.

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Keep Your Horses Safe: H.R. 6598, The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008

Greetings equestrians and welcome to my Blog dedicated to the care and shelter of horses. While my expertise is the architectural design of equestrian facilities, I am part of the larger community of horse lovers dedicated to the humane treatment of horses and all animals. It is in that spirit that I’d like to call your attention to important legislation that is currently under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives written to prevent the cruelty inherent in the horse slaughter industry.

As horse lovers who give the greatest care to your animals, you may not realize that despite the fact that the last horse slaughter factory in the U.S. was closed in 2007, that there is still a market for the transport of horses across our borders to Canada and Mexico for slaughter for horsemeat. I was surprised to learn that there were still horse slaughter facilities in our country as recently as last year and stunned to know that horse for horse, the same number of horses are now finding their way across our borders for slaughter.

The transport of horses across long distances in extreme temperatures simply adds to the degree of cruelty inherent in the horsemeat industry. According to Representative John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan, and Representative Dan Burton, Republican from Indiana, authors of H.R. 6598, The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008, amends a previous section of U.S. Code that prohibits cruelty of animals for financial gain. That code, Chapter 3 of Title 18 of U.S. Code, resulted in the closure of the last horse slaughterhouse in the U.S. just last year. However, it didn’t anticipate that the market for American horses for slaughter would simply move across the borders to Canada and Mexico therefore increasing the suffering of horses destined for slaughter.

The new law specifically prohibits the transport of horses for slaughter and specifies punishment stringent enough to be effective. I hope you’ll join me in supporting the legislation—let your representative know that you think this is a crucial step to take to ensure the humane treatment of American horses. Here is a link to a form letter written by the Humane Society of the U.S. to make speaking out on behalf of horses as easy as possible:

If you’re interested in an eye-opening, in-depth history of the consumption of horsemeat, you should see the March 2008 issue of Horse Connection Magazine. Editor Geoff Young shined the light on this American taboo.

Please let me know what you think about this important issue.

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Equestrians: Write me with your Design Questions!

Hello Equestrians,

I really hope you’re enjoying my new stable-minded blog. It’s here to help provide a professional source of information, to be a place to exchange design ideas, address barn problems, discuss the ways an architect can impact horse health and safety, and to help guide you to sustainable choices in the design of your facility.  Equestrian structures can go green with cost-effective design choices. For example, there are many options for preserving, restoring and adapting old barns to new uses. You might be interested in a project we did a few years ago that converted a 150-year-old bank barn into a guesthouse. 

This 1800s bank barn was converted to a "party barn."

This 1800s bank barn was converted to a "party barn."

I have been thinking green throughout my career and would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Let me hear from you. What do you think? How is your barn working or not working? Let me know what’s on your mind.

Looking forward to hearing from you.






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Designing for Healthy Ventilation in Your Barn

Healthy Ventilation by Design 


Healthy Ventilation by Design

Ventilation is one of the most important considerations when designing a barn that is healthy for your animals. Without superior ventilation, your barn becomes a breeding ground for disease and contamination. Luckily, good ventilation doesn’t require expensive equipment or running energy-guzzling systems. A ventilation system that reduces the risk of disease and benefits the environment is easy to achieve—given the right design knowledge and techniques.

The goal for a healthy stable is upward ventilation. Mechanical systems, like electric exhaust fans, are not only expensive to maintain and run, but can put the safety of your barn at risk. Most obviously, mechanical systems can be a fire hazard. Yet they also pose danger by the way they ventilate: exhaust fans draw air laterally across the barn. The horizontal airflow increases the risk of passing pathogens and unhealthy gases from one stall to the. Upward, vertical ventilation minimizes the amount of damp, stale, contaminated air in the stables, which prevents the risk of spreading disease.  

All of my designs create this type of ventilation, which harness natural solar and wind power to effortlessly provide a strong interior current and upward movement of air in the barn. Even on a still summer day, the air current in a Blackburn-designed barn should be strong enough to ventilate the entire interior.

A few factors enable this energy-efficient, healthy ventilation system. First, the large roof surface of barns and arenas capture solar energy, heating the air at the ceiling. Heat generated by the horses also rises, as long as stalls are designed with open ceilings that allow air to freely flow upward. As warm air rises and accumulates at the ceiling, cooler outside air is drawn in near the floor, creating a vertical airflow path. Proper design of vents along the barn roof permit the hot, damp air to escape, making room for cool, dry air to enter through stable openings low in the perimeter walls. Second, the roof surface captures the natural wind flow to maximize the amount of fresh air entering the barn. Wind moving over a large, steeply sloped roof produces high pressure on the windward side of the barn, which is balanced by low pressure within the barn and on the leeward side. This Bernoulli effect pushes hot air out and brings in fresh air. Placement of the barn with regard to the prevailing wind patterns can maximize this effect, increasing the amount of fresh, clean air in the barn.

By combining the power of solar energy with natural wind, a barn designed using these principles can function as a large, air-circulating machine, eliminating the need for air conditioners or heaters. The result is a healthy stable for you and your horses. 

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It’s All in the Details

Wash and Groom Stall Details

Wash and Groom Stall Details

Designing for Health & Safety

Designing a barn for health and safety is somewhat of a catch-22. After all, the best environment for a horse is outside; not confined in a barn. But since a horse, when given the chance, will find a way to injure itself, design with a keen eye for health and safety guarantees you won’t make it easy for them.

While there are several ways to plan your farm for health and safety, like implementing strategic building placement and maximizing natural light and ventilation within the barns, let’s focus on the details. These vary from stall design to details like types of latches and bucket hooks.

Stall Design

Never use swinging doors, since the wind can force them to open and knock into a horse. It’s often difficult to tell if a hinged door is unlatched, as the door may appear closed even if it is not fully latched. A sliding door allows the door to remain open while the horse is removed from the stall without much effort or fuss, making it safer for both the horse and the handler leading it back to the stall. Also, when looking down an aisle, an open sliding door can easily signal an empty stall.

The pin latch is a simple, low maintenance, and inexpensive system for sliding doors, whereas hinged doors require a slightly more complex mechanism that may malfunction or expose bolts to horses.

Aisle Design

The aisle width as well as the materials or finishes are important to consider. Ideally, an aisle is comprised of horse-friendly materials and kept clear of obstructions, sharp objects, and sharp corners. Recess anything that protrudes into the aisle, including hydrants, switches, ladders, fire extinguishers, etc. Similarly, provide several hydrants along the aisle to avoid pulling hoses down the aisle. Muck wagons, tractors, and the like do not belong in the aisle and can injure the horses if carelessly stowed.

Wash/Groom Stall Design

Like in the aisle-way, continue use of horse-friendly materials like interlocking rubber-bricks, and remember to recess any fixtures that may injure a horse when it moves around the stall. Either recess the hose reel or use a hose with an overhead wand, which is less likely to entangle the horse during bathing.

The back corner of the stall should have a recessed area for a shovel and muck bucket. This area can also double as a safe area for the handler in the case of an unruly horse, which may otherwise back its handler into a corner.

Miscellaneous Details

A well-designed barn that reflects a careful regard to health and safety requires a lot of consideration. Over the past 25 years, we’ve developed a library of details that prove to be safe, economical, and often, practical. And while no barn is totally hazard-free, minding the details during the design process can provide the safest possible environment for those times your horse simply cannot roam as free as it pleases.


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