Blog by Nikki Alvin-Smith
To board or to buy? There are many good reasons to do either but if are considering building a barn for horses in your own backyard then be sure there are no foibles in your plan. Here are a few horse barn tips things to think about before you start.
I have a friend who built a beautiful horse farm replete with 50 stalls, additional carriage houses for guests and a superb home. When he and his wife retired they placed their property on the market. Where it sat. And sat. And still sits. Why hasn’t it been snapped up at the continually discounting prices? Perhaps because the breed of horses he built the facility for was Paso Finos and the stalls were beautiful. And small. Very small.
One of my students decided to have a local contractor build her barn. Due to the constant inclement winter weather in Upstate New York she determined that it would be prudent to connect the barn to her house, which naturally I advised against. There were doors between barn and house but they were not always kept
shut. Humm. That went well. Within a few months she had an excessive visiting population of vermin in her house that she could not exterminate no matter how many cats or commercial exterminators visited. She also enjoyed a large contingent of pesky flies in her kitchen every summer. Oh dear! Her insurance went through the roof as there was hay stored in the loft above the barn, which presented a significant fire hazard to the entire residence.
Stick Out Your Tongue
A renowned Olympic dressage rider told me he had a horse, a truly gifted horse, which was sadly euthanized due to injury. This injury occurred when the horse stuck out his tongue and his neighboring equine buddy promptly bit it off. The grill bars were apparently too far apart. Grill divided stalls do provide better light and ventilation, but be careful where you use them. And always be careful of placing foals in grilled stalls. Their tiny feet can become trapped if the bars are too far apart. A three inch maximum gap is recommended.
Get in the Groove
If you are using kick boards in a stall, and you certainly should, make sure they are heavy duty lumber. Tongue and groove pine that you can pick up cheaply at your local box store, is generally only ½ inch thick. This will not hold up to horse abuse and will quickly fracture and splinter, even if you place it over an existing solid wood wall. I do confess to doing this very foolishly myself on a stall years ago. I had to take it all down again. Whoops. I was ‘penny wise and pound foolish.’ as they say at home.
A line of horse heads down the barn aisle looks so wonderful said a friend. I agreed. It’s so much fun to visit with horses over the barn door and give them a quick scratch on the neck. Of course walking past all the horses leading a mare in heat may not be the ideal situation if you prefer a quiet life. At one barn I visited to give lessons every single warmblood in the barn lunged at me with teeth bared as I passed by. That wasn’t fun. Especially as the aisle was narrow. I’m not sure why every horse in that barn behaved that way, but it was certainly dangerous.
Dutch doors also present a great view of the outside world for your equine and help prevent boredom. I once had a vet friend who bought a beautiful Lipizzan stallion. On arrival at her yard he was duly stabled for the first night. In the morning the outside Dutch door was opened at the top so he could see his new environment. Naturally he promptly jumped the door. Being more a dressage horse than a jumper he failed to clear the door and ended up straddled over the door damaging his stifles.
If you have doors without grills make sure they are high enough for the horses stabled there and always plan for future needs when building. Your kids may have ponies now, but they will grow up and need larger horses if they stick with riding. Also think about resale of your property.
Metal Versus Wood
Wood is a great insulator and is a preferred building product for a barn if you want the most temperate indoor temperatures all year around. With wood you won’t find sharp edges and you can make any repairs with a hammer and nails. Wood is horse friendly.
Metal buildings are common in the horse industry too. I went to visit a neighbor to see a horse prospect for my daughter. I was amazed that there were pens inside the building with metal gates dividing stalls with two or three horses in each confined space. The stalls were along the wall of the indoor that had one layer of tin from floor to rafters. No wood kick board protection. Outside the metal building electric wire was strung between metal T-posts providing paddocks right alongside the structure. I couldn’t help myself. I told the owner of the dangers of having horses next to an unprotected metal surface. Obviously severe injury such as torn ligaments/tendons or worse could result from just one misplaced kick or exuberant frolic. He was not happy for the input. However, to his credit he did add an interior kick wall to the building in wood although his horses still graze right next to the metal building.
My Barn Out Shadows My House
When you think about your barn design consider the size of your house. If your house is a one story building, the addition of a two story barn or high profile barn close by might make your home look tiny. Consider the overall appearance of your property when making your decision.
Keeping your horse(s) at home will give you lots more time with them and in my opinion is truly rewarding. Building a barn for horses is also a lot of work. Before you begin building talk to a professional for barn building tips and ask lots of questions. And don’t forget to compare apples to apples when checking out pricing too.