Note: We recently received this question from a follower of ours on Instagram. While this is NOT a Blackburn-designed barn, we felt that others might have similar problems, so we wanted to offer as much help as possible to this horse owner. Some of her photos are included in the post for clarity.
Q: Dear Blackburn: We recently built a backyard horse barn in western Massachusetts. The timber frame style building is a hybrid run-in shed/horse barn, attached to a track-paddock with sacrifice areas and pastures. The horses are turned out together 24/7 with run-ins, with option of separate stalls if needed for injury/weather. This summer, after one year, we found mold in a few areas of the barn. Since learning about Blackburn, we have been fans, and we seek insights on how to remedy our mold problem in a way that is safe for the horses and hay too.
The barn is 36’x36’ with a raised center aisle. The south 1/3 of the building is a run-in with a packed dirt floor covered by rubber mats and shavings. The remaining 2/3 has a concrete pad and includes 2 stalls – one used as a horse stall and the other used to store hay. The 11’ ceiling leads to a hayloft (most hay stored in a separate building) with an 18’x6’ cut-out in the middle of the floor, for both sunlight and ventilation. Hayloft windows/door on all sides and an open eave towards the top also offer ventilation. A frost wall surrounding the barn is approx. 1’-2’ above grade. Inside the barn, including the run-in and both stalls, the interior frost wall was covered with resin technology wood screwed directly into the concrete, primarily for safety reasons, to soften the impact if a horse kicks the wall/concrete. We recently found black (and some white) mold between the frost wall and the resin technology wood. We have removed the product and bleached the area, but how to proceed…
1- How can we safely cover the interior concrete frost wall within the horse areas (run-in, stalls, grooming aisle, hay stall) so that it has some “give” to prevent injury when a horse kicks it, but which won’t harbor or cause mold? We have considered covering the frost wall with rubber, or adding a vapor barrier and applying new product.
2- What do you recommend we do to the concrete floor and frost wall to store hay and avoid mold in the hay stall? There’s a 4” step down from the aisle (we realize that was a mistake since it traps moisture). We put a high-quality insulated mat in the horse stall, but the concrete floor is bare in the hay stall. We use the hay stall for hay now but want to have the option of keeping a horse in there in the future. (We’ve previously stored hay on a double layer of pallets, plus floor covered by tarp, but with that set-up plus the wood product on the frost wall, the mold grew.)
MA Blackburn Fan
A: Dear Fan: While I don’t know for sure what’s causing the mold in your barn, I feel the application of the wood product directly to the concrete frost wall without airspace behind it and near the floor where it is subject to moisture may be the primary problem. I would suggest removing the wood product material at the frost wall and gluing rubber mats directly to the concrete frost wall to provide protection from horses injuring their legs by kicking the wall. Provide an angle crib guard along the top edge to help prevent cribbing by horses.
I am not that familiar with the product you used, but I know it is an engineered wood product that has a wide range of uses.
The fact that the barn doubles as a stall and a run-in shed indicates that it generally remains open which is good as it allows air to circulate in and through the barn and reduces the health hazard that might be caused by the mold.
I found it odd to see diagonal framing in the walls between the post framing. I’m unsure why that was done (maybe to provide horizontal bracing for the timber frame) but because the lower portion of the wall appears to be covered with the wood product it is possible air spaces between the diagonal wood framing trap air in some of the smaller spaces. That could add to the moisture build up. How the barn is maintained (i.e. washing down of the aisle and stalls), is handled could also contribute to the moisture problem. It appears from your photos that most of the dark staining (mold growth) is along the low portion of the wall at the frost wall and that is probably more a problem of the wood product panels being directly attached to the frost wall than the diagonal framing.
Regarding the hay storage, you should always store hay off of bare concrete. Using wood pallets is a good way to allow air to circulate around and under the hay. Hay gives off heat as it cures and if not properly allowed to breath can actually ignite through spontaneous combustion and cause a fire. Having the barn largely open as a run in shed is helpful but at a minimum the hay should not be stored on the concrete floor. It should also be stored off the wall several inches to allow the air to circulate around it. Placing a tarp on the concrete floor as mentioned will not serve any constructive purpose in my opinion and could just trap moisture below it.
BTW, I didn’t see any drains in your stalls? How do you encourage water out of the stall where the slab is depressed 4 inches?
Incidentally, I noticed a door hook on one of the larger sliding doors at the run in portion of the barn. That’s a potential hazard. A horse could rub against the door jamb and the open hook could cause a significant injury. I’ve seen it happen and it can easily be prevented. Another type of latch should be used. There are lots of options out there.
I hope this is helpful.
Whether for a horse barn or riding arena, there are a lot of things to consider in the slope of the roof.
Curious about recommended roof pitches in a riding arena? Senior architects John Blackburn and Ian Kelly advise that “a 4:12 pitch is pretty much our recommended minimum on any horse structure. We prefer steeper roofs for a natural chimney effect. However, unless you live in a cold climate where there is a lot of snow, we wouldn’t advise going taller than 6:12.”
The numbers indicating a 4:12 roof pitch mean the roof rises 4 inches in height for every 12 inches, as measured horizontally from the edge of the roof to the centerline.
Okay, so for barns our rule of thumb is as steep as you can make it. The steeper roof allows the Bernoulli principle and chimney effect to work more efficiently and effectively. But there are other considerations in designing the slope of a barn or arena roof.
For arenas, steeper the roof = the taller the building. This impacts the look or mass of the arena on the property which can be negative. It can stick out like a sore thumb or look like an airplane hangar in your backyard.
Because we depend less on natural ventilation in indoor arenas than in barns, we can get away with lower slope roofs. However, we don’t recommend lower than 4:12 if at all possible. We realize some HOAs and neighborhoods have severe height restrictions and the wider the arena, the more difficult it is to comply without “flattening” the roof. At Winter Farm in Peoa, Utah, we designed a low roof to stay within an imposed limit. In some areas, arenas may be considered agricultural buildings and therefore exempt from height limits. But that rule isn’t consistent across state lines or jurisdictions. For example, in one jurisdiction we were permitted a covered arena as a “sun shelter” and avoided building height limitations entirely.
Because arena walls at the perimeter are usually 16’ tall (need head clearance for horse and rider on interior below the structural frame), when the roof is a low slope, the roof becomes less visible as you get closer to the building and the building can look like a huge box.
You can make a huge box look great but that may require a lot more money and you typically want the arena to be in the background. The barn and the farm are the main focus and not that big ugly box on your farm.
One way we reduce the impact of the arena size is by pushing it into grade where we can, using the land contours and landscaping where possible, and placing it behind the barn and other structures to reduce the scale of the building.
Probably the best average height for a barn is 6:12 to 7:12. The reason is it is more difficult for a roofer to walk on a steeper roof without some sort of support. Thus the installation time increases dramatically as will the cost if it is built with a steeper roof.
One of the down sides for low slope roofs in snow climates is snow loading. A steeper slope can be designed to shed snow pack better than a low slope but the downside for that is the avalanche effect. When it melts it can fall fast, be loud and block doorways… a subject for another blog post!
Q: Do you have any advice about a design for a canted ring liner? Or even just describe what is the norm? We need an idea of how a segment typically is built.
Is it a good idea to go on up vertically after the canted part, another couple feet, to get a better compromise between indoor and covered only?? Or would that be claustrophobic? We plan to use gale shields (netting panels) to cover the openings/protect from rain and wind.
Northwestern Eventing Rider
A: Dear Northwestern Eventing Rider:
I’m not sure what you mean by “ring liner.” Do you mean the kick wall?
There are a variety of ways a kick wall can be designed. I typically design it to the height the owner requests (typically around 4 to 6 feet). We kick the base of the wall out about a foot from the top so it is slanted to protect the rider’s leg.
The top of the kick wall can go to whatever height you feel comfortable but I would make sure if you are using a steel frame for your arena roof and the interior face of the steel column slopes inward, that you allow some extra space between the top of the kick wall and the front edge of the column so that the rider’s shoulder or head doesn’t come in contact with the column.
I suggest extending the kick wall into the footing to the gravel base. Remember, the bottom boards and the framing behind the kick wall should be constructed of treated wood wherever it comes in contact with the ground or grade. In most cases the frame is constructed of pressure-treated lumber and the bottom boards are pressure-treated to a point about 18” above the footing surface.
Also, I suggest putting gravel in back of the kick wall to the height of the arena footing to prevent the footing from being driven over time under the kick wall by the pounding of horse hooves.
I hope this is helpful.
This lush and private ranch is located just north of Seattle. The 100’ x 200’ arena, which features a “crow’s nest” observation area, will be used for hunter/jumper and show training as well as recreation. The new structure, nestled in the Northwest Mountains, fits into the site unobtrusively and reflects the Tudor-style of the existing residence, favored by its owners. Future plans to occur in phases are a 20-stall barn, parking and service buildings, and a caretaker’s cottage.
Program 100’ x 200’ enclosed arena, future phases include 20-stall barn, parking/service buildings, gatehouse
Completion 2010 (arena construction)
Seemingly, about a foot of snow buried the construction site at Beechwood Stables, a future barn and arena in Massachusetts at any given point from December through March.
Since then, as the weather in Massachusetts grows milder, the construction at this private farm (a project in association with Marcus Gleysteen Architects) is finally taking a shape other than a snowdrift. In the works are a 12-stall barn, a storage facility with recreation and lounge space, and an indoor arena with an observation lounge.
As foundation and underground work began over a winter season that yielded 60 inches or so of snow in the Boston area (with January 2011 alone dropping 38 inches), well…I’m sure you’re not surprised to read that delays were bit of a problem. By the end of the winter, there may have been more snow removal than soil stockpiled on the job site!
Even on April Fool’s Day (go figure), the area received a dusting of the white stuff. That’s why I couldn’t be more pleased for this patient client of ours as we approach the warmer months. Work at the private farm has progressed smoothly ever since the steel and timber arrived in early April; see the progress in the following photographs.
As you might expect with such a substantial project, we gave much consideration to the structural work and foundation. Specifically, we needed to determine how to erect and tie together stone column bases that weighed approximately 200 lbs. each and 21-ft. tall timber columns while allowing for enough movement to install the beams and rafters. In the end, the collaboration and discussion on how best to detail this connection took longer than it did to actually assemble, thanks to the efficient crew at New Energy Works and the careful planning between Kenneth Vona Construction (general contractor) and DeStefano & Chamberlain (structural engineer). I’m happy to report that the bases and timber columns went up without so much as a groan.
Following that, steel columns and perimeter beams were set in about two days; the timber frame for the barn and connecting link took a little over a week. Since then, the contractor has been busy working on the barn framing, preparing all of the openings for sheathing, and the steel fabricator has assembled all of the steel rafters and is completing final welds. Within about a month, the walls of the barn and connecting link will be complete and the roof work will begin. Assuming the weather behaves, of course.
In the meantime, timber for the arena observation room and support spaces is being fabricated along with the SIPs (structural insulated panels) that will cover two-thirds of the project.
So, here’s to spring weather and speedy progress on an exciting project that we hope the owner and their horses will soon enjoy!
Size & Scale
When designing, I’m often concerned about maintaining proper scale and proportion. In equestrian design, arenas in particular pose a challenge simply because they are such large structures. An arena is never small, but since different riding styles determine the amount of space required, it’s important to first understand how much space you need. Once you gauge the room necessary to ride, you may consider some of the following elements to design a proportionate and functional arena.
Lower the Stakes
Arenas of all sizes benefit by lowering the structure within the site. Push the structure into the ground and the visual height is greatly reduced. Typically, I recommend lowering the arena four to five feet into the ground. That way you can create an observation area on one or more sides, that has visibility over a kick wall or fence, with an on-grade entrance from the exterior. The “bird’s eye view” observation area is excellent for spectators and the lowered grade takes full advantage of the site without increasing the structure’s bulk.
If there are several facilities on your site, carefully placing the arena amongst the facilities you have—or the ones you plan to build—can help to break up the arena’s large scale. The slope of the roof is often overlooked in prefabricated arenas; often too-low roofs of these structures offer only a massive, box-like look. If, however, the roof is sloped at five in 12 or greater, the arena can appear smaller and fit more naturally into the landscape. Sometimes you’ll run into zoning or code restrictions with height, so lowering the arena into the ground can literally give you more working room.
Covered vs. Enclosed
Geographic location is everything when considering an enclosed, covered, or open arena. An enclosed arena is probably necessary in cold or windy climates. Roll-up garage doors with translucent or clear panels on all sides of the arena can provide an indoor-to-outdoor feel; just open it up when the weather permits or, alternatively, close it up during inclement weather.
We try to take advantage of natural light in all of our designs—from equestrian to residential—because natural light really can’t be beat. A continuous ridge skylight is the most effective method to achieve this, and the technique also increases natural ventilation within the arena. Operable louvers can further contribute to natural light and ventilation while maintaining control as you adjust them accordingly. Any glazing used should be translucent to avoid creating shadows that might confuse a horse. While a large skylight is a more expensive option, various materials can reduce its cost. A naturally lit arena doesn’t rely on electric lights during the day, which is another bonus for horses and riders.