No matter what type of barn you have, there is always maintenance you need to perform in order to keep the barn safe and comfortable for your horses. Dave Preston, a longtime horse owner and contractor living in Central Kentucky, has been involved in a number of barn building projects, including some $750,000 Thoroughbred barns near Lexington, as well as smaller barns for his family and friends.
“My big issues, whether it’s a new barn or makeover for an existing barn, are drainage and ventilation,” Preston says. These important factors play a role in health issues for horses. Any building can be created or improved to satisfactorily accommodate adequate drainage and ventilation. You need to provide drainage away from the building on at least a one- to six-degree slope, and you need to get good nondirect ventilation.
“Anything beyond these two factors to make it as safe as possible for horses is just common sense,” Preston adds. “For example, I’ve poured concrete aisles and used exposed aggregate to give good traction. When finishing it, just brush and wash it enough to expose the stone to make a rough, nonslip surface. If it's a masonry barn, use bullnose (rounded) block on all corners so there are no sharp corners a horse could hang himself on. Make sure all hangers and door hardware, etc., lie flush. Try not to have horizontal surfaces and ledges that cribbers can get hold of.”
The Little Things
Often it’s little things that make big differences. “The hooks you hang buckets from in a stall need to be recessed or the kind with a ring on them so the horse can't brush against the hook and hurt himself,” Preston says. “There are many safety-minded products available; you can find them on the Internet and catalog markets.”
A key factor in safety and comfort is regular maintenance. Bob Coleman, PhD, a horse extension specialist from the University of Kentucky, says this is often not a primary consideration, but it’s something horse owners and managers always need to be thinking about. “When doing renovations, look for materials that will be maintenance-free or last a long time,” he states. “It may be more expensive (for the initial outlay), but we often don’t think in terms of the longevity of a door, stall panel, or equipment we'll be using in the stall and the repair or replacement costs.
“We have to spend money wisely and not overspend, but also need to look at the maintenance on down the road,” he continues. “Can I paint it every few years rather than every year? All too often we’re saving money today, but it will cost us more tomorrow.”
For long-lasting, maintenance-free barn features, choose galvanized or stainless steel products. “Corrosion is always a problem,” says Preston. “If something rusts, it can create a sharp, rough surface that might injure a horse.”
When building or repairing and remodeling a barn, available materials, such as steel versus masonry versus wood, have pros and cons. “Wood is generally the least expensive, but the highest maintenance,” explains Preston. “Masonry is generally the most expensive and the lowest maintenance, and steel is somewhere in between. But you need to line steel siding with wood or something else that’s safer for the horse. You never want a stall with just sheet metal walls.” That’s because a horse could kick through the metal and injure himself.
“If you line (metal buildings) with wood, it must be heavy enough that when it’s kicked, it won’t splinter. We are lucky here to have rough sawn oak and other hardwoods available. If you use pine, fir, or some of the other soft woods, you need at least 1½-inch thickness, minimum, and for pine that's probably not thick enough.”
The main thing is to be resourceful, using local materials (less expensive than something that must be hauled from far away). “There are always geographical differences on what’s available, but also think about what would be safe for horses, and how much maintenance will be required,” Preston states.
Preston advises regular maintenance inspections. “Police your barn on a regular basis. Nails and screws work loose. Soon the head is sticking out a quarter inch. If you check these and pound them back in, they’ll be good for another year or so.
“In my own barn (originally an old tobacco barn), I have to go through every five years and replace about 10% of the boards on the exterior, and completely repaint the barn. It’s a wood structure, and five years is about all you can get from a paint job. Taking care of horses is a lot of work, and taking care of the buildings is another whole subset of work.”