Over the years, Blackburn has been asked what we think of adding stalls along the side of an indoor arena. Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, we strongly recommend against it. The problems are many.
1. Air Quality. Forced to breathe arena dust many hours of the day, stalled horses live in an environment that isn’t healthy. We recommend instead that the stall portion of the stables be connected in a separate but attached structure running perpendicular to the barn. Not only does this arrangement help isolate the arena dust from the barn, it allows the barn to sit independently. The structure can then catch the prevailing breeze which permits two scientific principles (Bernoulli principle and the chimney effect) to provide natural ventilation and light to the barn.
2. Fire Safety. We always recommend fire separations by providing sliding doors to isolate the barn from the arena in case of fire. These doors may or may not be rated fire separations. The decision is usually driven by cost, and we often provide an automatic rolling fire rated shutter to isolate the two separate areas – this at least reduces the risk of smoke moving between structures. (Quite often it’s the smoke that is more dangerous and faster moving than the actual fire.) The isolation by sliding doors also provides critical time to get horses out of barn. If the arena and barn share the same space, there is less opportunity to isolate fire or smoke from the stable area. Furthermore, when the stables are parallel and part of the arena, the structure is generally shared – raising the risk it could collapse and trap horses inside.
3. Cost, Scale and Building Height. When stalls are designed as part of an indoor arena, the design requires a wider structure (often steel due to the long spans) which is typically more expensive. When it’s a separate but attached structure, it can be framed in wood with smaller spans reducing the cost of the framing. If the stalls are part of the indoor arena, then the building becomes wider which also means a corresponding height increase. In many areas, the local zoning codes restrict building heights. We have found typical restrictions of 35 feet. It’s difficult to get any height in the barn or arena if you are trying to build a 100 x 200 ft arena with a row of stalls and aisle way. Also, from an aesthetic perspective, wider and taller building begin to get enormous and have the potential to look like an airplane hangar and overshadow the entire farm.
4. Storm Water Issues. Finally, if your property is not flat, such a structure with a large footprint may require significant grading that can be expensive and create storm water issues. By breaking the barn and arena into two connected structures you can more easily work it into the natural slope of the land. Also, the isolation of the barn and arena permits opportunities to push the arena into the ground – helping to reduce the scale and height of the arena above finish grade. The entry to an observation area can be elevated above the arena floor (but entry level still at grade) for more easily viewing over the kick wall from a sitting position.
Blackburn has designed many arenas with this perpendicular arrangement. Rocana Farm, designed by us in 2002, is a great example of what we mean. Stalls at this hunter/jumper facility are attached to the enclosed arena with an elevated observation room, tack room, wash and grooming stalls.
When an owner requests forced air electric heating system in the stalls, we advise against it for several reasons:
1) Forced hot air rises and heat stays at the ceiling level, adding unnecessarily to the cost of operating the barn. Blackburn barns are designed to allow air to escape thru the roof vents, so at a minimum sending heat skywards doesn’t make financial sense.
2) Forced air systems move airborne particles around the space and, given the size of the barn and the heat loss expected thru the roof vents, heaters must pump a lot of air at a high velocity to provide sufficient heat to keep the barn to a temperature that might be considered sufficient (which varies with personal preference).
3) Forced air heaters are unhealthy for horses because they spread dust, mold and disease throughout the stable area. Horses give off a tremendous amount of moisture, especially in winter, and that moisture contains bacteria and other viral matter that can be harmful to their sensitive respiratory systems and spread to other horses. If a barn is closed up too tightly (the barn needs to breathe in all temperatures) the barn can become too warm and increase the opportunity to breed bacteria that would normally be ventilated out of the barn. There may be some exceptions for older and ailing horses but a tightly-closed, heated barn is often more harmful than helpful. We recommend discussing with your vet exceptional conditions that may be needed for young, aging or infirm horses.
Strategically placed infrared heaters can be a good choice to keep the chill at bay in human-occupied areas.
Infrared is another term for radiant heat. For example, a stove, fireplace, oven or even our own sun emit infrared (radiant) heat energy. That energy converts to heat, warming the surrounding air.
In a barn, infrared heaters are specially made to produce safe, comfortable radiant heat. When asked by a client, we specify that heaters are directed downward from the ceiling toward a target area below. In an equestrian facility, infrared heaters can be directed toward wash stalls and/or and grooming areas, or down a common walkway, between horse stalls or even in riding arenas.
Blackburn Architects uses two scientific principles to ventilate horse barns – the Bernoulli Principle and the Chimney Effect – vertically removing harmful bacteria and ammonia gases that can cause disease and odors. Providing heat for the horse by forced air does little if anything to help the horse except create harmful, unhealthy conditions.
When requested by a client, we can specify heated floors. Infrared tube heaters emit soft, comfortable radiant heat energy without creating drafts. Infrared heats the ground. Warm floors = warm bodies & feet.
As we all know, horses can naturally withstand colder temperatures better than hot temperatures. If permitted to keep their winter coat and remain dry, horses can withstand even very low temperatures. For colder temperatures, we recommend keeping cold drafts off the horses by closing Dutch doors at stalls (add weather stripping to the doors if needed) and closed aisle doors. In other words, if a horse can stay dry and get out of a steady breeze or draft they have a much better chance to maintain their own health.
What’s the safest way to incorporate glass in a horse barn? If you’ve been following our work, you already know that Blackburn Architects’ mission is to promote as much natural light and ventilation in horse structures as possible. Naturally, this means we add a lot of windows to our designs. In its safety recommendations for the stable, Rutgers NJ Agricultural Experiment Station cautions that “windows need to be inaccessible to horses and livestock, covered with bars or screening and made of safety glass.” (https://esc.rutgers.edu/fact_sheet/safety-recommendations-for-the-stable-barn-yard-and-horselivestock-structures/). So how do our architects protect the horses and still use a lot of glass in our designs?
1. Use Tempered & Laminated Glass
We recommend that all glass in a horse stable be tempered, including glass that’s laminated. Tempering and lamination do two separate but similar things to increase the safety of glass if/when it breaks: Tempering makes the glass break into small chunks as opposed to slivers and shards, while the lamination gives the glass a slightly greater resistance to breaking and keeps the glass in place when and if it breaks.
Laminated glass consists of a clear plastic laminate sandwiched by glass on both sides. Since horses have access to both sides of a glazing unit, ideally both sides should be laminated and tempered. If this approach is too costly for your budget, stick with everything being tempered and omit the lamination. Laminated glass does not always age as well as tempering. The laminate can shrink and pull in from the corners of the glass, and eventually become visible over time. We prefer tempering.
2. Minimum Thickness of Glass and Airspace
To arrive at the minimum thickness of glass, work backwards from the depth of the frame, minus about 1/4”. Each glass manufacturer determines what spacer sizes they offer. Understand that the more airspace you can allow the better, but each manufacturer works with a few different pre-set size spacers. Use the largest one that still allows the glazing unit to fit within the frame.
3. Special Considerations for Cold Climates
In cold climates, we specify glass with a high solar gain and low emissivity. In technical terms, the glass meets the following guidelines:
1. A Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) around 0.55
2. A U-value of less than 0.33
3. A higher value Visible Transmission (VT)
4. Use double-paned glazing units with low-e gas that has a vacuum sealed gasket between the panes of glass. The pocket between panes of glass is filled with an insulation gas, most typically argon.
5. Consider using low emissive (low-e) glass panes (low-e prevents the transfer of heat from warm to cold). The low-e coating (typically a metallic oxide) should be on outside of the innermost pane of glass.
There are pros and cons that should be considered with each option 1-5 above. For instance, with #4, over time and if the gasket seal fails, you can begin to see condensation between the panes of glass. Whereas with #5, you may be able to see the coating from certain angles, especially if you are wearing polarized sunglasses. Since the advantages are a bit more obvious, and similar to one another (i.e. tempered vs laminated, and low-e gas vs low-e coated glass), here is a summary of some of the disadvantages to each option:
Tempered only – glass may still shatter (in harmless pieces) and fall to the ground.
Laminated only – laminate can discolor over time and shrink in from the corners of the glass.
Low-e gas filled glazing unit – if the gasket fails, condensation can form in between the glass.
Low-e coated glass – may be visible in certain light conditions, or when wearing polarized sunglasses. You can sometimes see this on automobile glass.
To summarize, a good starting place for adding glass to your barn begins with tempered glass, meeting the SHGC and U-values recommended above. A step beyond this is low-e coated glass, since with #4 (low-e gas) you can expect the gaskets to fail at some point, and the glazing unit will need to be replaced. If the coating of the low-e coated glass is too “visible,” then low-e gas may be the better option, with the expectation that you may need to replace some of them again in 10 to 20 years, if and when the gaskets fail.
A job interview is not exactly an expected set up for an art sale. So when Lauren Zucker (now Richards) came looking for a job at Blackburn Architects some years ago, she found one. One she didn’t accept because graduate school had a stronger pull.
But in a strange twist, John Blackburn liked the student artwork she showed in her portfolio so much he bought it. Two beautiful Lauren Zucker black oil bar on paper works hang in the Blackburn Architects’ offices in Washington, DC. The large 48’x60’ framed paintings are captivating for the brush strokes evoking the fevered jostling of racehorses leaving the starting gate. They are lovely paintings, and visitors to the office often comment on them.
She described her work this way:
The Race: Within the conﬁnes of 10 furlongs there are meta-corporeal aspects of the horse race never experienced by the spectator. I ﬁrst knew the horse race as an unfolded experience through the medium of literature. Drawn out in detail were the visceral relationships between horse and jockey, the operations/politics implicit in a racing farm, the strategies and traditions of breeding and training, the excitement of race day morning, and the cognizant thought behind every move during the course of the race. The race compresses into 2 minutes, the life experience of each racer- horse or jockey.
The Drawing: Through drawing, I looked to fold the life narrative of the racer into gesture. Then, as in the race, montage the narrative of different racers. I found inspiration for expressing this agony of entanglement in Picasso’s Guernica. The narrative gesture of war is apparently not unlike that of the horse race.
The process of these drawings was subtractive, many beginning as a coat of black oil bar. The slow drying time of oil bar and linseed oil allowed me the time to carve the horses’ bodies out the blackness. Portions of the drawing were reworked over and over again, conveying motion/time lapse through the multiplicity of elements, such as the doubling of the jockey’s hand in different positions.
There is a dichotomy in horse racing which at once evokes both nobility and grit which I found to exist even at the scale of the horse’s eye, loaded with both the noble courage and animalistic fear. And in the relationship of the fear in horse’s eye to the Jockey’s eye of focused determination. “
As time passed, though, Lauren’s identity was lost to Blackburn Architects. We could make out most of her signature in the lower right hand of the paintings, but was it Lauren Ziker, Zucker, Luker? What had become of the artist who made the art we live with every day? Was she still an artist? A practicing architect? We didn’t know. Finally, John was inspired to track Lauren down through a connection to a colleague who knew her and had kept in touch. And voila! Lauren is indeed still an artist, and an architect, and she was so excited we had tracked her down.
“I have such great memories of Blackburn Architects and of John. I remember being equally disappointed that the timing didn’t work out as the job would have merged my two greatest passions as a life-long horse lover / equestrian and architecture. I am still working in architecture and still enjoy painting and drawing.”
By John Blackburn
One of my favorite sayings regarding water on a farm is, “Certainly not possible in all cases, and not likely in many, but if at all possible, try to ensure the water that leaves your property is as clean as when it came onto the property.”
My experience designing equestrian facilities, a personal interest in issues of sustainability, and my volunteer work with the Equine Land Conservation Resource, have raised my consciousness around land use issues regarding water. How a property drains it, where to find it, how to store it, and so on.
Whether your property suffers from too much or too little, water is an essential requirement for running an equestrian facility and has a significant impact upon the welfare of your horses, the efficiency of your farm and the budget of your operation. Water plays a big part in most Blackburn Architects equestrian projects. I thought I’d address a few solutions we can offer when there’s too much coming onto your property (not your barn – that’s another issue for discussion).
It’s a problem that has come up recently at a farm in Texas, where clients face excessive stormwater runoff on their farm. When the rains started this spring, suddenly excess water poured onto their land from two different counties; displacing basically an entire neighborhood’s volume of stormwater runoff onto their farm.
The team at Blackburn Architects will address this issue by determining the sizes of storages (dams or tanks) and diversions needed. Among the solutions that we’ll apply to divert rainwater off pastures and away from buildings and high-traffic areas in the coming weeks and months are:
• Swales or Berms. Berms (elevated earth) and swales (shallow trenches) can act like gutters to redirect water away from areas that
get too much water. Planting grass, trees, and bushes will assist in stabilizing these natural water channels, so they don’t become victims of
flooding over time.
• Catch Basins. A catch basin is an underground “reservoir” which collects water and drains it appropriately. Catch basins can
greatly improve farm drainage issues, allowing rainwater to flow through underground pipes leading to a sewer system or holding tanks (where it
naturally disperse). They offer a good method for moving water away from structures and off property, especially if you have to cross roads. At
Wyndham Oaks, in Boyd, MD, a Blackburn designed a system that takes water off the pastures and away from the structures, placing it into a long swale
that runs between paddocks.
• Retention Ponds. Retention ponds usually fill as a permanent pool of water, and they can also serve to temporarily detain excess
stormwater. When stormwater enters these ponds, it’s released over a period of a few days, as water levels slowly return to normal.
All these methods of moving excess water can be interconnected. Run-off entering a catch basin flows through a daylight drain to swales located between paddocks. Before it leaves the site, runoff goes into a retention pond, which allows it to evaporate or gradually seep back into the soil, and recycle.
Today I got a call from a client who’s buying 120 acres in North Carolina and plans to build a new equestrian center. It’s been years since horses have been on the property. The pastures and paddocks are overgrown. The fences are in disrepair. The property has steeply sloped areas but the client wants a dressage ring. Drainage will be an issue. Together, we’ll figure out a way forward by starting with a Site Plan to map the future; completing the owner’s vision in budgeted stages over several years.
A site plan is completed by studying topography, wind and solar directions, neighborhood easements, height restrictions, zoning restrictions, soils and operational necessities (where are roads, pastures, barns, storage sheds, etc.), There are many benefits to putting together this “roadmap” for future use of the farm property. Consider that there are three major categories of costs when planning to bring horses onto your property: 1. Operational, 2. Environmental, and 3. Infrastructure. Proper planning will save you money in all three areas. Fewer roads, less fencing, better drainage all ensure that the whole farm, not just the horse barn but the entire collection of structures on the site, operates efficiently and safely.
Operational Considerations: First locate where you’ll put the horses – where is your turnout? Where will you store hay, equipment, or vehicles? Do you have access for manure pickup, large-truck deliveries, guests or visitors? Minimizing the number of steps necessary for your daily routine (turnout, stall mucking, etc.) will save labor time, which of course you know is money in the farm biz. Planning will also preserve space for paddocks.
Environmental Considerations: Figure out structure placement within your acreage. It’s important to properly orient any new buildings in the landscape. We design our barns to generate their own ventilation, placing them perpendicular to prevailing summer breezes. (One of many design considerations for maximizing light and ventilation, which is a subject I’ve written about often.) Additionally, placing structures where the land will drain easily makes good sense and will save you and your horses potentially hours of muddy misery or the cost of constantly replacing eroded footing.
Infrastructure Considerations: Fewer roads to maintain means fewer dollars spent.
Creating a master plan does not mean that every part of it needs be built at once. The plan may end up taking years to implement, but as each new structure or paddock is added, it isn’t done in the usual haphazard way. It will save you from asking, “You know, I could use a tractor shed somewhere?” Even those with very limited budgets should consider getting the advice of an expert at the planning stage, given the importance of the optimum farm layout.
Bringing in a professional to carefully plan a site doesn’t mean you need to commit to having a custom barn designed. Blackburn Architects’ guidance can help whether you’re purchasing a kit barn, designing a custom barn, or renovating existing structures. A site plan stands by itself as a service we greatly enjoy delivering to clients across the country.
I’ve always made it a point to use passive renewable design elements and sustainable materials in my equestrian designs. The motivation is designing for the health and safety of horses, so it’s not surprising that what’s recommended for creating human and eco-friendly structures is also recommended for equines.
Nowadays, Blackburn Architects’ team rarely encounters a client who isn’t enthusiastic about including sustainable design principles in their farm program. With green technologies evolving every day, there are more systems and product choices available to suit the unique demands of equine properties. The most prevalent elements include natural light and ventilation, recycled materials and regionally sensitive natural woods and products.
SUSTAINABLE BUILDING MATERIALS
We incorporate recycled and sustainable materials into the firm’s barn designs. We’ve used recycled rubber bricks and pavers for aisle flooring, and recycled rubber mats for stall floors, and occasionally, stall walls. Not only are these products more comfortable for the horses’ legs and knees, but they also provide a slip-resistant surface. As for building materials, we use everything from FSC (Forest Steward Council) certified lumber and recycled steel to fly ash concrete blocks and recycled wood.
However, we are always mindful of what some recycled material mixtures contain. Some products include substances (plastics, resins, binders, etc.) that could be toxic to horses through off-gassing or if they chew on the material. If you’re designing your own facility, be sure your builder is familiar with the materials ahead of time and is comfortable working with them. Occasionally, we’ve run into a situation where the builder is unfamiliar with a product recommendation and accidentally convinces an unaware owner to use a product that may exhibit these harmful qualities.
BUILDING FOR CLIMATE
It’s important that building materials make sense for both the design and the climate. In more northern locations, we try to design with timber that will provide more insulation for the structure. In the south, a masonry-style building helps keep the structure cool and is more resistant to humidity and insect infestation. While bamboo is an excellent renewable resource option, it’s not often locally sourced and can be costly to ship. Douglas fir and southern yellow pine are the typical go-to lumber products for our firm. They are quality assured, sustainably harvested, and regionally sensitive. When combined with low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) finishes and paints, these materials make for sturdy, sustainable buildings that do not sacrifice quality or aesthetics.
Conserving water is imperative to any agricultural property, and there are many top-to-bottom green approaches to consider. It’s crucial to intercept and collect storm water before it becomes ruinous run-off that can affect ground water and nearby ponds and streams. We frequently use porous or “popcorn” asphalt for interior and sometimes exterior floor covering. It’s “self-healing” and aids in water drainage.
Since many horse farms around the country face changing weather extremes (torrential rain and drought come to mind), rainwater collection systems are vital for alleviating the resultant water issues. Roofs can be designed to route storm water into cisterns. The harvested water can then be channeled into irrigation systems for fields, paddocks, arenas and pastures, or collected for controlled distribution to prevent muddy conditions.
ACTIVE RENEWABLE SYSTEMS
In addition to passive systems, I highly recommend including active renewable systems in the design of any horse farm. The beauty of equine and agricultural properties is that they often feature characteristics that compliment these systems. Large swaths of land can facilitate geothermal power systems or wind-powered generators and other equipment. Roofs with large surface areas are common features of many agricultural buildings and make perfect platforms for solar panel systems.
One of the firm’s current projects is an extremely energy efficient property in Missouri. While targeting net-zero energy use, we’ve included a geothermal heating system and solar panels that power infrared heaters in the wash stalls.
Green technologies have come a long way and today’s solar panel systems offer more choices for collecting and storing energy. If designed properly and in the right location, it is often possible to fully rely on the solar panels for all your energy needs. Including these systems in conjunction with natural light and ventilation could conceivably eliminate outside energy dependency for your equine buildings. Over time, solar panels will pay for themselves in savings. Check with your local and state government about tax incentives for incorporating green energy saving systems into your property.
FRESH AIR AND NATURAL LIGHT
Accomplished with steep sun-heated roofs and vented skylights, the combined effects of the Bernoulli Principle (an equation of vertical lift championed by Dutch-Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernoulli) and the chimney effect (air pulled in low and vented up high) circulate fresh air throughout the structure while flooding the space with natural light. This method provides the optimal environment for horses because it turns the typically static barn into a machine while imitating the equine’s natural environment. The process significantly cuts down on the cost and operation of electric lighting and fans and the health and safety risks they can create.
One of the challenges we sometimes encounter with clients is convincing them to include active systems in their design programs. This is usually due to upfront costs. The price impact can be minimized by smart design decisions. Knowing ahead of time what green options are available and which ones you’d like to incorporate will inform your budget early on and, if need be, help you plan the property with future installations in mind.
THE BENEFITS OF COMPOSTING
Composting is another great passive renewable option. We strongly encourage all our clients to include a composting system in their design program. Composting helps manage muck and removes harmful bacteria and other organisms to create natural fertilizer for paddocks. It also helps keep organic material that could produce harmful uncontrolled run-off out of landfills.
Sustainable barn design is about what’s healthiest and safest for your horses. Remember, horses were never meant to be inside. But if they’re going to be, then it’s important to create an environment as close as possible to what they would encounter in nature, using materials and techniques that at the same time don’t harm the very environment they come from.
I thought I’d take a minute and explain Blackburn Architects’ process for designing a new equestrian facility and overseeing its construction. While not carved in stone, for planning purposes, can easily become a two-year process.
The first step is usually a visit by me or another Blackburn architect. The initial meeting is our first chance to meet, walk the site, look at any existing buildings and discuss the project goals. I’m a firm believer in “a picture is worth a thousand words” but “being there is worth a thousand pictures” Following this, we’ll send a proposal for service, which outlines the process and fees.
Once a contract signed, we get to work immediately.
The timeline usually looks something like this:
• 6 to 10 weeks for Feasibility Study, Site Assessment and Master Plan
• 1 to 2 months for Schematic Design
• 2 to 4 months for Design Development and Construction Drawings
• 1 to 2 months for Permitting
• 12 to 16 months for Construction
At Blackburn Architects, equestrian design starts with the horse and ends with a building that fits the horse, the owner, and the surrounding environment like a glove. It’s as simple and beautiful as that.
Let’s explain the steps in greater detail:
Feasibility Study / Site Assessment / Master Plan
The goal of the Feasibility Study is to determine, as early in the process as possible, whether the intended project fits the owner’s program, the site, and the budget.
We assess any existing building(s) and the site. We take measurements to determine if an in-place structure will work for the goals of the project. We study the land until we come to a clear understanding of wind and solar direction, soils, changes in elevation – all natural and architectural characteristics that guide placement and design of any new buildings. Central to the success of the project, this “Master Plan” addresses all these things and more, providing a road map for the success of all future phases of our work.
The site analysis also includes a review of applicable zoning and easements for the property; we determine what (if any) limitations or restrictions may apply at the property. Land disturbance allowances? Height restrictions? Set-backs?
In tandem with the site evaluation (as soon as we have a contract), we send the client a unique Blackburn Architects questionnaire that we’ve developed over the years. Answers are collected and inform the design; starting off the process with clear direction from the client. It is extensive and though it covers about 25 pages, once it is completed it “paints” a picture of exactly how you would like your farm to operate. The efficiency of the operation is critical and can have a huge impact on your operating cost and maintenance budget.
Moving seamlessly from the master planning phase (often there is a fuzzy line here where one ends and another starts), we start schematic design. In this step, we help our clients visualize the project design with a variety of techniques using both computer and hand renderings to illustrate the scale and the relationship of the project elements. Ideas, concepts, goals take form at this stage.
Once we’ve worked up outline specifications for the work, we can begin to get a rough idea of the costs. At this point we will either develop a rough estimate based on our 35 years experience with over 300 farm projects, consult with a professional cost estimator or a builder who is familiar with the building type in your location.
Design Development and Construction Documents
Once we have the site layout, design, and budget, drawings and other documents give serious form to interior and exterior finishes, and firmly establish the size, character, and details of the project. These documents will be used by our professional consultants to design the electrical, gas, and other utilities. When these systems are defined, and we have a basic finish schedule and budget, we’re ready to file for the permit and start construct of the building.
Bidding and Construction Administration
With the construction documents complete, we can help clients select a contracting company through a “bidding” process for the work, or we can work with a client’s pre-selected Construction Manager. We work side-by-side with our clients to ensure that the best and most informed decisions are made during this process.
While in my experience this process typically lasts about 18 to 24 months, a lot of this depends on factors that are outside of either our control or our clients. The time of year and weather, for instance, can greatly influence how fast construction progresses, especially in colder climates. Pastures have a growing season, and they need at least a year (maybe two) to establish.
Designing and constructing a custom facility is a very subjective process, which is guided by all kinds of factors including the complexity and size of the structures, the time of year, the strictness of zoning regulations and neighborhood associations, state environmental regulations, and so on. But rather than let these things hold you back, I say, “Jump In” or give us a call to discuss how the process can work for you. When you slide open the doors to your dream facility and see the happy heads of your horses looking over the stall doors, all the time and effort will vanish. At least that’s been my privileged experience over all these years.
We recently wrote about muck pits and dealing with manure at horse facilities and received comments about stabling time; some saying that shorter times in stalls are better for horses. We completely agree. The longer a horse is stabled indoors, the more likely it is that the animal will be standing in urine-soaked bedding for at least part of the day. And we all know ammonia causes problems.
We want the air inside our barns to be as clean as the air outside the barn. Blackburn Architects’ designs stress aerodynamic ventilation, strategic natural light, and passive solar heating and cooling in our equestrian facilities.
When John Blackburn was beginning to design horse facilities more than 30 years ago, he found combining regionally-appropriate architectural elements with aerodynamic airflow principles created pleasing, healthy spaces for equines and their caregivers. Even early on in his career, heading into his barns was refreshing. “In August,” he has said, “in the dead of summer, when there was no wind – your hair would lift” from the natural ventilation created by the proper placement of the barn on a site, and the use of two engineering principles, which Blackburn Architects has employed in every design then and since:
1. The Bernoulli Principle – As air blows across a surface, e.g. a bird’s wing, it creates lift. Barn placement on a site is critical. If possible, a barn should capture the prevailing summer breezes (for horses you’re always more concerned with cooling rather than warming).
Inside the barn, air needs to move up and out. Blackburn frequently specifies ridge line vents in our designs. The vertical ventilation rids the barn of odors, pathogens and infectious bacteria that could otherwise be transported from horse to horse.
Even in cold climates like Montana, Blackburn Architects designs for maximum ventilation in the winter. “A horse gives off a tremendous amount of humidity; a lot of bacteria and in a contained area – like a stall – that’s an incubator for disease. I don’t care how cold it is where you live, you want to ventilate your barn year-round,” explained John Blackburn.
2. The Chimney Effect – Maximizing natural light in a barn creates a healthy environment by helping to “sterilize” the spaces. For example, as the sun moves across the sky and a band of light travels through a stall – perhaps through the upper portion of an exterior Dutch door left open – it helps to dry and evaporate urine. Blackburn Architects’ spaces have a lot of windows, and skylights. Vented skylights glazed with a translucent polycarbonate panel running the length of the barn are hallmarks of our barns. The light source provides a low cost, shatter-proof feature that diffuses the light, thus eliminating harsh shadows, which could cause horses to spook. “My barns are designed to function throughout the day without the use of artificial lighting, except in enclosed rooms such as bathroom/laundry,” John Blackburn explained.
“A horse is designed to live outside in the wild. If it wants to get out of the sun, it’ll run under a tree. If it wants to get out of the wind, it’ll run behind a hill. This natural, healthy way of living is what we strive to create with our barns so that our athletic partners have the best chance of long, healthy lives – indoors or out.”
If you want to learn more, Penn State Extension has a very informative article: https://extension.psu.edu/horse-stable-ventilation.
In this on-going series, John Blackburn offers insight into component parts of equestrian facilities. With more than 35 years’ experience in the design of horse barns, he’s seen his share of good, bad and worse. In this installment, he gives advice on stall flooring. Still as applicable as ever, we’re reposting Sushil Dulai Wenholz’ article from The Horse, Sept 1, 2001 (added a few updates, too).
By Sushil Dulai Wenholz
You give a lot of thought to your horse’s health and happiness. You groom him until he gleams, swaddle him in boots and blankets, carefully monitor his diet, and expend considerable effort and expense making sure he’s comfortably bedded. But have you thought about what lies beneath that soft bed? In essence, the stall floor is the box spring beneath your horse’s mattress, and it’s every bit as important as what goes on top–perhaps more so.
No matter how nice the bedding, a poorly constructed floor can lead to respiratory troubles from ammonia gases, thrush from trapped moisture, achy joints from uneven or too-hard surfaces, and injury from slippery or abrasive materials. In addition, a poor floor can mean wasted bedding and extra labor for you.
A good stall floor starts with a good construction plan. John Blackburn, senior principal of Blackburn Architects, a 34-year-old firm that has designed more than 400+ barns in 35 states; and Peter Gibbs, Extension Horse Specialist at Texas A&M University, outline the steps involved in building a floor that will keep you and your horse happy, whether you’re revamping an existing stall or building a brand new barn from scratch.
Starting From Scratch
1. Pick the location. If you’re building a barn, you have the luxury of choosing the best site. Look for an area that’s dry or at least easy to drain. Avoid steep slopes, areas that are consistently wet, and locations that are subject to water runoff during heavy rains or snow melt. In terms of soil, you’re basically stuck with whatever is normal for your region. But if you have it, soil that packs tightly is ideal, says Blackburn, because it will provide a tough surface that isn’t too hard or abrasive.
2. Dig to the base. Whether you’re starting from scratch or redoing an existing stall, you need to dig down to a well-draining layer of soil. This will give urine and other moisture a path to drain away from your horse. Expect to excavate at least one foot deep over the entire stall, says Blackburn. You might have to go deeper, depending on local soil conditions.
3. Level the ground. You should level out that base layer to help make sure the surfaces above it are level. A nice, even plane puts less stress on your horse’s legs than an uneven floor.
4. Compact the base and fill. Even if the floor starts out flat, Gibbs explains that extended use can create a holey or uneven surface, especially with dirt or stone-dust flooring. To form a firm foundation that can withstand daily wear and tear for extended periods, compact the floor. You can use a hand roller, a motorized, hand-held compactor or “settler,” or some other heavy pounding tool to do the job.
First, compact the layer you’ve uncovered and leveled. Then begin adding layers of dirt or stone dust. “The important thing is to install the flooring in layers and tamp it at each layer,” says Blackburn. He recommends using three-inch layers for dirt or one- to two-inch layers for stone dust. Compact each layer “until you think it can take the abuse of hooves kicking at it,” he adds, noting that there isn’t a standard measure to go by.
To ensure good drainage away from the building, add layers until your floor’s surface is 12 to 18 inches above the natural grade around the barn, says Blackburn. “You want to get the moisture to drain through the flooring and away from the stall and barn,” he explains. In addition, this protects the floor from high water levels outside that might otherwise easily flood the stall.
Now you’re ready to add the floor itself. Next you’ll find basic installation information for several common types of flooring.
Adding the Flooring
Dirt–If you plan to have a dirt floor, and local soil drains exceptionally well, you’re done. Most soils, however, drain moderately well at best, so you’ll probably want to help it along. One option is to grade the top layer of dirt slightly (no more than three degrees), so that moisture runs off to exit the barn or stall through an outlet in the corner (or through the stall door to the aisle).
You could also make a “leach hole,” or simple drain, inside the stall. To do this, dig a hole about three feet in diameter and deep enough to reach that bottom, well-draining layer of soil at the base you created. Then fill the hole with varying sizes of rock (or alternating layers of sand and gravel), starting with large gravel chunks at the bottom and working toward stone dust at the top. Tamp into place and cover with dirt to even out the floor.
Stone Dust–Blackburn believes that stone dust (also known as crusher run, screenings, or quarter-inch minus) makes a better floor than dirt, “because it can compact well and still permits drainage.” However, he does recommend adding a subsurface drainage system to enhance flow-through. To do this, lay filter fabric over the floor, top it with a layer of crushed gravel, then add three to five inches of stone dust. As you did with the base, compact the stone dust after each one- to two-inch layer. When you’re done, water the floor, tamp it down tight again, and let it settle overnight. Fill in any holes or depressions the next day.
Another idea is to install a drainpipe under the stone dust floor. “I feel that this helps drain the moisture away from the stall area and allows you to flush the stall with moisture to cleanse the flooring,” explains Blackburn. “Otherwise, it could drain into the dirt and stone and stay there, providing odor and a breeding ground for bacteria.”
To lay pipe, first dig a swale–a sloped ditch about one foot deep. Lay perforated pipe into the swale (you want a piece long enough to provide drainage away from the building, notes Blackburn). Cover the pipe with filter fabric, then fill the swale with crushed gravel. Now add and compact your stone dust as stated previously.
Plastic Grid–Plastic grid flooring comes in many variations, but the basic idea is the same for all floors: To provide a 100% permeable floor plus a level, stable, durable surface. Installation instructions vary by manufacturer; however, most recommend laying the grid over a well-draining subsurface (such as stone dust) so that moisture not absorbed by bedding will drain away. Usually, the holes in the grid (which create the excellent drainage) are filled with stone dust.
Rubber Mats–As with grid systems, rubber mats (and similarly, rubber pavers, which look like rubber bricks) vary in design, thickness, texture, etc., from one manufacturer to the next. Likewise for installation instructions, although most want you to measure stalls so that mats fit snugly against each other and the walls. Unlike grids, however, mats and pavers are meant to trap moisture above the surface, where it can be absorbed by bedding. Moisture can seep through the seams (or possibly the rubber itself). So, flooring experts recommend that you lay mats over a well-draining subsurface, such as one of the crushed stone systems mentioned earlier, or over relatively nonporous materials such as concrete and asphalt that can be easily disinfected.
Asphalt–You can lay an asphalt floor yourself, if you’re willing to find a supplier, rent equipment, and learn the proper way to apply, rake, and settle it. However, it can be a tricky process. As Blackburn notes, “The right mix of asphalt is important. It should be raked as it’s installed, then hand rolled. I would imagine that hiring a professional would be advisable.”
He also suggests that you grade asphalt floors with a crown of one-eighth inch per foot in order to sustain drainage. “With a flat surface, the urine puddles and leaves the horse standing in dampness, potentially causing all kinds of hoof issues,” he explains. The slope will also facilitate drainage when the stall is washed or disinfected. Blackburn recommends the use of aggregate, or “popcorn,” asphalt, which offers a non-slip texture. And he strongly urges the use of rubber mats or rubber pavers to cushion this relatively rough surface.
Concrete–Many people are comfortable mixing and pouring their own concrete–an easier process than laying asphalt. For larger projects, you might want to hire outside assistance. Although moisture can seep through concrete over time, this footing is not as porous as stone dust. So, Blackburn recommends grading it at a rate of one-eight inch to one-quarter inch per foot to allow for drainage. Concrete should be cushioned with rubber mats or pavers, he adds, to reduce the risk of injury and musculoskeletal stresses that this hard flooring could cause.
A Note on Cost
Before you begin stall floor construction, you should create a budget for the project. However, as Blackburn notes, “The cost of different options can vary dramatically based on the number of stalls, location, and the material used,” as well as the specific suppliers, consultants, and equipment rental agencies with which you might deal.
For instance, says Blackburn, “I have found that the cost of asphalt flooring can range widely from area to area. And some suppliers require that a large quantity be ordered of the type and mix you need before they will supply it at a reasonable price.” Therefore, it could actually be more expensive, per stall, to floor a smaller barn than a larger barn. It’s important to contact local companies for estimates before you start the job. (For mass-manufactured, nationally distributed products like most rubber mats and plastic grid systems, you can check pricing with the manufacturers, many of whom have web sites.)
As you start compiling price quotes and creating a budget, Blackburn cautions that you consider not just the initial expense of purchase and installation, but also long-term costs. A dirt floor might be virtually free to install except for labor, but could be expensive in terms of labor over the long run. Rubber mats might be pricey at the start, but could pay for themselves through longevity, ease of care, and reduced bedding.
Also consider the stall flooring material can greatly impact the amount of bedding you’ll need to use. For instance, a stall floor with interlocking rubber brick can cut your bedding in half which can save on barn operations, offsetting increased installation costs.
Additional options for flooring include adhered cushioned or foam filled. To conclude, all stall flooring has an impact on the comfort of your horse, the material cost of installation, bedding requirements and your ability to clean and sanitize the stalls.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sushil Dulai Wenholz
Sushil Dulai Wenholz is a free-lance writer based in Lakewood, Colo. Her work appears in a number of leading equine publications, and she has earned awards from the American Horse Publications and the Western Fairs Association.