Appeasing horses — and their owners

Working together results in award winning projects

By Sue Marquette Poremba

Frame Building News Augusut 2011When it comes to barns, horse owners know exactly what they want. For example, William Rudolph of Morton Buildings in Lake Wales, Fla., says a horse owner came to his office with a picture of a barn she saw in South Africa.

“She knew what she wanted,” Rudolph says. “She wanted living quarters in it. She wanted 14-15 stalls, a tack room, a feed room, an office and a lot of unique features.”

The final design took a lot of back and forth with drawings and suggestions, but Rudolph says that in this case the process was made a little easier because she was a Morton owner in another location. She knew what Morton could do and she trusted the representatives to deliver a quality product that also fit her original vision. Apparently, the owner and Morton Buildings were on the same page for this project because it won the 2010 NFBA award for Horse Barns/Facilities (3,000-10,000 square feet).

Horse barn builders walk a delicate line when working with horse owners. As Rudolph explains, the horses are 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, the builders have to balance the horse owner’s passion with some hard realities — like the cost of materials and making sure the barn is safe and comfortable for the horses.

Calamos Stall Barn

Calamos Stall Barn

“The good points and the challenges when working with horse owners are often the same thing,” says Sean Marcotte, with Morton Buildings in Houston. “They are all different. Sometimes they have trainers involved in the design. No two people are going to have the same concept.” In other words, 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.

For that reason, Marcotte recommends the horse owners he works with to visit other barns, especially barns that 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, encourage the owners to visit existing barns in different kinds of weather. Seeing the need for good ventilation is better than trying to explain the need, for example.

Ten Oaks Polo

Ten Oaks Polo

Don Ross, with the Naperville, Ill., Morton Buildings office, has found most of the horse owners he works with are women. The women tend to be more detail oriented, Ross says, so it is important to listen very carefully. “You have to be prepared to take a lot of notes,” he says. He, too, directs the owners to other barns similar to their plans and then he comes up with a design to present.

All three men agree that one of the positive aspects to working with the horse owners who come to them is that the owners appreciate post-frame construction and the building aesthetics. “In Florida, the mentality is often toward concrete block or steel,” says Rudolph. “But concrete doesn’t give you the flexibility and it tends to hold moisture. Steel will start rusting in our climate. Wood provides better options.”

Horse owners will often come with ideas that the builders may never have thought about trying before. On his award-winning building (above), Rudolph says a pergola was added. “That’s the first one I ever did. It was all the owner’s idea.”

Marcotte appreciates the passion horse owners bring to the project. “It’s great to see how passionate they are about their animals and then to see the sense of pride they have when you come to the end of the project and they know this is where their horses will live. They send you pictures of their horses in the barn and it’s a really good feeling to have been a part of it.”

He, too, won a 2010 NFBA award for Horse Barns/Facilities (under 3,000 square feet). The barn needed to incorporate certain looks. “A lot of the horse communities here in Texas are deed restrictive and the subdivisions have rules on what the exterior must look like,” he says.

It’s one thing to develop a exterior that fits into the neighborhood. It’s a whole other issue coming up with a plan that is right for the horses. And that is the biggest challenge when working with horse owners — and the builders 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 builder 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 that the barn has to be built similarly to a home.

“We had someone who felt the barn needed to be insulated and kept at a warm temperature inside,” says Ross. “But that meant the building wouldn’t have the ventilation it needed. The owner was convinced that was what she wanted to do and we weren’t going to do it.”

Calamos Stall Barn

Calamos Stall Barn

One of Ross’s horse barn projects placed second in the Horse Barn/Facilities category (3,000-10,000 square feet). While such high-end projects come to a beautiful and impressive end result, designing a barn that 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, Ross says, so the builder has to gently encourage the owner scale back their dreams.


“We appreciate the ideas the owners bring to us and we try to make them work,” Marcotte adds. Unfortunately, not all of those ideas will be feasible, either because of building costs or design logistics or for animal safety. “You can nip those potential issues in the bud if you discuss them right up front.”

In the end, the builders approach horse barn building like Rudolph. “I enjoy working with horse people. They challenge us to find the range of what we can do.”

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