Details count for horse barn builder

Ken Meigs has been a builder in the Black Earth, Wis., area for decades, and he hears about every big project in the region. Horse barns have become increasingly important to his business, especially as wealth from nearby Madison trickles into the surrounding countryside.
So he didn’t blink when a lumber yard employee mentioned that a developer was planning a big horse facility. The building, including a 28-stall horse barn, a riding arena, and other amenities, would serve as the focal point for an entire subdivision: the Carriage Ridge Equestrian Community, planned by Tom Bunbury of Restaino Bunbury Associates Realtors.
Meigs, a dealer for Wick Buildings, based in nearby Mazomanie, sent the developer a letter, along with photos of his work and Wick Buildings’ literature. He also sent copies of the April 1997 Frame Building News, with a photo and description of the 25,000 sq. ft. Foxwood Farms facility in Holly, Mich., built by Wick dealer Dick Alwood of Sentry Corp., which won the National Frame Builders Association Building of the Year Award for large horse barns.
But Bunbury, it turns out, was already talking to a different post-frame package company about the barn. Meigs’ package got Bunbury’s attention, however. Meigs came up with some numbers, and those also impressed him. But the developer still wasn’t convinced that Meigs, and Wick, could handle the details of the complex project.
To win him over, Meigs resorted to a tried-and-true business technique: take the client to dinner. He met Bunbury at Rookies, a local restaurant owned by shoe mogul Steve Schmitt. The restaurant had been thoroughly remodeled into a state-of-the-art sports-themed pub and eatery, including a miniature baseball stadium (105 ft. to straightaway center) and walls and ceilings lined with jerseys, photos, posters, and other sports paraphernalia.
When the dinner conversation turned to business, Meigs casually mentioned that he’d been general contractor on the remodel. His company had performed the demolition and the framing, but he’d also coordinated the work of more than 30 subcontractors. In addition to the usual electrical, plumbing, heating, concrete, paint, etc., there were specialty installers for the sound system, televisions, signage, and a unique air handler system for clearing cigarette smoke.
“He came in here and looked around,” says Meigs, “and that convinced him we could handle the details.”
Meigs got the job, but the design still needed some tinkering. Bunbury originally planned two separate stall barns, but site drainage and grading requirements wouldn’t allow that building layout. Discussions went back and forth on many topics; all told, the center underwent some 20 revisions.
With help from the engineering staff at Wick Buildings, the final design took form during the summer of 1997, and Carriage Ridge was built in late 1997. Although Meigs has his own crew of eight or nine, Carriage Ridge was erected primarily by a Wick crew.
The stall barn wound up at 72×132, with room for two tack rooms, two wash stalls, two grooming stalls, and two feed stalls among the total of 28 stalls. The riding arena measures 72×184 ft.
The stall and arena ceilings are finished off in white steel panels fixed to the trusses. “It’s an upscale way to finish a horse barn, but we’re doing a lot of it,” says Meigs. The look is clean and light, hides the insulation, cuts down on rain noise, and the trusses don’t get dusty or become home to birds. Insulation in the form of 2-in. fiberglass blanket with a built-in vapor barrier keeps the interior comfortable year-round.
The 36×36 viewing area, complete with a half-kitchen and couches, was built with large windows onto the riding arena. Meigs finished off the high ceilings in t&g cedar.
The stall barn features a trough conveyor system, built by Patz Manure Solutions, for speeding manure and bedding disposal. The systems are most often installed in dairy barns, but they work well for larger horse operations. For Carriage Ridge, the conveyor runs in a foot-deep trench at the back of each stall, and is easily accessible by lifting a steel plate. Such systems are occasionally installed to run outside the stalls, but this means the waste has to be shoveled into the aisle, and can hinder access.
The Carriage Ridge project spawned others for Meigs. A year ago Curt Mueller, a local sports products entrepreneur, contacted Meigs about building a modest 30×60 stall barn on his property. Halfway through the design process, the client decided to add a riding arena, but his ideas on size kept changing. “I thought he needed a sense of scale to the numbers he was coming up with,” says Meigs, “so I took him out to Carriage Ridge to have a look.”
Mueller was impressed, to say the least. The facility ended up at 72×336, plus 9-ft. overhangs on each side. About half of the building is used as storage, with a stall area, a riding arena, and a viewing room under one roof at the other end. Like Carriage Ridge, the stall area and arena are insulated and finished off with steel ceiling panels. A viewing room, lined with t&g cedar, includes a partial kitchen and lounging area.
Not all of Meigs’ projects are so large or luxurious. His company recently completed a two-stall stable that combines features of a run-in shed and a horse barn. The basic idea came from the owner, Don Kirch, and was fleshed out by Meigs’ sales supervisor Dan Lucey. Like other barns, the building includes a tack room, storage areas, and an office. The stalls themselves are open to the outside, however, with Dutch doors at their rear.
“I built a horse barn for him years ago,” says Lucey, “and he liked it but thought it got too hot in the summer. He wanted a design that allow maximum air flow.”
With the limited time the owner could spend on his site, he thought it best to give the horses maximum freedom of movement.
“The barn is situated in a valley with pretty good airflow,” says Lucey, “and we set the building east-west to catch the breeze.” Most of the winter storms in the area come out of the north-west, so wind and blowing snow wouldn’t be severe.
The unique design required some tinkering, but Lucey worked out most of the details before construction. The only problem with the open design was birds, which tried to nest in the trusses. Lucey installed some blocking and a steel ceiling, and the problem was solved.
Improvisation is par for the course in horse barn design. “Every horse owner has a different idea of what’s right,” says Meigs. The final design is usually a trade-off between those ideas and practical and financial concerns. “A lot of people want a hay deck above the stalls,” he says, “but they never consider how to get the hay up there.”
Meigs has been in the business so long he can’t say how many horse barns he’s built; somewhere between 50 and 100 is his best guess. Equestrian work is about a quarter of his business, with commercial and residential projects making up the bulk. Farm business has dwindled to less than 10 percent.
One of Meigs’ newest business prospects is at the other end of the scale from Carriage Ridge: a small, 12×20 run-in shed that he sells installed for about $3000. The shed, suitable for horses as well as smaller stock like sheep and goats, can be assembled on-site or prefabbed. The structure is most often mounted on skids, so owners can move them by tractor to different paddocks as desired. The portability also avoids the property taxes on fixed shelters.
Meigs has one of his portable run-in sheds by the side of the road near Mazomanie as advertising, and is getting a lot of calls on it. “We’ve built about seven or eight just this year,” says Lucey.
But the big projects keep coming as well. Meigs engineer and salesman Dave Budden says Wick has built nine or ten Carriage Ridge-style facilities in the past few years, and the demand keeps growing.
Apparently, there’s enough money in the economy to support some lofty dreams. It seems to be a very good time to be a horse.

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