Ready, Set, Build: Barns From the Ground Up, Part One

For many horse owners there will come a time when the thought of building a barn will cross their minds. It may be that a rider's show career has taken off. Perhaps the polo lessons have resulted in an addiction and the player's string has now outgrown that four-stall stable. Maybe you're finally in a position to take the plunge and buy some substantial acreage but the outbuildings need razing. There are probably almost as many reasons for building a new barn as ...For many horse owners there will come a time when the thought of building a barn will cross their minds. It may be that a rider's show career has taken off. Perhaps the polo lessons have resulted in an addiction and the player's string has now outgrown that four-stall stable. Maybe you're finally in a position to take the plunge and buy some substantial acreage but the outbuildings need razing. There are probably almost as many reasons for building a new barn as ...

Story originally posted by: Maryanna Skowronski

For many horse owners there will come a time when the thought of building a barn will cross their minds. It may be that a rider’s show career has taken off. Perhaps the polo lessons have resulted in an addiction and the player’s string has now outgrown that four-stall stable. Maybe you’re finally in a position to take the plunge and buy some substantial acreage but the outbuildings need razing. There are probably almost as many reasons for building a new barn as there are horses and ponies to live in them. In this two part series, we examine all aspects of barn planning and construction. What follows here are some guidelines to consider when you start to think about construction.

First of all, let’s look at some terminology. In the strictest definition of the word, "barn" refers to a large outbuilding used to store hay, grain and sometimes livestock and in the old days, wagons. The word "stable" was more correctly used to name a building that housed livestock. In England the phrases "morning stables" or "evening stables" refers to the chores done each day: mucking, feeding, et cetera. Today, though, the word barn is used interchangeably with stable.

So what is the first thing to consider when you are thinking about building a barn? While the idea of having your horse at home right at arm’s length, so to speak, might be tempting, it’s crucial that you take your lifestyle into consideration first. It’s important that you are honest with yourself. If you are a professional horseman or someone who has committed to that career then your consideration has probably already been made.

If, however, you are an amateur horse owner who has decided that either the board bills are getting out of hand or that you’d just rather have access to riding without restriction (hours of operation, for example) then you definitely need to analyze your schedule. Do you have the luxury of not working a nine to five for a living? If not, do you have the means to hire someone as a stable hand or groom? If the answer to these two questions is no, then some hard thinking should definitely take place before the groundbreaking begins because this means that YOU are going to be the primary caregiver/caretaker of not only your horse(s) but the building maintenance and property manager as well.

And just as parenting is a twenty-four hour, seven day a week job, so too is horse owning when the steed is in the backyard, so to speak. Are you prepared to get up those extra hours earlier in the morning before fighting the rush-hour traffic? What if the boss needs you to work late? Especially when daylight savings time ends? Does your job require travel? Do you have someone you can rely on to take over the chores if you do need to work late or travel? If so, is that person enough of a horseman to recognize the signs of an ill or injured animal, or is he merely someone who can make sure your horses have water and feed and that the lights are off? For that matter, are you experienced enough to recognize colic symptoms, set feeding regimens and so forth? Be honest with yourself.

OK. So you’ve decided that you have all of your bases covered. It’s time to break out the shovels, right? Whoa now, not yet. Now you need to look into property assessment values. What kind of taxes are you paying now? Will they be greatly impacted by the addition of this building you are contemplating? Unless you are running a farm/stable as a business you are probably not going to be eligible to take deductions for depreciation or maintenance. The rules for running agricultural properties as true farms and/or businesses can be very complicated, so it might be wise to speak with your tax consultant before going ahead with your plans. If he is not conversant with this type of tax law, your local extension service may be able to advise or refer you to a professional who specializes in this area.

Other factors to take into consideration are zoning and your locale with relation to your neighbors. What is the size of your property and where will your barn be in terms of proximity to your closest neighbors? What is your road access? If you are planning a large boarding facility or even a private stable with a large number of horses there will invariably be feed trucks and possibly manure removal, hay/straw/shavings trucks as well as the initial construction vehicles going on and off the property. Some communities have restrictions on vehicle traffic in terms of commercial trucks, so if your property is adjacent to a residential area it is important to look into this before hand. Of course investigating zoning laws is of paramount importance.

Often barns are a group effort. While the old-fashioned barn raisings of the type shown in the Harrison Ford movie "Witness" are not the norm any more, often small pole barns or run-in sheds are put up by the property owner and some of his carpenter friends. This can be a great money-saver. However, don’t forget one important point: you still need a permit in most cases. You might be able to get by with adding a run-in to the side of an existing building, but is it really worth the fines you might incur by putting up anything larger without the necessary paperwork? Bureaucracy aside, permit requirements exist for safety reasons. Inspectors look at load bearing, fire safety (wiring, exits), possible health and environmental concerns and so on. Nowadays farmers are extremely regulated in terms of environmental procedures. Manure and fertilizer runoff, particularly if the property is located on or near a watershed, may be monitored so it is important to look into this before you make your plans concrete.

In Part II, we’ll discuss barn placement and layout.