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Barn Building

By Cynthia Foley, October 26, 2014

If you're considering building a barn, you've probably done an Internet search and maybe even purchased a couple of books on the subject.  If you did, I hope you were able to find this book: Horse and Riding Arena Design by Eileen Fabian Wheeler.  Of the books I've seen, this one is by far the most comprehensive, sensible and informative available.  It doesn't come cheap, but if you are building a barn, you're going to spend a great deal of money anyway.  An additional couple of dollars shouldn't be an issue.  

I'd bet you already know the design of your new barn. We did. We'd seen a lot of barns and looked at photos of others. We settled on a layout that focused on efficiency, with a 36 x 36 barn: three stalls (for our three horses - if you have extra stalls, you'll likely fill them); tack room, centered water faucet, center aisle loft with a 10-foot ceiling, open areas over the stalls, black steel grill work on the fronts and sides of the stalls to maximize air flow (not aluminum).  We were undecided about a wash stall but decided that would be very useful, especially if we placed the water faucet in the back of it. And it was important to me that the barn was beautiful, as I planned to spend as much time as possible in the barn and this was a childhood dream-come-true. 

One of my friends had recently built a gorgeous new wood 36 x 36 barn with 60 x 60 indoor arena attached. When she shared the cost with me, I realized we could afford that, too.  In fact, when we spoke with contractors, we increased the arena size to 60 x 80, plenty of room for two or three horses. And it would double as a run-in shed, which our horses definitely appreciate.

We decided where we wanted the barn on our land and then got bids from five different contractors, convinced by all but one that metal was the way to go for construction because it was less expensive. And it is - but when you're sinking THAT much money into anything, there's more to consider. All but one contractor visited the site, and those meetings were very educational.

So, we weighed the pros and cons of wood vs. metal construction, and settled on wood for its beauty, natural warmth and traditional appearance.  I thought about the many beautiful old wood barns I've seen - the ones that have been maintained. They have character.  Old steel buildings can become monstrous eye sores as the years go by (my opinion, of course). 

One of the objections a contractor gave us for the wood building was that you have to restain or repaint periodically and it's costly. He was right. However, we found a product promising up to 25 years on the siding and 10 years on other areas.  Once the barn was painted, I knew we'd made the right decision.  

Yes, you can repaint steel, too, but it tends to be more difficult. Good steel buildings have coatings to keep them more resistant to fading, which is important to how it looks as the years go by. But that coating can be difficult to paint over and requires more prep work. 

With metal, you will have dings and dents that are difficult to replace or repair. With wood, you can replace a board relatively easily and paint over it. The barn we were replacing had white steel siding, and it no longer all matched, depending on how the sun hit it. In addition, there were holes and dents in the siding. Bees like those holes. 

We told the builders right from the start that we weren't interested in haggling prices back and forth for weeks. And we didn't; we accepted the initial offer from everyone, and when we narrowed the builders down, we talked with them again and did receive lowered prices.

Because we wanted similar bids, we asked the builders to include everything - site work, electric, water, construction, materials - in the bid.  What we learned was few companies do all that and, when asked to bid like this, they will job out some of it. It's very difficult to compare quotes that way, so you need to keep track of what everyone is offering.

We also learned you do have to be very careful and make sure every single detail is specified in the contract, like steel grill work, not aluminum. One contractor had cut things out of our structure to make his bid more competitive, but I only accidentally discovered that. I asked how he planned to do the loft stairs and he said he eliminated them. Really. I asked how I would get into the loft, and he actually suggested a ladder. Since I planned to use part of the loft for storing winter blankets and such, that would be virtually impossible for me.

We chose a mid-level price builder who promised beautiful wood, and we saw a couple of the wood horse buildings he'd done before.  They were magnificent . . . The final bid included the arena, barn (with stalls) and water. Only a rock base in the indoor, but cement in the barn. Rough backfill around the structure. Cement sidewalks on the sides and front of the barn. No electric, which was fine, as I knew exactly what lights I wanted. No staining/painting. We had to do the base and arena footing, staining the barn inside and out, and the finish site work.

Next, we went to get a building permit. That's when we learned one of our most costly lessons: The first thing you need to do is go to your town building codes office and discuss what you want to do - before you talk with contractors. 

As I share more of our barn-building experience in this blog, I hope you'll learn from our wise decisions and dumb mistakes, as you pursue your own "childhood dream barn." 



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Monarch Butterflies

By Cynthia Foley, Horse Journal, October 22, 2014

Credit: thinkstock
Monarch butterflies are on the endangered list.
A few weeks ago, I was saddened to see that monarch butterflies were listed in a The Washington Post story as one of 10 species that the next generation may not see.

It reminded me of a trail ride decades ago when we experienced a once-in-a-lifetime event: the migration of the Monarch butterflies from Canada to Mexico. 

The butterflies had stopped to rest (I assume) on trees all around a large open field we were riding into.  There had to be hundreds of thousands of them, orange and beautiful. Even the horses seemed to be mesmerized by the site.

We stopped and watched.  Whether it was time to leave or they noticed us invading their privacy, I don't know. But after a few minutes they took flight, and the sky was filled with butterflies. It was indescribable. 

Would I have seen such a thing if I hadn't been privileged to be riding my horse through the woods on that day and at that time? I doubt it. I haven't seen anything as wonderful since then.

It saddens me greatly that not only are the areas to ride in open spaces becoming more difficult to find (that field is now a development full of houses on half-acre lots), but the creatures themselves, the Monarch butterflies, may not be there in coming years.


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Horses and Planes

By Cynthia Foley, Horse Journal, October 01, 2014


In herds, when one horse runs, they all run.

This morning, I saw a story about a horse who was killed because of helicopters flying overhead. Apparently, some helicopters flew abnormally low over a field and the horses in that field began running, with one of them crashing over a fence and onto the road. She ultimately broke her leg and was humanely destroyed.  I can feel the family's pain, and I know that I would be inconsolable if that happened to one of our horses.

But was this the fault of the helicopter pilots?

Our farm is on a main flight path to a nearby international airport. So many planes fly overhead every day that I don't even notice them anymore, unless someone with me says something about it.  And they fly low, with their landing gear down. Fighter jets are frequently seen overhead (and heard!), but are largely ignored.  We have helicopters that fly low over the farm, too - so low that my husband says they can see right into our living room - but our horses rarely look up, unless a helicopter flies really low - then they notice and run. 

We did have an incident when the Blue Angels were practicing in the area. The horses definitely spooked then - I know because I was leading them into the barn at the time, and the horse I had a hold of went bonkers. How I hung onto her I'll never know, but I was quite a bit younger then. The other horses charged off to the barn. If I could have gotten the rope off her halter safely, I would have done so, but I didn't want her running with a dangling lead rope.

That same mare would also turn inside out in fear when a hot air balloon passed overhead, which happened with some frequency when we lived in Middleburg, Va. She apparently had her limits to tolerable flying objects. If you were riding, the best thing to do was focus her attention on work, especially lateral work because she found that difficult to do. If she was loose, she would run. 

Horses are flight animals and herd animals.  One horse gets spooked and the whole herd takes off.  It's their flight instinct, and we cannot get rid of that.  It's part of the reason seasoned horsemen and women giggle at the term "bombproof" horse - every horse has its limit. (If you want to increase your horse's courage, you might enjoy this clinic.) 

But, for most horses, airplanes are part of life. We found this link on NoiseQuest that discussed animal reactions to aircraft and, mostly, they found little problem. We also found a discussion about aircraft and horses (click to see this forum ).  Overall, they, too, don't haven't experienced a huge problem. Mostly. There's always that exception.

The family of the dead horse has understandably objected to the flight path, and it appears that changes will be made in the area to help.  I'm very happy to hear that government officials are taking this problem seriously, as stated in the story:

George Spanos, the director of the Chautauqua County Department of Public Facilities, sent us this statement:  "We are communicating with the FAA, local law enforcement, and airport personnel. We will be taking appropriate steps to notify regular helicopter users of the Dunkirk airport to adjust their flight paths to avoid these types of incidents."

It's wise to keep an eye on zoning changes in your area, so you can object prior to a transformation that might impact your property and your animals negatively, such as the addition of an airport runway. It might not have been possible in this incident, but it's worth watching (yes, I know, something else to do!). Otherwise, we all simply need to be aware that, despite all the preparations we might make to prevent them, accidents do happen and, when it comes to horses, accidents can result in tragedy. 


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Equine Vandalism - Cutting Off Manes and Tails

By Cynthia Foley, Horse Journal, September 11, 2014

Pony's Tail and Mane Cut Off Without Owner's Knowledge
Credit: Pony's Tail and Mane Cut Off Without Owner's Knowledge
This past summer, a horse not too far from us was victimized by a nighttime "hair cutter."  This person or persons chopped the mane and tail off of a pretty palomino, and the owner launched a huge Facebook campaign to make people aware. The criminal also spray painted the horse and the wall of the barn. See the story here. 

Many people on Facebook thought perhaps it was revenge of some type, as the horse wasn't really hurt.  But, given that it was summer - and fly season - it was a cruel thing to do to a horse and his owner. We felt badly for the owner, but didn't really give it a lot more thought.

Now we came across a report of horses in Ohio who had the same thing happen, except not the spray painting. One horse was injured however. Read story here.

In the accompanying news story, it states that a nearby pony had the same thing happen. Police are wondering if it has to do with the fact that horse hair is often used for wigs and in jewelry. 

We think it's important for you to be aware and do what you can to protect your horses. For that reason, we have an article on barn surveillance to help you make decisions. You can consider something as simple as a good driveway alarm that tells you when someone enters the barn or the field. Or you can go full high tech with surveillance cameras that record and allow you to monitor current activity via an Internet connection.

Yes, it's a sad world that we need to consider such things - even in the privacy of our own horse barn.



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When Horses Are Truly Part of Your Soul

By Cynthia Foley, Horse Journal, August 26, 2014


Mom in a early 1980s photo.

I've said before that I owe my mom everything when it comes to my love of horses. She was a horse lover as a child and nurtured it in her children. And the other day I learned something about the depth - and importance - of that connection.

Mom grew up in northern New York state in the 1930s. Her dad supported his family of 8 kids as a dairy farmer, so hay was for working animals only. No ponies. No show horses. If he had an animal, it had to earn its keep.

That didn't stop Mom from riding, of course. After chores were done for the day, Mom would grab old Barney - a huge, homely, gentle working draft horse - and drag him out into the barnyard. Not that Barney minded. Little farm girls don't weigh much and an occasional short ride was a small price to pay for some barnyard grazing.

Of course, there was no saddle. No stirrups to use to mount up. So Mom created a mounting block out of milk cans. Uncle Don loved to tell the story about how Mom would fall from those stacked milk cans time and time again before she'd manage to pull herself up onto old Barney. In later years, he even gave her a painting he did of her, Barney and the milk cans.


Uncle Don created a painting of Mom, as a child, with Barney and the scattered milk cans.

As a child, I remember asking her why her fingers were crooked. And this beautiful woman - pretty enough to have been mistaken on her honeymoon for Grace Kelly - would smile and say, "I broke every one of my fingers riding Barney. We couldn't afford a doctor to fix them, so they're a little crooked."  And she couldn't have been more proud.

When my parents married, Mom spent many years as an Arabian breeder. She was dedicated. And pretty good, too. There's a shadowbox in our tack room with a photo of Mom, taken in 1957, with her stallion Gurur (aka "Pappy"). Next to it is his first blue ribbon from the New York State Fair - a faded ribbon that holds a lifetime of memories.

Mom's effort to be near horses today is challenging for her and for us. She's battling a terrible disease - one that is destroying her physically and mentally. It removes her ability to move and to think. Depression is huge. And when Uncle Don passed away last month, her condition went from bad to horrendous.

It takes an hour to get Mom from her house to the car, but my sister brings her to the barn anyway. We set a chair in the aisle and Mom sits and watches and listens. Her disintegrating body makes her look like a crumpled-up ball. One might wonder if she's even aware. But she is.

She's very soft spoken, too. Making matters worse, her words sometimes make little sense, almost as if she's living in an alternate universe. But she tries. She still tries.

Just last week, as I rode past her, lost in my own training, I distinctly heard her say, "That Paz sure has a nice long stride," referring to my sister's Saddlebred dressage horse. I was stunned.  

I stopped and looked at her. Her blue eyes were sparkling with delight, head lifted only so slightly but enough to watch my sister work her mare around the arena, taking in every movement that graceful horse made. It seemed to breathe new life into her - if only for a few moments.

And right then I realized that when horses are truly part of your soul - your reason for living - you'll find a way to be with them. No matter how difficult it is to get your milk cans set up.

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