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Lighten Up

The days of dark, dreary horse barns are long gone. Now, through innovative lighting fixtures and improved barn design, horses and humans equally benefit from carefully thought-out illumination.

Well-designed lighting in a barn is both aesthetically pleasing and functional, says Lorri Hayward of Hayward Designs in LaFayette, Ga. She helps light up the lives of her clients through specialized planning of equestrian barns, facilities and properties. As a designer, she specs barn lighting systems to fulfill the needs of both horses and people. The following are her ideas for making the most of your lighting project.

Safety First: Head Room

Safety is a major concern for lighting barns and stalls, says Haywood. Horses can and will kick, crack or lip lighting fixtures and switches. “You have to think about things the horses can hit or reach,” she says.

When installing lighting, make sure to place fixtures high enough that a rearing horse can’t hit them. Also, to prevent shards of broken glass from falling into a stall, select a lamp (bulb) housing that won’t break or shatter. Hayward’s favorite fixture is made specifically for agricultural use by Orion Lighting. “The fixtures have polycarbonate housings, which I really like because you can spray them down or power wash without fear of breakage or penetration,” she explains.

Natural illumination

Using natural daylight brightens a barn and reduces energy usage during the day. It also offers an airy and open feeling to an otherwise closed space. “I like using vertical-face light and alternating light and ventilation panels on the vertical face of the barn,” Hayward says. “And, depending on the design of the barn, sometimes I’ll use cupolas to bring in additional light.” Stall windows and individual Dutch doors can also allow extra daylight into the barn.

Light Quality

Hayward chooses a white light for a more natural look inside barns. Traditional fluorescent light gives a purple cast, while incandescent light is yellow. “Personally, I don’t like either,” Hayward says. “Bulbs with a white output—we’re talking more of a hospital look—give you absolute clarity when you’re in the barn, which helps with maintenance and care of the animals.”

Heat Cycles and Coat Condition

Light exposure plays a natural and vital role in horse reproduction and hair-coat condition, Hayward says, so many of her clients request lighting and automatic timers that provide reproductive and coat management in their barns.

A mare is seasonally polyestrus, which means she undergoes heat cycles only during part of the year to ensure she foals during the warm months. Her seasonal cycles are triggered by the changing length of days throughout the year, with the lengthening days of spring bringing the mare into estrus and the shorting days of fall triggering anestrus, or the absence of heat cycles.

Through the careful use of artificial lighting (not temperature) controlled by automatic timers in a barn, horse breeders can trick Mother Nature by mimicking the onset of spring and bring mares into heat early in the year. The result means foals are born closer to the universal January 1 birthday.

The length of exposure to daylight also controls the shedding and growing of winter coats. By extending the length of “day” to 16 hours for horses through artificial lighting, horses will stay in their show-ready summer coats throughout the year.

Function: Lighting The Way For Use

Lighting function is an important factor in choosing how, where and when a barn is illuminated. The lighting for each individual space in the barn should be designed for that area’s specific function.

Vet, grooming and farrier areas: Proper lighting techniques in veterinary, grooming and wash rack areas make basic jobs, such as clipping muzzles and wrapping legs, much more efficient. “Light location is critical in these areas,” Hayward says. “If you’re dealing with the horse’s legs, you want to see them. Instead of just putting a fixture centered over the space where it shines down on the animal and creates shadows, I use wall-mounted lights or a combination of ceiling- and wall-mounted fixtures.” She also recommends using reflective wall coverings, such as white paint, to reflect light in these spaces and create extra illumination.

Foaling stalls: Hayward also specs wall lighting for foaling stalls similar to the vet and grooming areas. The extra illumination can help you or your veterinarian to see the mare and foal at night in case of a foaling emergency.

Stalls: As noted earlier, light in stalls helps control reproductive cycles and coat condition. But stall lighting also provides people with illumination to monitor their horses and maintain stalls. Often, barn designers incorporate individual light switches for each stall, which creates flexibility for management and usage and helps conserve electricity. Instead of placing a light fixture above individual stalls, consider a lamp/ceiling fan combination, Hayward says. These two-in-one fixtures add all-important ventilation to stalls, creating a healthier environment for the horse inhabitants.

Human spaces: People are used to living with the warm, yellow glow of incandescent lights in homes, so it makes sense to use warm lighting in human-inhabited areas of the barn, such as offices, kitchens, viewing rooms and reception areas, Hayward says. However, reproductive laboratories in barns often use the cooler white light to provide extra visual clarity for workers.

Arena: Indoor arenas require lots of illumination, which means their lighting systems require massive amounts of energy. High energy consumption equals large electricity bills. The starting draw of flipping on all those lights at once can also overload the entire electrical system of your building. To limit that draw and lower overall energy usage, Haywood recommends placing arena lights on separate banks. That way, you can turn on the arena lights one bank at a time and choose to use a limited number of lights rather than all of them at once.

Decorative Options

Lighting can be beautiful as well as functional in your barn. “Lots of times, clients pick ornamental-type lighting for more of a decorative appeal, but most of that kind of lighting isn’t really efficient in a barn,” she says. Not only is the illumination or function not quite right for horses, decorative light fixtures and chandeliers are more expensive than more utilitarian options.

You can, she says, incorporate decorative lighting into the human spaces of the barn, such as viewing areas, tack rooms, offices, trophy rooms and rest rooms. Decorative lighting also adds a feeling of high design to presentation barns, if a budget allows. “Some clients, especially for higher-end barns, will also ask for ornamental lights, such as lanterns, in aisle ways,” Haywood says.

Whether you decide to embellish your barn with decorative options or just stick with the basics, the end result of you lighting project should include well-lit and usable spaces for you and your horses.