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10.15.19

Optimizing Winter Protection in a Horse Barn Without Compromising Ventilation

Q: I’m in the process of planning a barn in Missouri, and finances require an economical metal post-and-frame structure. I’ve studied Blackburn’s ventilation and lighting philosophies and will incorporate them as best I can.

My question is about orienting the barn. I plan to have a center aisle, with exterior Dutch doors in every stall. Each 12’x12’ stall will have an exit to the main 12’ aisle as well as to an outside run-in. The stalls will be used primarily during more extreme weather or when I need to confine a horse due to injury or illness, otherwise the horses will be outside. Overhangs on both sides of the barn will function as run-in shelters for the paddocks.

I know from your writings that the ideal orientation is perpendicular to the prevailing summer breeze. However, because Missouri’s cold winter winds are from the same direction, the horses on that side of the barn won’t have wind protection when in the run-in areas. I know that’s less of a problem for owners who keep their horses in stalls most of the time, so I’ve not been able to find an answer to this question. I will obviously allow them access to the stalls during the bitter cold weather we get, but for most of the winter all they need is some windbreak. How do I optimize winter protection without compromising ventilation?

Thanks,

Worried about Winter

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A: Orientation is certainly very important when siting your barn. But because wind is always changing and its direction and velocity can be affected by terrain, other structures, and vegetation, the angle is not a hard and fast rule.  It’s good to try and locate the barn perpendicular to the prevailing summer breeze but that also depends on the design of your barn.  If you have lived on the farm a few years you may know the particular wind patterns for your property.

The design of the barn is as critical – if not more so – than the orientation.  How and where you permit air to enter the barn (preferably along the low wall along the long side of the barn and at the eaves where the roof joins the side walls), and where it is allowed to exhaust are critical.  In some areas, it may be necessary to provide some form of close-able dampers on the low wall vents to control the wind and temperature that can impact a horse that is in the stall but doesn’t have the flexibility to get away from it.

The environment within the barn should be within 8 to 10 degrees of the temperature on the outside.  Your barn should ventilate vertically to reduce the horizontal movement of bacterial- and moisture-laden air.

We always say the best environment for the horse is outdoors where it can make its own choices about its environment and health. A naturally-kept horse should be able to get out of the hot sun and find shade or get out of a cold wind in a shelter or behind a wind block.

By turning your horses out most of the time you are certainly on the right track for happy, healthy animals.

Missouri’s winter weather isn’t so extreme that it prevents you from a center aisle barn with stalls on both sides.  Orient your barn so that turnouts are on the windward side of the barn and leave the Dutch doors open so your horses can get inside away from the wind.  For the turnouts on the cold windward side of the barn, blanket the horses.  And keep their winter coats unclipped.

Since you’ve read “Healthy Stables by Design,” you know that Blackburn designs typically use the chimney effect and the Bernoulli principle to create natural ventilation. Our barns become passively designed machines that work to provide healthy conditions for the horses inside.

Good luck with your new barn!

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06.24.19

Keeping Them Healthy: Thoughts on the Design and Installation of Dry Lots on Horse Farms

Let’s talk about dry lots. Essential on nearly every equine facility, dry lots vary widely in size, location and construction.

By nature, of course, horses are herd animals evolved to roam and graze on sparse prairies.  We’ve introduced a complete change to the evolutionary process – incorporating diets of grain and lush pastures. The resultant problems are many, but our solution is simple. Limit the horses’ activities or diet as you give them access to open air and light.  

Blackburn recommends dry lots on most, if not all, of the farms we design. Sadly, too many farms have unintentional dry lots because of inadequate pasture management.

Why create a healthy dry lot?
1. Control the horse’s diet.
2. Preserve paddocks thru rotation.
3. Control moisture and its effect on hooves.

Here are nine things to consider:

Location: Choose a place close to the barn for ease of access.  Provide adequate sized gates for horses but also an occasional vehicle.  Select a relatively flat location but one that drains well and isn’t too isolated so horses can socialize but generally remain separated.  

Materials: The footing should be firm but not hard packed.  It must be designed to drain well to allow moisture to either drain thru or away without causing erosion. Sandy soil is preferable but some sort of gravel that is easy on the feet or, even better, an engineered footing similar to your arena should work perfectly. 

Size:  The size can vary, but if you are creating the dry lot to limit the horses’ movement for health reasons, you may want it to be smaller than larger.  We recommend multiple dry lots of varying sizes to accommodate many uses.

Fencing:  It goes without saying that your fencing needs to be sturdy. See Activities below.

Shelters: Some form of shade shelter for fly & weather protection is preferred – by humans, but horses may never darken the interior.

Feeding: Various forms of slow feeders, salt blocks, etc. can be used.  If you are restricting the horse’s diet, we recommend consulting with your vet about setting up a feeding regimen that can be incorporated into your use of the dry lot.

Activities:  Spreading hay rations around the lot encourages movement; toys for activity or human interaction can be very helpful.  We always recommend consulting with your veterinarian because no two horses are the same. You and your vet know what’s best for your horse.

Socialization:  Locating the dry lot close to other horses reduces stress and is more emotionally relaxing.

Footing: The dry lot surface should provide a safe and comfortable footing for horses but it must also drain well.  Therefore, we recommend that the upper surface/footing be 4 to 6 inches of footing material (stone dust, sand, engineered footing material as described above a drainage layer) or possibly 8 to 12 inches of pea gravel, allowing the foot to sink in without undue pressure on sensitive areas.  The drainage layer can be 1/2 inch to 1 inch stones. You can add an interlocking grid within this layer to provide additional stability of the base layer and improve drainage.

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01.25.19

Ground Surface Materials: 10 Recommendations for the Exterior of a Horse Barn

One of the design considerations in nearly every Blackburn equestrian project is ground surface materials to be used at the exterior of the barn. Hopefully, the information below will be helpful in planning for your barn.

First consideration is it to be porous vs. non porous?
Either will work in this application but you need to build in some sort of drainage system for both, either on the surface or below the surface.  

1)  Interlocking rubber brick pavers.  The Blackburn Architects’ team opinion is that this is the best all-around flooring system for horses because of its durability and aesthetic options.  It’s slip resistant and holds up to abuse and in a wide variety of environmental and weather conditions.  It can be set loose on a porous or non-porous sub-base or glued down on a firm base like concrete.

2)  Oil base chip and seal: Chip seal is a surface treatment used on light traffic roadways/driveways, some lead paths and other areas used for horse or farm traffic.  We do not use it very often anymore due to some environmental concerns in some jurisdictions (it typically requires a base layer of asphalt and oil as a binder).  Chip seal basically combines one or more layers of asphalt with one or more layer of aggregate. Oil is often used as a binder. Ground up recycled tires are sometimes used as an aggregate.  It tends to be slip resistant though it may deteriorate in time.  Its life time is typically 5 to 7 years before it needs re-surfacing.  

3)  Rubber mats (loose laid or glued): This is a good material but should be laid or glued to a concrete or popcorn asphalt base.  The mats need a solid base in order to hold in place or remain level over time.  Rubber mats can present an aesthetic issue but functionally work well.

4)  Stone dust or brick dust:  A good material to use but requires maintenance to retain a clean and orderly look.  It’s slip resistant and drains relatively well.  Not good for plowing conditions unless it is re-spread at the end of the winter season.

5)  Popcorn asphalt:  An excellent material because it’s slip resistant and drains well.  Its problem is its aesthetic appearance.  It should be laid over a layer of crushed gravel so the surface water can drain through the asphalt and away.  The advantage of the popcorn asphalt is it has the ability to reseal itself in warm weather if the ground freezes and heaves.  It can also be used as a base layer under rubber mats or rubber bricks.

6)  Concrete (custom colored and/or textured) or concrete pavers:  Not a very horse-friendly material to use.  It can be scored to give it texture, tinted to give it color and in some cases a brick pattern, but it is nevertheless a very unforgiving material.  Horses shoes can slip on it and spook a horse especially when crossing from one material to another.  However, this material is great when installed under the interlocking rubber brick or rubber mats.

7)  Poured in place non slip surface material:  This is a good material (a number of different types and manufacturers available) that can be slip resistant, cushioned to protect from a fall and can be used outdoors.  It is often used on playgrounds.  Blackburn Architects uses it most often in foaling stalls where a seamless continuous surface is desired.

8)  Grass ground cover:  Not recommended due to its maintenance needs especially when under cover.

9)  Grid mats:  Can work if the owner wants to use stone or brick dust or some other type of light screenings but requires periodic maintenance.

10)  Brick or stone:  Not highly recommended as it is less slip resistant though it can look great, especially if brick dust is used elsewhere such as the driveway in a chip and seal application.

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01.09.19

Adding Stalls to an Indoor Riding Arena? Good Idea or Not?

Adding Stalls to an Indoor Arena

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.

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02.23.18

Do You Need a Site Plan?

IMG_0541Today 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.

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11.01.17

Dear John: Benefits of Beginning with a Site Plan

site plan

Q: Dear John,
We have a house on 3 acres of land with a 4-stall metal barn. It’s been years since horses have been on the property. The pasture and paddock are overgrown with trees and shrubs and are now essentially wooded areas. The fences are in disrepair. The area is hilly. We need to see if we can flatten an area to use as a riding ring. Drainage will be an issue. Basically, we need to figure out a way to rework what’s here to maximize what we can use. We understand that it will be a large undertaking and we want to properly plan to do it right and complete in several stages over a couple years.
Your website has been helpful and informative, but any additional information would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you,
Midwestern Equestrian

A: Dear Midwestern Equestrian,
Almost weekly, our office receives calls or emails from people who own a property and plan to put horses on it. Maybe there’s already an old structure there. Or perhaps they want to start from scratch. They ask for advice on where to begin.
Midwestern Equestrian, I suggest you start with a site plan. Even with an existing structure (your 4-stall barn), there are so many benefits to putting together a “roadmap” for future changes/improvements. And since you want to put four horses on three acres, efficient planning is critical. 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.

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.

Hope this helps in your planning, and good luck with your farm!
John

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05.29.12

Guest Blog from Macy: Equestrian and Future Equestrian Architect

Today’s blog comes from Macy Carman, an enthusiastic and talented student (and equestrian!) from Hollins University in Virginia. Macy, an environmental studies major who is considering graduate studies in architecture, spent some time with us to learn about what it means to be an “equine architect.” In turn, my staff and I got to spend some time picking her brain about her invaluable experience as a groom for Pollard Eventing. (On a sad note, our thoughts are with everyone at Pollard Eventing. Macy travelled back to be with her horse family after the tragic car accident that claimed the lives of three horses last week.)

HERE’S MACY:

I knew I had picked the right architecture firm for my internship when John Blackburn started out my first day with what he referred to as his “dog and pony show.” I love pony shows! I am a lifelong rider, member of the United States Pony Club, and looking forward to a career in designing equestrian facilities, so I knew I was in for a treat.  And I was…the presentation he showed me displays many of the options that are available to clients as well as the principles he bases his designs around: natural light and proper ventilation. I think that he could convince anyone that these are the most important concepts behind a facility!

During my time with the Blackburn team, I was able to accompany John to a Virginia Farm where he was interviewed for a video (stay tuned for the final project). After spending so much time discussing the process to designing a barn, I certainly had a different perspective when touring the facility. While my practical experience with horses, combined with time spent in a variety of barns, has instilled in me the importance of a well thought out facility for the safety and well being of the horse and rider, I picked up on a lot of smaller details. John had a reason for why every detail was exactly the way it was, and was happy to answer all of my questions. Watching his interviews, I got a sense that he cares for the horses just as much as the owners, which is exactly what we horse people are always looking for.

Over the course of my first week here, I have talked to everyone in the office about their projects, their academic paths, and their thoughts on barn design. As interested as I have been in barn design over the years, I have never given thought to many things Blackburn consistently addresses, like making sure that vehicles, visitors, and horses are separated at all times. Who knew a driveway needed so much planning? Everyone in the office has been very welcoming, and I hope that I have been able to provide a slightly different perspective as a rider and a groom. I look forward to absorbing a greater understanding of equestrian design during the rest of my time here- and maybe some tips on my graduate school applications too. I would like to thank the whole office for having me.

Here's Macy in full force!

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09.25.11

Old Woodlands Farm: Camden, SC

Located outside of Camden on 42 acres in South Carolina’s horse country, this private horse farm for the training of hunter/jumpers was designed to include a new 10-stall barn to accompany an existing four-stall and eight-stall barn. The newer stall complex forms a center courtyard.

Program 10-stall barn

Completion 1999 (master plan), 2001 (barn and service structures)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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06.17.11

First Barn: From just horsin’ around to designing barns

As a kid in Tennessee, I grew up around horses, though I had no interest in properly riding them. That I left to my twin sister, who kept her Tennessee Walker named Dixie in a neighbor’s barn. For me, playing in the barn’s loft for days on end in the summer was much more appealing.

I left Tennessee for Clemson University (B.A. Architecture, 1969), where I developed an interest in designing buildings inspired by context, environment, and function: I became a student of the philosophy that “form follows function.” There was no doubt in my mind that I had left horses and the barn behind. After all, I never aspired to be an equestrian architect. I was a student of urban design. Ironically, over 25 years later, I earn a living designing equestrian facilities across the country. That is because a single interview changed my life.

Following graduate school (Washington University in St. Louis, M.A. in Urban Design, 1973), I relocated to Washington, D.C. in pursuit of its urban and robust economy as a place to possibly support a future architectural practice. My former colleague, Robbie Smith, and I began “moonlighting” on small side projects together and decided to create our own firm. As young architects, we’d happily take any project we could get our hands on. So, when Robbie received a phone call from a friend in the summer of 1983 about a fairly large potential horse project in Upperville, Virginia, we jumped. Forget that we had never designed a horse farm, or, for that matter, any other building of size of significance on our own. We had nothing to lose.

The Interview 

Preparation began for the big interview. We learned that the owner, Robert H. Smith (no relation to my partner, Robbie Smith), selected the renowned landscape architect Morgan Wheelock of Boston to plan the farm. Together, the owner and Wheelock sought an architect to design the farm structures to fit within the well-known Upperville and Middleburg, Virginia context.

Typically, during an interview you review your firm’s portfolio of completed projects with the potential client. This was not an option for Robbie and me — we’d have to approach this interview differently. Since Robbie was from Middleburg, he was familiar with the area’s building types. He spent a few days photographing various buildings in the area — forms, materials, and shapes — that represented Middleburg or Upperville in any way. Barns were certainly photographed, but we also considered residences, commercial structures, and other miscellaneous structures relevant. With plenty of images to inspire us, we selected a number of key examples. Many of these buildings were perhaps a hundred years old and probably weren’t designed by an architect. However, we felt they strongly represented the area. We took the photographs and projected the slides on the wall of our small office, traced over them, and transferred the images to illustration boards to serve as our “portfolio” presentation.

I’m not aware of what the other interviewing firms presented, but ours did not include a single building we designed or were designed by any architect, for that matter. Our presentation documented the context of the area in a series of hand-drawn sketches — but, at least, if the owner’s farm were to “fit” into the context, these were the shapes, forms, materials, and scale they should have.

We were hired immediately. Suddenly, we found ourselves with seven buildings to design with no staff in an unfurnished office space in a third-floor walkup in Georgetown — and we weren’t about to complain. We were embarking on a project that would change our lives.

Horse Sense

Our client, Robert H. Smith, was a very successful developer in the Washington, D.C. area. While he had owned thoroughbred horses for several years, he stabled them at other farms or the track. Now he was ready to start a thoroughbred breeding operation, having acquired approximately 400 acres in Upperville, adjacent to the famous Rokeby Farm (owned by Paul Mellon) on one side and Route 50 on the other. Also included within the property were the grounds to the Upperville Horse Show, the oldest functioning horse show grounds in the United States.

Morgan Wheelock, the landscape architect, brought a background in designing horse farms to the project: with it, his theory that barn design, as well as the farm layout, should be driven by a paramount concern for the health and safety of the horse. The way the building is viewed and placed in the landscape, Wheelock believes, is as important as the design of the building itself. That’s because both the farm layout and the barn design impact the health and safety of the horse; concerns possibly even more apparent when operating a breeding facility for thoroughbreds.

Barns are often perceived as dark, dusty, and uninviting buildings. However, it’s also widely understood among equestrians that the best environment for a horse beyond the great outdoors is an environment that inspires just that. Wheelock bridged these inconsistencies with a design theory that focused on creating natural light and ventilation within the barn. It was a revelation. While the concepts Wheelock professed were simple, they worked — and beautifully — at our first barns at Heronwood Farm.

The barns at Heronwood Farm centered around two guiding design principles: a direct response to the health and safety needs of the horse and design wherein the shapes, forms, and materials are inspired and derived by context.

Aisle at Heronwood Farm - Natural light and ventilation are maximized through a continuous ridge skylight running the length of the barn.

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01.11.11

Farms with Open Doors: Open Houses (FARMS) this Year

Just a quick note to share the following list of farms that are offering open houses this year as posted by Throughbred Times. Lane’s End Farm, a Blackburn project in Versailles, Kentucky, is offering tours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily through January 14th. If you own or work at a farm that would like to be included on the list, email copy@thoroughbredtimes.com with your information. I’d welcome your thoughts if you happen to tour Lane’s End or any of the other farms. We designed Lane’s End Farm in collaboration with Morgan Wheelock, the talented landscape architect, as the Farm greatly expanded its operations from 1990 to 1995. However, the design intent – striving to provide as much natural light and ventilation as possible within the barns – remains as important today as it did then.

Lane's End Farm in Versailles, KY

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