Horse Barn Blues…in the Key of E

Pole Barn Guru Blog

When it comes to barns, horse owners know exactly what they want. However what they want, and what will best meet the needs of the horses and the pocketbook, are often not the same.

In over three decades, I had literally thousands of requests for horse barns with living quarters incorporated. These pose a myriad of challenges – the mixed occupancies require fire separation between the living quarters and the barn, adding to both the cost and access points from one to the other. Throw in the mix… if vehicles are to be parked inside, and the challenges multiply. Before even starting down this route, a discussion with an insurance agent usually becomes the game changer.

In the end, in almost every case, having the living quarters and/or garage in another building is the best answer both for practicality and expense.

Many unique features are able to be incorporated into horse barns. Besides the obvious – the stalls, tack rooms, feed rooms, wash rooms, bathrooms, office spaces and much more can become part of the project.

Final designs often involve lots of serious back and forth discussions between clients and building designers with drawings and suggestions.

As horse barn designers, we walk a delicate line when working with horse owners. Horses are often like children to the owners, so there may be some passionate feelings in play. And horse owners, like anyone building a dream project, are going to have very definite ideas about what the final building should look like. However, there needs to be a balance between the horse owner’s passion and some hard realities — like costs and making sure the barn is safe and comfortable for the horses.

The good points and the challenges when working with horse owners are often the same thing. Every client is different. Sometimes the horse trainers become involved in the design. What are the probabilities of two people having the same concept? Slim.

While it is fun to work with the different personalities and the ideas they have, getting multiple people to agree on something can be a challenge.

My recommendation to horse owners is to visit other barns, especially barns which have been around for a few years. It gives the owners a chance to see what ideas work, what ideas probably won’t work, as well as how the barns perform. Also, I encourage the owners to visit existing barns in different kinds of weather. Seeing the need for good ventilation is better than me trying to explain the need for good ventilation to a client, for example.

Most of the horse owners we work with are women. Luckily, most women tend to be more detail oriented, which is a plus when evolving to final designs.

Luckily, one of the positive aspects to working with the horse owners who come to us are they appreciate pole building construction and the building aesthetics. Other options are concrete block or all steel. Concrete doesn’t give the design flexibility and it tends to hold moisture. Steel will start rusting. Wood provides better options.

Horse owners often come with ideas which we had never considered trying before. We’ve had the opportunity to learn what works and doesn’t work from thousands of clients over the past thirty plus years.

We first started to see horse owners asking for overhead doors for the ends of their building, instead of the more traditional sliding doors.  At first, we really balked at this and tried to talk clients out of them.  We voiced our fears of door damage by kicking horses, along with other issues.  However, over the past ten years, we’ve heard many times how easy it is to open an overhead door in the wintertime, and yes, they can open the overhead door partway to allow ventilation, just like opening a sliding door partway.  I certainly can’t argue against the opinion an overhead with an electric opener is much easier to open than trying to shove a heavy sliding door through the snow!

I appreciate the passion horse owners bring to the project. There is a real sense of joy at the end of the project when they know this is where their horses will live. For me, the best part is when I get pictures of their horses in the barn.

Many horse communities are deed restrictive and the subdivisions have rules on what the exteriors must look like. While it is one thing to develop an exterior which fits into the neighborhood, it is a whole other issue coming up with a plan which is right for the horses. This can be the biggest challenge when working with horse owners and a good building designer will always come down on the side of the horses, even if it means walking away from a project.

Ventilation issues appear to be the biggest obstacle between building designer and owner, particularly when the owner doesn’t see the need to provide proper ventilation for the barn. Sometimes the problem is a relatively new horse owner who thinks horses are like house-bound pets and the barn has to be built similarly to a home. As I’ve already pointed out, sometimes it’s easier for me to send these owners to long-standing horse facilities to see and hear from other owners about ventilation.

I’ve had clients who felt their horse barns needed to be insulated and kept at a warm temperature inside. In order to do so, the buildings wouldn’t have had adequate ventilation.

Designing a barn which mixes the owners ideas with what the owner is willing to pay can create its own challenges. It’s not unusual for the costs to be more than anticipated (in fact, almost always) which results in gentle encouragement to the owner to scale back their dreams.

While we appreciate the ideas the owners bring to us and we try to make them work, not all of these ideas will be feasible, either because of building costs or design logistics or (most importantly) for animal safety. My goal is always to design a building to fit all of the clients “needs” and in this case…I am talking about the horses!

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