Building Considerations For Your Horse Facility

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Ron Wallace has been a horse farm manager for more than 30 years. But he's not your normal horse farm manager; his business is to help select horse property, create or renovate the facilities, establish a management team, then gradually remove himself from the picture and leave the farm running smoothly. Wallace shared some thoughts about general planning that should go into the decision of buying a horse property in the previous article "Planning, the First Step in Owning Your Dream Horse Property" and the environment of your farm was discussed in "Environment is Important in Considering Your Equine Facility." In this article he helps you consider the positives and negatives of the environment of your property. You can find more about his company Equine Farm Management at www.EquineFarmManagement.com.

In this article we’ll discuss the additions you bring to your horse farm, or the ones in place that you must live with: buildings.

You already have a good start on planning what you will do on your farm. Now think about the day-to-day activities that will take place and the structures you need to support those activities.

If you are buying a developed property, are the buildings suited to the type of horse operation you want to run? Are they located in the best way to utilize the land and climate?

If you are buying undeveloped land, can the facility that you need for competitions, production, or training be built on that land? You must consider land formation as well as zoning issues. Is the land level and practical enough to do what you want? What about drainage and soils for pastures?

If you have a 10-acre horse property and your horses never go outside to graze, then all you need is a level area to put the buildings (barns, arenas, housing, etc.). If you have that same property and want to graze your horses more than 12 hours a day, then the number of horses that land can support drops significantly.

While you might worry about encroachment of urban areas, when I lived in Colorado we were 45 minutes from the kids’ schools. That can get old. You need to consider the human aspects of the location as well as the suitability for your horses.

What type of buildings do you need? Will simple run-in sheds suffice, or do you need an elaborate show barn and indoor arena? Will you host competitions, or do you simply need a place to park a trailer?

How many horses will you have, and do you need stabling for all of them? If you are going to raise foals, do you have the facilities to foal out mares, or will you have to board them elsewhere until after the foals are born? Are there local facilities and breeding services that can care for your mares in the location you want to have your farm?

What about the human side of your facility? Will the farm have a simple house, such as a mobile home, or will you build a mansion on the property? Do you need a showplace stable with housing for grooms or visiting instructors/riders, or a simple barn with a tack room?

If you buy land without buildings, you must realize that the purchase price is just the beginning. The cost of development and operation are way more than you expect.

The cost of construction and operation, depending on how elaborate and how upscale you want it to be, can cost from $45 per square foot to over $250 per square foot or more. What you build depends on your vision and your budget.

Keep in mind that all buildings constantly need painting and fixed—regular maintenance. One of the things I do when I design barns and buildings is to compare the cost of the construction materials to the cost of maintenance of those materials. For example, wood might be your cheapest material for building, but it might be much higher to maintain. Added to that, I like material that is easy to clean and doesn’t rot.

Your building materials and costs can also depend on where you are. When you design or build an operation, you need to know your area. What materials are available? There’s a reason why in Kentucky you can have four-board plank fences. It’s cheaper to build them because materials are here, the ground makes it easy to install them, and there are experts to build and care for that type of fence.

In other areas you can’t find the expertise or materials to build that kind of fence cost-effectively. Also, environmentally or climate-wise, wood fences don’t work as well in other areas.

The other question is how big the farm is and how many people you have working there. The larger the place and the more people, the harder they will be on the property. If it is just your family doing all the work, then it’s a lower level of activity and less wear-and-tear than you find on a commercial operation.

If it’s a commercial operation, do you need permits? To have tourists, competitions, boarders, or lessons, are there restrictions in the area?

What do your horses and personnel need for safety? The answers all evolve from what breeds and disciplines you have and the type of operation you run.

The more of these questions you answer before you look for or purchase a property, the more suitable horse farm you can buy or develop.