Dream Barn and Indoor Arena
Follow Debbie’s story of how she and her husband Mike built their long awaited 12-stall barn and riding arena. We hope that this will not only give you tips for your barn, but also help anyone that is thinking of the building process!
There has been significant growth in the equine industry. More and more horse enthusiasts are purchasing horses and building facilities on their property. There are so many variables when it comes to building a barn, fencing in pastures and creating a safer and more comfortable environment for our horses. Because few of us are engineers and construction professionals, creating that environment can be very challenging. Mike and Debbie Disbrow, owners of RAMM Horse Fencing and Stalls, built their barn based on balancing a busy work schedule and wanting to have ease of caring for their horses. While no two barns are alike, we hope that the lessons they have learned will benefit other horse owners and provide some valuable ideas. Read on for their story.
When the Disbrow family moved to their first farm, it already had a 12-stall barn and 55' x 120' indoor riding arena. "This was perfect for us because it allowed enough space to keep our own horses, take a few boarding horses and give lessons," said Debbie. As time went on they wanted to put on clinics and demonstrations instead of giving lessons and boarding. While the 55' x 120' arena was great for riding alone or with 2 or 3 youth riders, it was not large enough for a demonstration or clinic with more riders. They had not intended on moving, but a piece of property became available and they sold their farm.
The wide span barn at the family's new location was originally used for storing equipment. This was a problem because they needed it to house horses. "Because it had a concrete floor and we knew it would only be a temporary barn, we chose six of the RAMM Portable-Panel horse stalls,' said Debbie. "This was a great choice because we were able to put up the stalls without posts, and we had a strong system while we decided what direction to take with our new barn. These stalls were a perfect fit for the wide span barn, and they held the horses with all the durability we expected."
Options were included with these stalls, and Debbie chose the swing-out bucket door, along with swing out feed doors with hay and grain feeders. This made feeding easier for barn help when the family was not available to feed. They also had insulated water buckets, which eliminated ice, a big time saver during the winter months. V-doors on the stall fronts allowed the horses to socialize, and choosing grilled partitions provided better ventilation in the barn.
Three-quarter inch, non-skid, corrugated RAMM stall mats and bedding with shavings made the concrete floor easier on the horses' legs. To give the horses better footing in the isle, they laid down stall mats there as well. Because smooth concrete can be slippery, especially if a horse is spooked, this gave added safety when leading horses in and out of the barn.
"Due to the height of the building the lighting was not ideal, but it was adequate," says Debbie. Windows helped, but they had to install grillwork over them to protect the horses. The lighting and lack of aisles in the barn also made ferrier and veterinarian work more difficult. The points of entry were one walk-through door and one large, overhead door. While the overhead door allowed for more light and ventilation, it had to be closed during inclement weather because there was no overhang.
The lack of a tack room meant more time had to be spent on tack maintenance. Humid and cold conditions in the wide-open area increased the chance of mildew and meant more dust. "We also had some concern about not having tack in a confined area. In addition to keeping our horses and tack in the barn, it was also used for storing my husband's equipment. Of course, every time I went to the barn to ride, he would be busy working on the equipment."
While the current barn was a safe home for their horses, they knew they were in need of a different facility. "After having horses for over 40 years, we were ready to take all of the good qualities from our current and previous facilities and combine them into a new one." New acreage allowed for more room to expand the barn, and they were also able to have larger pastures. After settling in and fencing off pastures, they began planning for a new 38' x 136' 12-stall barn and 76' x 256' indoor arena.
Phase One: Putting Ideas on Paper
After getting settled in on their new farm, Debbie and Mike began to plan their new facility. Debbie's comment, "It was a challenge for us, because I am the horse enthusiast and he is the business man!" This project would be different than other barn plans in the past. "At our ages, we are now able to do some of the things we've dreamed about doing, but we still need to keep costs in mind. Also, we needed to compromise on what I felt were my expectations, vs. what would fit into our budget."
By each one focusing on their strengths, they were able to work together and design barn that not only housed the horses but was a place to relax after a long work day. "I knew what I wanted for our horses, and my husband knew about material, contractors and how to set up a budget." The first step was to decide current and future uses for their facility. They knew they wanted to host more clinics and demonstrations, but they also wanted the barn to be a place everyone in the family could enjoy.
"We started jotting down ideas, and came up with clinics, demonstrations and personal use as our primary objectives. I also wanted an arena that could accommodate almost any discipline of rider, as I'm involved." Debbie made a list of her requirements for the new facility. "It started out pretty basic. The list included things like 12 stalls, a viewing area, a grooming and wash area, a tack room and an indoor arena."
In order to make the new barn a place the whole family could enjoy, Debbie and Mike added a wrap around porch to that list. They researched stall and watering systems, and spoke with several contractors. Then came the task of drawing out ideas. "I know we went through at least two legal note pads of drawings, sketches and lists that ended up in a stack or crumpled up in the wastebasket. Mike worked on the layout of the barn, arena and viewing area for over a year, until finally he was satisfied. I was thrilled to see that we were almost at the place where we could take our drawings to the contractor and make plans! I could visualize the layout, but not the size. That would come later."
Mike worked up a budget for the project, and the two of them made some more rough sketches and measurements together. Then, the contractors were able to show the couple some exact measurements and blue prints. The contractors told the couple that the expansive wood trusses that Debbie wanted for the ceiling were more economical at 76 ft, rather than a standard 80' arena width. "We both wanted trusses that did not compromise the structure with metal beams that protruded into the base of the arena so we chose the material we wanted, with a slightly smaller arena."
Debbie had originally envisioned wood ceilings for the stall area of the barn. Mike thought metal would be better and brighter. In the end, they choose wood, for the look and the warmth that it added to the barn. Both Mike and Debbie wanted a cobblestone aisle in the barn. The couple knew it would be a splurge, but they learned that rolled, ruff surface,- sprayed concrete would mean less expense and maintenance than other options.
"We decided the stalls were going to be 12' x 12', the arena would be 76' x 256', the viewing area would be 76' x 48' and the tack room would be 12' x 30'. We could have a grooming and wash area-each measuring 10' x 12'."
Once the couple had measurements, blue prints and a budget, it was time for them to choose their contractor. They asked for references and contacted previous customers. "My main concerns were finding someone we would be comfortable working with and someone who would do a great job," she added. The couple made their final decision on the contractor after seeing work the company had done. "We felt confidant that the structure would be built with quality materials, and that the details would not be overlooked."
Phase Two: The Interior and Stalls
"It's long been a dream of mine to have 'designer' stalls in my barn. So when we began planning our 'dream barn,' I definitely had something in mind," After researching many options, they decided RAMM's Nobleman stalls best fit the criteria for their horses and their expectations. Even though ascetics were a major factor when choosing, Debbie also knew that the stalls needed to be strong and durable. "We were very happy with the safety features and the strength of our Portable/Panel horse stalls from RAMM, and that influenced our decision to choose their Nobleman stalls."
"We liked the details that the Portable stalls provided for our horses such as the flat bar at the bottom of the door that horses didn't trip over, the option of a swing out feed door, and the water bucket door." Other stalls they researched looked good, but Debbie and Mike saw products on the market that they didn't like, such as lower gauge steel construction, or doors that had nothing on the bottom to keep them from swinging outward. "We wanted the best features for our permanent stalls, only with more style than the portables. With the Nobleman, we got it!" They are everything I have been dreaming of; beautiful and functional. I really like that the bottom of the doorway does not have a raised bar across it. The bottom of the door is a 'free span' opening with nothing to trip over. These doors glide open, and the door does not push out at the bottom. The latching system is strong and easy to use, keeping my horses in their stalls!"
To add to the look they wanted, Debbie and Mike decided to add finial brass cap tops to the stall posts. "We will have clinics and possibly some horses for sale in the future. These extra options will set the mood and hopefully be remembered and set us apart from other barns. Of course our goal is to have a safe haven for any horses or riders that are here, as well. This has been a barn that we have waited to do for a long time. It is a very special project for us."
Debbie was also concerned about functionality in the barn at feeding time. She said she still likes the ease of the feed door, and the corner feeder on the door. "When we travel, our horses have to be fed by extra help that may not have been to our barn before. I feel more comfortable with the turn-out feeders because they don't have to go into the stall and the horses can't put their heads out of the opening. I also like this feature if smaller children are in the barn. It's just a preference that makes me more comfortable with feedings. I also like the hard plastic feeders, they seem to hold up really well with my horses."
Debbie and Mike had different views on waterers. But, they both agreed that each stall would have an automatic waterer, as would each of the four pastures used for turnout. "Mike was really good at finding out what waterers we should use. We wanted to be sure that none of the lines would freeze in our cold winters. We choose waterers that had over four times the insulation found in other models." Mike also wanted to be sure and run each water line separately to the stalls. That way, they're protected in the event that something happens with the line. He included "We have a separate shut off for each stall and outside waterer. I like watering units that are completely covered in the stall. No lines or parts exposed. In the pastures, we used one single unit waterer, then used a two-sided water dish in-between our other two pastures," Their fencing was modified on the bottom two rails to allow the waterer to be "shared" by the two pastures. It works out really well.
Additionally, we will be adding sheds to the pastures, since we are in a windy area and don't have many trees in the pastures. Our horses love to be out in pasture. Most of the time with their tails turned to the wind," Debbie smiled. On those occasions when inclement weather comes and the couple isn't home, the horses can use the sheds for shelter.
Phase 3: Dutch Doors and Arena Footing
The ground at the barn is clay and was tamped down before stall mats were added. ThuroBed mattress systems were chosen for each stall. The system consists of a rubber-filled mattress with a wall-to-wall top cover. "We knew we wanted stall mats of some kind, because of the increased comfort and savings on bedding," according to Mike equine industry. "A good floor can make your horse happier and healthier, and I really liked the fact that the ThuroBed's are treated with an antibacterial agent. Urine can't seep through the top cover, and it will be a great support system for our older horses as well as our young ones!"
Debbie has over 45 years experience with horses and equine-related businesses. She has owned, trained, boarded horses and run stables at various times in her career. She is a certified fence installer, has given balanced riding lessons, and has shown horses in Western, Western Pleasure, Trail, English, Hunter/Jumper, Fox Hunting, Hunter Trials, Dressage and driving classes. Debbie has been involved in foaling, and just about every aspect of horse ownership possible, and she welcomes your questions and comments. If you are interested in using any articles by Debbie, please send her an email.