With careful attention to design details, it is possible to retrofit your barn to be healthier for your horses. One important renovation to existing built structures is the addition of skylights and ridge vents to increase light and air flow.
Only a fortunate few horse owners design and build a barn from the ground up. Most buy a property with an existing barn. As the photos illustrate, Blackburn Architects’ client Kevin Plank, the CEO of Under Armour®, bought historic Sagamore Farm in Maryland, and undertook a significant renovation to add light and ventilation to the interior of his historic main barn.
Significant expenditures are not necessary, however. In this discussion, I’m offering simple recommendations for achieving healthier living space for horses starting with an existing barn.
For venting an existing barn roof, I suggest one of two options:
1) Add Dutch doors along the barn sides or
2) Add a vent along the bottom edge of the skylight (or ridge if that works best though I prefer the curb vent for better free air access).
Option 1: Add Dutch doors along the barn sides
This option provides good access for ventilation to each stall and a great method of controlling air flow. An owner has the option of leaving just the upper door open to reduce the flow or open both upper and lower doors to give maximum free area. (Of course, in order to open both doors for full access you’ll need to add an interior mesh panel to keep horse in the stall.) If Dutch doors aren’t possible or within the budget, then I recommend adding low wall vents to bring in air low to the floor (which is good for foals and to vent odors caused by ammonia gases near the floor). The vents should be dampered for air control and screened to keep rodents from getting into stalls.
Additionally, Dutch doors provide an abundance of natural light, which reduces the need for electric lighting in the barn and helps purify the stall flooring, reducing the creation of harmful ammonia gases.
Option 2: Add a vent along the bottom edge of the skylight (or ridge)
This option allows for vertical ventilation of the barn using the Bernoulli Principle and the chimney effect. Though the existing barn may not have the best angle for prevailing breezes or roof slope, it will help nevertheless. I also recommend vents at the top of the wall at the roof eave if they can be added. This permits year-round ventilation above the heads of the horses, but still ventilates the barn vertically using the techniques described above.
There are a variety of methods and materials that can be used to retrofit skylights into an existing roof. At Sagamore Farm, Blackburn Architects’ design replaced the existing shingles with a new metal roof (not necessary; Sagamore’s roof shingles were worn out and metal was chosen as a better long term material). In more typical circumstances where the existing shingles are salvageable, simply remove the shingles along the ridge and cut out the sheathing or sub roofing material, leaving only the roof rafters.
Continuous curbs should be built along the edge of the opening. Although a continuous skylight or curb is not necessary, I find it aesthetically and functionally preferable. A skylight can then be placed on top of the curbs spanning from one side of the aisle to the other. The curb can and should be vented. The size and amount of free area depends on the barn design, size and location. The skylight width does not have to span the full width of the aisle but somewhere between 8 to 12 feet should be adequate.
The skylight can be either glass (costly and should be safety glass) or some form of polycarbonate. Check your local building codes for requirements. I do not recommend clear glazing. Translucent glazing reduces the visibility of dirt and filters light, which better serves the barn interior. It’s best not to let a strong band of sunlight hit a stalled horse for a long period of time. I also recommend painting the interior of the roof and framing members a light color to improve reflectance.
If a continuous skylight is not possible, then individual roof skylights can be installed over the center aisle. However, if the skylights are not high on the roof and are not vented, they may not do much to increase the barn’s vertical ventilation.
If the barn has a loft it may be possible to remove it, leaving specific structural members spanning across the barn to hold the building together and to provide wind shear strength to the barn. If the loft is used for hay storage (which I don’t recommended for health and safety reasons), then it may be possible to remove a portion of the loft over the aisle leaving the loft in place over the stall for storage or the reverse of that (remove the loft over the stall but leave it in place over the aisle).
While these approaches to increasing light and ventilation in existing structures can work wonders, you should always contact a structural engineer before installation of skylights to determine if the barn can take the modifications needed of if some additional structural work needs to be done.
1. Blackburn designs stalls of all sizes, but the most common is 12’x12’. 16’x16’ is often requested for larger horses, but with more space comes increased maintenance, a need for more bedding and a bigger area to clean. Larger stalls can, therefore add considerably to the cost of building a barn by:
a. Adding to the overall length and/or width of a barn.
b. Requiring roof framing to be increased from 2×10’s to 2×12’s or even greater.
c. Increasing the span of the framing lumber.
2. Partitions between stalls should be at least 8 feet high, but they don’t have to be solid from top to bottom. Barred or mesh portions on the top enhance ventilation. This also has the benefit of allowing horses to see their companions — and provides easy observation of the horses by their owners. The down side is the increased ventilation between stalls can increase the risk of bacterial infection between horses. For the same reason, doors that are open on top increase light and ventilation. Bars must not be more than 2 to 3 inches apart, and openings should not be more than 2 inches across to prevent hoof entrapment.
3. Steel mesh or bar fronts on stalls allow an owner to look down the aisle or into the stall as they walk down the aisle and see their horses. The mesh is good for ventilation, too. The drawback is that bedding can be kicked into the aisles, so we recommend adding bedding guards. Welded steel mesh is typically stronger than bars but the horizontals tend to collect dust and can add to barn maintenance.
4. Doors should be at least 4 feet wide. This is wide enough for a wheelbarrow to enter the space or for a horse and handler to exit or enter the stall. Sliding doors are preferred over swinging doors. If you must use swinging doors, remember to install them to swing outward. You’ll have a major problem if a horse goes down and the door swings to the inside. Additional safety reasons for outward swinging doors include:
a. Prevention of an unlatched door swinging open accidentally, or the wind catching it.
b. Added visibility of looking down an aisle and recognizing that a stall is open and empty. (Handlers need to leave stall doors open when the horse is turned out. This also makes it easier when bringing the horse back to the stall – you don’t have to open it.)
5. We recommend rounded edges in stalls and anywhere in the barn where horses have access. A casting rail (which can be a groove in the wall or a 2-by-4-inch rail bolted low to the wall), provides something for the horse to catch his foot on when rolling to avoid getting cast.
6. Provide for easy access to the stall for feed buckets without opening and closing the door. Place in one of the front corners adjacent to the aisle.
7. Automatic waterers have the advantage of offering constant fresh water, but be sure to buy a model that is easy to keep clean. If you don’t want automatic waterers, install water hydrants between every couple of stalls and provide for ample drainage for drips and overflows. Don’t forget to frost-proof them in climates where pipes are apt to freeze.
On the 3rd of May, the day before the Kentucky Derby, I was sitting on a plane having just completed the final edits to my forthcoming book, Healthy Stables by Design, and reading the Time Magazine piece “Twilight at the Track” by David Von Drehle. I congratulate Time Magazine and Mr. Drehle for his article, as well as the numerous articles published by the NYT about horses and racing that I read frequently. I thought I would share a few of my thoughts about the things discussed.
Mr. Drehle’s article describes the sad situation of thoroughbred racing in the US. As tracks close, purses dwindle, breeding declines, and trainers and breeders retire, fewer and fewer people are attending, betting at, and enjoying the races. Surprisingly, the article states that only 46% of horse racing fans would even recommend the sport to others. Perhaps this fact should not be so shocking, as only a few races, such as the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, and Breeder’s Cup, still manage to attract large numbers of excited spectators.
Having designed horse stables and planned many horse farms in my thirty-year career as an equestrian architect (some even for leading thoroughbred farms such as Sagamore Farm, Lanes End, and Heronwood Farm), this story does not actually tell me anything new. That’s not a criticism, as I think most people connected with thoroughbred racing in this country are aware of its sad decline. There are some passionate breeders out there with a desire to restore racing to its glory and to build on its history. Kevin Plank (Sagamore Farm) and Will Farish (Lane’s End) are two that embody the spirit and love of the sport.
Let me just say that I simply love horse racing. For me, it is the most fantastic sport in the world. With the parade to the paddock, the showing of the horses in the parade ring, and the procession to the starting gate, excitement builds with every step. Though one race is typically only two minutes long, those two minutes are definitely “the most thrilling two minutes in sports.” Since each race has various changing elements, such as length, track surface, and horse gender and age requirements, no race ever runs the same. By watching various races throughout the day, one can truly spend a great and full day at the track.
Having attended a number of races, I have my own methods that add to the excitement. Starting the day with a review of the racing form and the “pink sheet,” I begin to make my choices. This can be a long and tedious process or it can be a quick review of basic facts and data, like the jockey, horses’ record, trainer, and field. Mind you, I am certainly no expert at playing the horses and I never wager large sums, but betting definitely adds to the excitement and the thrill of victory. Once I have made my preliminary choices and stopped at the wagering window, I make my way to the top of the home stretch at the rail. This is my favorite spot to see a race because you cannot only see everything, but also feel, smell, and hear it. There is nothing like the excitement that floods your veins when a herd of horses rounds the turn into the homestretch galloping at top speed with leather rubbing, hooves pounding, dust flying (or at the Derby this year, mud flying), and the crowd cheering. While some may prefer the finish line or the expensive seats high up in the stands, I need to be where I can see, feel, smell, and hear it.
My experience with racing is based on this excitement and entertainment. Now the question is what can we do to bring this excitement back to the track and make the experience of going to the track enjoyable (whether one wins a little money or not)?
From my point of view, there are two main problem areas with racing. First, drugging and doping is still a sad negative pulling down the most exciting sport in the world. Not only does this severely endanger the horses, but it also detracts fans from the sport. Laws need to be restructured so that the punishment for drugging deters owners and trainers from the practice. Perhaps then, racing will truly be about the quality of the horses. Although strides have been made to remedy this problem, the restrictions have not yet solved the issue. Second, a change to the racing experience is necessary. The “racino” culture proposed as a “fix” to infuse money into an ailing industry is not a long-term benefit and may not be a “fix” at all for the sport. Though it may have helped by creating larger purses, improving competitiveness, and bringing bigger fields, it does not return the public back to the track. In fact, I believe it drives them away by cheapening the experience.
Perhaps with these two fixes, racing can begin to deliver everything that people used to love. One only has to attend Saratoga in August to understand the excitement that a full track can bring to thousands of diverse people and families, who gather to enjoy a full day of fun. It is this type of full-day experience, where families, couples, or individuals can go and hang out at the races, eat at good restaurants, and enjoy the spectacle of the day, that may restore racing to its former glory. I think some of the tracks in the UK might be a good example for our American tracks to consider. Having attended thoroughbred tracks in the UK (Windsor and Goodwood), I have seen first-hand how the experience can be thoroughly enjoyable. Though the British are known for betting on virtually anything that moves (and probably some that don’t), there were no tacky racinos, but rather, a pervading sense of pageantry and style. With this atmosphere, the racetrack became a place I could take my wife and enjoy a delightful afternoon.
In the US, Keeneland Racetrack, which only holds 32 days of racing each year, has reduced the amount of race days in order to have every race feature strong horses and large fields. Interestingly, their attendance and profits have rose amidst the closing of tracks across the country. By being able to restore the integrity of the sport, they have been able to make racing successful despite the declining industry. Let’s hope that other racetracks take note and restore the enjoyment of a day at the track. While the professional bettor or the individuals who hope to hit the perfect Trifecta may not be deterred, the future of Thoroughbred Racing lies in making it an experience that everyone can enjoy. By stopping the current drugging problems and the overall cheapening of the racetrack experience, I believe it can be done.
You can check out the article yourself at: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2142495,00.html
Much of the world seems to view horse racing through a different set of binoculars compared to the United States. Racing regulators in Kentucky recently approved a ban on furosemide (brand names Lasix or Salix), long considered a performance-enhancer in thoroughbreds (and thereby banned) throughout much of the world. The proposed phased-in ban, which would halt use of the drug in graded or listed stakes races, still needs approval from state lawmakers – and, as expected, the debate is controversial at best and downright ugly at worst.
Furosemide, the drug at the core of the debate, is a synthetic compound which functions as a powerful diuretic – it’s also the only medication currently allowed to be administered on any given race day in much of the U.S. The medication is used as an anti-bleeding drug to prevent race horses from nosebleeds during races and to treat pulmonary hemorrhaging.
One side of the argument is that a ban would create even more difficulties for an already struggling industry, as the business that gave Kentucky much of its fame has struggled to compete against states where the lure of larger purses is supported by legalized slot machines and the like. Others who are anti-ban suggest that the drug is a less cruel method to prevent or stop bleeding, as presented in “The Case for Using Lasix” in the New York Times.
On the other hand, some argue that banning the drug will boost public opinion of the sport, which has been marred by doping and injuries to both horses and the jockeys who ride them. In an editorial, “Stronger Medicine for What Ails Horse Racing,” the New York Times points out that “this is a good start, but regulators across the country will need to do a lot more to change the industry’s cynical culture, which turns a blind eye to drug use and imposes only wrist-slapping penalties on trainers caught in the act.” Another interesting viewpoint comes from the veterinarian Sid Gustafson, who says: “To allow racing veterinarians in a stall with a horse before a race is to permit doping, as it has turned out in America.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) lists furosemide on its banned drug list due to its alleged anti-masking agencies.
Blackburn Architects is so grateful to be a part of Kevin Plank’s dream to revitalize the horse racing industry in Maryland through his work at Sagamore Farm in Glyndon. We hope you’ll enjoy these articles from The Washington Post and The New York Times about Mr. Plank’s impressive ambitions for the historic farm and to elevate Maryland’s racing industry clout. We believe that if anyone can do it, it’s Mr. Plank. Congratulations to the whole team at Sagamore Farm, whose All Mettle won Pimlico’s $30,000 maiden special weight race in only her second career start!
Originally on a 200-acre parcel of lush green rolling hills in Kentucky horse country between Layette and Bourbon Counties, Monticule Farm was named for the French word for a small mountain. Blackburn Architects worked with famed landscape architect Morgan Wheelock to develop the property, now over 600-acres, into one of the industry’s best commercial breeding facilities. Blackburn designed a 20-stall broodmare barn and a 16-stall yearling barn in the style of other large Kentucky horse farms from the 1940s. In 2008, Blackburn provided master plan and concept design services for a four barn stallion complex; each barn contains four stalls. This project was featured in Keeneland Magazine.
Program 16-stall yearling barn and 20-stall broodmare barn
Completion 2000 (broodmare and yearling barns); 2008 (stallion complex)