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horseheadBarns come in all shapes and sizes and, honestly, it probably depends on your pocketbook when it comes to size and extravagance. First and foremost, a barn provides shelter for its occupants – horses and ponies. Next, it provides a place to keep equipment such as tack, feed, and bedding. But for those who drive their horses, it also should provide space for harness and carriages. And when it comes to driving multiples, multiply that space by two, or four or more.

Since many horse owners spend more time in their barns than in their homes, why not make it a place that is efficient and that you can take pride in? It doesn’t take too much extra to add some niceties that add to efficiency and also look good.

Francis Underhill, in his book Driving for Pleasure, talks about the stable: “Convenience and the sanitary conditions are the two points mainly to be considered in the building of a stable... The coach house should invariably be separated from the stable by closed doors, and, if possible, by a separately ventilated antechamber or harnessing room. The ammonia from the stables is very injurious to carriages, and in addition to this, its odour [sic] permeates the carriages and is very disagreeable.” He further explains that the harness room “should be kept dry at all times, and for this reason must be provided with a stove or other means of heating which can be used on damp days, even in summer.” Of course in 1897 humidity reducing air-conditioning hadn’t been invented yet. In addition to the basics: stalls, aisles, ventilation, hay and feed storage, what makes a barn workable for the carriage driver?

We looked at three barns and talked to their owners or manag- ers to find out what they did to make their barns efficient for their program. One was big, one very small (in several senses) and one was in the middle. Let’s start in the middle

Paul and Maureen Grippa built a new barn in Vass, North Carolina, in 2009. They have both riding and driving horses. Paul drives a pair of Arabo-Friesians, just over 15 hands. The aisle of their barn is extra wide, allowing them to put to inside the barn, drive out, and then after they’ve driven, drive back in. Being able to put to in the aisle provides some protection from both the cold in the winter and the heat in the summer. They caution against having anything sticking out, like tack trunks or saddle racks that might get caught on a wheel.

The door to their tack room is extra wide as well, to make going through with an armload of harness just that much easier.

The width of the wash stall is also ample. After the horses have been hosed off, the carriage can be wheeled in and cleaned before being rolled into the carriage storage area at the other end of the barn.

Another great tip from the Grippas involves the height of the ceiling and the light fixtures that hang from it. In their barn, they are high enough so that when sitting on the carriage you will not hit your head on the light fixture.

Harness racks near the area where you harness is a good idea, so you don’t have to haul heavy harness a long distance from the tack room.

Grippas are adding a facilities barn with doors at either end so they can drive their truck and trailer inside, unhitch the trailer and drive out with the truck. The trailer will stay undercover and be unloaded and repacked for their next adventure.

Terry Pickett of Metamora, Michigan, was instrumental in designing a barn complex for his employer Audrey Rose in the 90s. Terry’s experience working in such notable barns as Hawthorne Melody, August Busch and John Seabrook, stood him in good stead as he mapped out an area that would incorporate the stables for Mrs. Rose’s Friesians, harness rooms, carriage storage, indoor arena, and ‘cold storage’ for the horse vans and other equipment.

Not everyone has the resources to build such a large complex (a total 64,000 square feet), but the nucleus of the facility is fairly straightforward. The wash stall is directly across the aisle from the tack rooms. There is a separate grooming stall where the horses can be groomed then taken back to their stalls with a scrim sheet to keep them clean. Next to the wash stall is a 12 x 14-foot work area and behind that are the two rooms for carriages. After the horses are driven, they are put in cross ties where their harness is removed, and the horses then moved to the wash stalls – there are two.

Pickett designed three rooms for the harness. The one in front is where the harness is taken and cleaned after each drive. It also includes a closet for livery, blankets, aprons, etc. Behind it is a room where the everyday harness is put after cleaning. Behind that room is the place where the show harness is kept. More doors mean less dust.

The main barn aisle is 14 feet wide – enough room for two horses to pass easily. There are two rooms that house carriages. The one closest to the work area is where the carriages are washed and maintained. Through the next set of sliding doors is what would be called the carriage house, where Mrs. Rose’s carriage collection is displayed. Pickett purposely designed it with no windows and softer lighting to avoid sunlight that would fade upholstery. Another door at the far end leads to the outside.

If Pickett could make any changes, he said he would have liked more floor drains in the carriage cleaning area. For hanging poles, Pickett coated metal harness hooks with a rubber windshield sealant for cars (approximately $12 per tube). This helps to keep the poles from getting banged up. He has installed fixtures on the walls to hang shafts. Nothing is stored on the floor except a few trunks.

Pete and Betty Snow moved into their new house and barn in February. They are still unpacking and finishing up the details. Betty is 80 years old, and Pete is still a young 79. They are tiny in stature but hugely devoted to their miniature horses and determined to be able to care for them and continue to drive for as along as possible, hopefully into their late 80s.

Their house and barn are set up for senior living. And in fact, Betty is giving it a test as she recovers from a broken hip. All the doors in the house are wider than the standard, and the bathrooms are equipped for stability and easy access. “We’ve done everything possible in this barn and house to help us keep on going,” says Betty.

A covered breezeway separates the home from the barn. In Mecklenburg County where the Snow’s previously lived, no structure could be closer than 100 feet, a much more difficult option for seniors. The breezeway aids in the ventilation of the barn. A working cupola draws air up through the ceiling which is covered with a perforated type of material to allow the air to rise and be vented out through the cupola.

The aisle is wide enough for the Snows to put a pair together inside the barn and drive out. Large cement aprons are reinforced so much so, according to Pete, that an 18-wheeler could drive on them and not cause damage. Betty wants the veterinarian to be able to get his truck as close as possible to the barn door.

A tool room with double doors is filled with everything Pete needs to do any carriage repair. A large bay will allow for three carriages to be stored.

Two infrared lights hang from the ceiling over the center aisle. A time controlled switch, like the kind found in hotel bathrooms, turns them off after an hour should the Snows forget to turn them off manually.

The stalls are ample size for any horse, but the Snows have installed custom made doors sized for their miniature horses. They are made of aluminum. Nothing in this barn will ever need painting. Each of the four stalls has a dutch door leading to the outside. For their purposes, it is hung upside down so when the top is open, the little guys can see out. The doors can simply be turned over and re-hung in the future.

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