Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Outdoor Wash Rack Design

If you're trying to make the most of a small amount of space, you may not be able to do an indoor wash stall. For me, that's not so important anyway because I rarely bathe in the winter so the most I need is a place to hose off muddy legs. I decided to convert part of the old house foundation adjacent to the barn into a wash rack by adding a fence and posts for tie rings. Here are some design tips:
  • You can make do with a small space! My wash rack is 12' deep but only 8' wide. My long-bodied 17 hh warmblood can walk in and turn around. I always turn him clockwise so that his head can swing over the fence rather than towards the barn, and he has no trouble maneuvering. If you are trying to fit a wash rack between two solid walls, however, you will probably need a minimum width of 10'.
  • Consider leaving gaps in the fence big enough for a person but not a horse to fit through. I did not like the idea of being trapped between a panicked horse and a solid barn wall, or even a low fence, so I left 18" gaps in either back corner. This is narrow enough that even a yearling will probably not try to squeeze through, but I can escape if needed.
  • A lower fence is easier to reach over if for some reason (like not wanting to get squished) you need to work on the horse from the outside. Mine is only 3'6".
  • Make sure your base, whether concrete or rubber or stonedust, is sloped for drainage. Mine slopes towards the front but if you have a choice it's probably nicer to have the water and debris running away from you and out of sight. Depending on your setup, you may want to put in a floor drain. For my small operation, that was not necessary and anyway the existing concrete slab is very, very thick.
  • Speaking of base, wet concrete can be very slippery unless it's the right texture. If you're pouring it fresh, get a broom finish. If not, spray it down and walk around on shoes with poor traction to see what you're getting into before putting a horse on it. A relatively inexpensive solution for increasing traction is rubber ring mats, but they do tend to trap mud and manure. If you get solid mats, make sure that they are textured and intended for wet use, because some of them can get slippery!
  • The fence of an outdoor wash rack can double as a drying rack for sweaty or washed saddle pads, towels, etc. Since I'm the only one riding there, I don't have to worry about someone coming along and spraying off the things I am trying to dry. On sunny days I even clip my synthetic girth to the tie post so that it dries out completely. Using an outdoor space prevents your dirty laundry from stinking up the tack room.
Some improvements I am considering in the future are:
  • An over-the-fence basket for storing shampoos and tools.
  • A sprayer boom or dedicated wash rack hose (right now my general barn hose does double duty).
  • A shade cloth or awning.
  • Rubber mats or other footing upgrade.
One thing I would like to have done differently is putting the posts for the cross-ties further back. As it is, a cross-tied horse can easily step forward off the concrete.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Small Barn Layout and Design

There is lots of information out there on barn layouts. Cherry Hill books, for example, often have detailed diagrams of many different floorplans. However, the two main variations seem to be the center-aisle or the shedrow. I considered both of these but the center-aisle was more barn than I needed and a traditional shedrow was too open to the elements, even with a large front overhang. I also considered less traditional prefab layouts with a small aisle/work area in the middle of the stalls and other rooms (like this). After months of thinking, planning, and changing my mind, I settled on a shedrow with an enclosed overhang, which is also two-thirds of a center-aisle barn. Here's the floorplan:

I really like this design because you get the functionality of a center-aisle barn without the bulk and expense. Also, all of your stalls can face whatever direction is best in your area. In my climate I worry much more about the heat than the cold (especially since one of my horses has anhydrosis and isn't getting any younger), so all of my stalls face east to keep the horses from baking in the afternoon sun. In the summer the windows and aisle doors let a good breeze through, and combined with the shade and the ridge vent they have kept the barn 10-15 degrees cooler than outside so far. We will see how it all works in the winter, but again, I am much less concerned about cold horses here than hot horses, and I can always add another layer of clothes myself!

Here's what it looks like on the inside:

And the outside:

Here are a few tips:
  • If you will consistently be approaching the barn from one direction more than the other, put the tack/feed room there. That will often be your first stop when you start your chores. With only a few horses, you can probably have one room for tack and feed together, as long as you keep it clean so the rodents don't move in (though of course that goes without saying anyway).
  • Consider having one more stall than you think you need to store tools and a couple days' worth of hay and bedding, so you can keep the aisle clear. Try not to fill that extra stall with one extra horse!
  • Another option for an extra stall is a wash stall. I don't bathe my horses in the winter so I decided to stick with an outdoor wash rack, but I did add a drain at the far end of the aisle with a slight slope to the concrete there in case I need it in a pinch.
  • To save some space and expense, try a 10' aisle instead of 12'. 8' is cramped but 10' allows a truck or tractor through and gives you room to walk horses past each other if needed. It's also small enough that a horse is less likely to turn around in the crossties. To get a feel for how much space you need, measure your current aisle or a friend's, then use chalk or a broom handle or longe whips to visualize it at different widths. Try working with a horse or doing chores using only that width you marked off to see how it will work for you. Don't forget that a "10' aisle" is often measured from the outside of the outside wall, so the true interior width may end up around 9'6" (the same for your 12'x12' stalls, which are actually typically 11'6"x11'6").
Stay tuned for posts on how to finish the barn with plumbing and electric.

Mounting Saddle Racks on Walls Without Studs

When we started trying to mount saddle racks on the tack room walls, at first we thought the stud finder wasn't working through the pine paneling. Eventually we figured out that the tack room walls were framed with horizontal beams only, no vertical studs! I can't imagine why anyone would build a tack room that way knowing that people like to put racks and shelves on the walls, but we had to deal with it somehow. This is what DH did to solve the problem, and it turned out quite nicely! It seems sturdy enough for English saddles though if I ever own a Western saddle again I will probably put it on a standalone rack just to be safe. I would hate to rip all that pretty pine paneling after I spent so long staining it.
  1. Buy quality 1" thick wooden boards to match your walls. We used 1x3 pine boards because each of the pine panel boards were about the same width (2.5" or so). Check them for straightness before you buy them. (We didn't do this so ours are a little off but I don't think anyone would ever notice but me.)
  2. Finish the boards with the same stain or paint as your walls.
  3. Find the horizontal beams in your walls with a stud finder, and confirm their location by tapping in a very thin nail. When you meet more resistance on the other side of the panels, you have probably found a beam. Don't assume that the beams are level or continuous--check independently everywhere you want to put racks. Mark their location with a pencil or painters' tape once you find them.
  4. Take your first board and line it up over the panel board where you want your first column of saddle racks to go. Trim the ends as needed (since the ceiling is sloped, we needed to cut the top at an angle to meet the molding).
  5. Drill pilot holes and, using long, strong wood screws, attach the boards to the beams that you found, lining up the board and panel board edges as best you can. It may take one person to hold the board in place and another to drill and screw.
  6. If you want more than one column of racks, repeat with the second board. If you have a sloped ceiling, start with the board where the ceiling is higher then trim the second board to match the length of the first board, using a level. I find a miter saw easiest for straight cuts. See the first picture below for what your project should look like now.
  7. Once your boards are in place, secure the two vertical holes of your saddle racks. Be sure to use good screws or bolts for this too.
  8. To support the sides of the saddle rack, cut a similarly stained and sized board to fit the "wings" on either side (two for each rack). If desired, stain the newly cut edges. Then position the small pieces under the wings of the rack and screw the sides of the rack down.
Steps 1-6:
 Steps 7-8:

Voila! As you can see, the new boards are hardly noticeable and will be even less so once there are saddles on the racks.

Installing Stall Mats

I bought Tru Lok interlocking rubber stall mats at the nearest warehouse. Since I already owned the mats and a big pile of stonedust, I thought it would be a satisfying do-it-ourselves job--especially since I was quoted $650 to install them in just three stalls. Surely we could do it for less time and money than that, right? Here is the tally:
  • Rental of the first compactor: $40 for one day. It lasted less than an hour before a belt started to disintegrate. We were refunded 2/3rds of the rental cost after being insulted by the rental company.
  • Rental of the second compactor: $55 for one day, though we never paid this because it stalled out every few min. Thankfully this rental company was more responsive and drove the third one out to replace it.
  • Rental of the third compactor: $40 for 4 hours.
  • Rental of the hand tamper: $7-10 per day, twice (because the disintegration of the first compactor set us back by a whole day).
  • Hired labor to help DH because stall mats are really freakin heavy and I have a bad back: $15 per hour for about 7 hours.
  • Wooden 1x3s to be used as thresholds: $7 apiece at Lowes.
  • Hours of my life I will never get back: about 12, over three days.
  • Thanks I owe DH: infinite.
Jokes aside, it wasn't the worst experience ever, especially since I was excused from the heavy lifting. I would totally conscript DH to do it again!

I found these to be the most comprehensive and helpful instructions for first-timers, with lots of pretty pictures. A few supplementary tips:
  • Interlocking mats are cool because as you hammer them together they straighten and flatten each other out. I would definitely pay the difference for them again, although I guess I should really wait and see how they wear.
  • Vibratory plate compactors are really really heavy, so two strong people are needed to avoid injury.
  • One thing they don't tell you is how long you might expect to tamp the base (other than, "until it's so hard you don't leave footprints"). We attacked the first stall for almost two hours with the plate compactor, but the second and third stalls only took about half an hour each. Part of that was a learning curve but part of it may have been too much water in the first stall. We were told the more water the better so we soaked the first stall, but we had much better results spraying the other two stalls just enough to dampen the entire surface.
  • If you get what look like bubbles while tamping with a plate compactor (the plate will look like it's sucking up the top layer of the stonedust), try using the point of a shovel to break the surface a couple times and mix in a small amount of dry stonedust before passing over the spot with the tamper again. This may be an indication that you used too much water, like we did.
  • If the compactor starts leaving drag marks on the ground, tilt it up and have a buddy check underneath and wipe off stonedust that has built up there.
  • The longer the handle on the hand tamper, the easier on your body. You will definitely need a hand tamper for the corners because the plate compactor really only likes to go forward so you can't pull into a corner and back out. 
  • If you have a prefab barn with hurricane brackets, there may be bolts sticking up from the floor in the corners of some of your stalls. DH figured out how to lay the mat over the bolts, beat them with a hammer until the exact location of the bolts was imprinted on the mats, then use a hole saw to make spaces for the bolts to stick through. Otherwise your mats will curve up in the corners, which is okay in the back but not if you have one right near the stall door like I do. The top of the bolts still sit below the plane of the mats so the horse can't step directly on them.
  • To anchor wooden thresholds on concrete while still preserving the possibility of removing them one day (i.e., not using construction adhesive), use an appropriate drill and screws made for concrete. I would have preferred to have the top of the mats level with the concrete of the aisle, but it wasn't possible with the concrete footers and hurricane brackets. The threshold prevents the horse from lifting up the edge of the mat when pawing.
Here is the finished product, somewhat out of focus (oops), before the threshold:


And after the threshold has been added:

Not a bad day's work!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Space-Conscious Trailer Parking

Ideally, I would have liked to put a circular driveway around the barn. However, it was very expensive and also messed with the drainage and the beauty of the setting (well, it wasn't very beautiful at the end of construction but hopefully it will be again one day). There wasn't space to put a circular driveway in front of or behind the barn either.

Instead, the contractor recommended widening the end of the driveway into a triangle that would allow enough space to turn the trailer around in. He measured it out knowing the approximate length of my trailer, and somehow when I first saw it I thought it was plausible that I could just make a tight turn and end up facing the other way. Not even close. Turning the trailer around for the first time required a series of maneuvers that ultimately ended in a successful 18-point turn. Now that I'm used to it, it only requires a 3-point turn, sometimes 5.

These are the only circumstances under which I would recommend what I have:
  • Your barn is small and mostly private.
  • You have a 2-horse bumper pull trailer (dressing room is okay).
  • You trust in the competence of anyone driving a trailer into your barn area, including yourself.
  • You don't need to receive deliveries on massive trucks (my hay fortunately will come on a pickup with a 9' flatbed).
  • You can allow enough room for the farrier to set up his rig.
  • You can coordinate all of the in and out activities so that two trailers or large trucks are never there at the same time.
  • Worst-case scenario, a skilled driver could back all the way out of the driveway safely.
If at all possible, a circular driveway around or in front of your barn is by far the most convenient.

That said, it is an efficient little setup!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Big Arrival

Yesterday was the big day: Mr. F moved into his new home! A few of my favorite pictures.

So, I am obviously not very good at this blogging stuff. A blog like this should probably start with the planning phases, then go through construction, and then work up to a post about the big day when the horses finally move in. But whenever a topic occurred to me I didn't think I could really say anything useful without seeing how my planning panned out during everyday barn life. Now that I am actually using the barn and learning what works and what doesn't, I will try to be more prolific. One upcoming topic: the one-horse barn.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Importance of Being Specific

The building process involved many different contractors of varying degrees of professionalism. Through that process, I discovered that even when I did not realize it, I had some very specific expectations about how things would turn out. Unfortunately, I really only realized this when something turned out differently than I wanted or expected. Many of these things were not something I would think to specify, because I couldn't imagine it being done differently. For example...

Example 1. The tack room, which is finished with pine board paneling that is pretty but not strong enough to screw almost anything into, was framed out with no vertical studs. That's right, the builder designed a room that is specifically intended for storage, and failed to provide any way to hang anything on the walls. Like shelves and saddle racks. The process of hanging those up without studs will be a whole separate blog post. Apparently I should have specified that I wanted to be able to hang things on the walls in my tack room?

Example 2. These were the switches for my main aisle lights, stall lights, and the outdoor flood light:

This layout is seriously awful. You have to lift the plastic cover to do anything, which requires carefully depressing a small latch underneath it. Also, the layout of the switches is ridiculous, with one vertical (the aisle) and two horizontal (the stalls and flood light). A layout like that might be useful if you did not expect to use two of the switches often, but grouping the stall lights (which I will use very often) and the flood light switch (which will virtually never be used except when bulbs need to be changed, because it's motion-sensor) made zero sense to me.

The most frustrating part about this one is that I actually specifically talked to the electrician about what I wanted. I had this brilliant idea about putting the flood light switch separately, above eye level, since it will be used so rarely. That would eliminate the annoyance of it being accidentally turned off or of having a switch that did nothing that was readily apparent. He seemed to understand what I was saying but the result was not at all what I requested.

DH will be rewiring it with this (an outrageous $40 from Amazon, plus a new box):

It's not exactly what I intended because all three switches are together, but at least I don't have to flip an awful plastic cover to turn my lights on every day.

The cause of this extra work and expense was my assumption that every barn electrician would use the same gray weatherproof switches I have seen in every barn ever. I should have been more specific.

Example 3. The plumbers ran a water line to a hydrant next to the pasture, so I don't have to deal with super long hoses. Yay! Naturally, they installed a shut-off valve which I anticipate using regularly during the winter to prevent freezing. Unnaturally, they buried the shut-off valve more than an arm's length underground and made it virtually impossible to use. When we actually needed to use it and realized how inaccessible it was (and that they had inadvertently glued the access cap shut), they had to come back and redo the whole thing. One of them then told us that a standard access box hadn't been included in the quote. Who would contract someone to put in a water line with a shut-off valve and not implicitly want the shut-off valve to be accessible? If the contract doesn't include that, shouldn't it say that instead of leaving it to the inexperienced customer to decipher that no provisions are being made for access?

Lesson learned: When hiring contractors, spell out everything that you know you want. Then think about all of the assumptions you've made about how things will be done, and spell that out too. Then resign yourself to fixing the things based on assumptions you didn't even think about. Don't be the laid-back, easy-going customer who ends up with nothing as you need, want, or expected it.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Staining and Finishing the Tack Room

I considered a lot of options for finishing the tack room walls. They are insulated with lovely pine board paneling and I wanted to give the wood a finished appearance without detracting from the natural look of the pine. Here's what the tack room walls looked like unfinished:

Initially I thought I would finish them the same as the interior of the barn (the decision process for that is a whole other story). Then I decided it would be easier to do the tack room walls before all of the cabinets, appliances, and racks were installed so I decided to forge ahead quickly, before I was ready to do the rest. Plus, the tack room really doesn't suffer the same stresses as stall walls (hopefully), so it doesn't need the same protection.

I drew my final inspiration from this blog post, which shows pictures of exactly what I wanted my tack room walls to look like. I asked the blogger what she used and she pointed me to Minwax stain in Ipswich Pine. Unable to find that immediately (and in a self-imposed rush because the plumbers were coming), I tried Minwax Wood Finish in Golden Oak on a small corner that would eventually be covered by a base cabinet. It was awful! I am handier than some women but not very craftsy, and this was the first time I had ever stained anything. I hoped after it dried it would look better, but it was a blotchy, yellow mess. This photo doesn't even do it's hideousness justice:

Lesson learned: Try your chosen finish in a small area that will eventually be covered up.

Fortunately I found a quart of the same stain in Ipswich Pine at my favorite local hardware store, where they are happy to help you and actually know what they're talking about. I knew it wouldn't be enough so I ordered 2 gallons but in the meantime I started with the quart. The oil-based stain seemed weirdly watery and sludgy to me but it looked pretty nice so I did the whole bottom half of one wall, which the base cabinets and washer/dryer would eventually cover anyway. Of course, when the gallons arrived they were nice and oily and uniform, so clearly something was wrong with the quart.

Lesson learned: Try to get all of your stain in one batch to avoid variations in ultimate appearance.

Thankfully the stuff I had done with the quart would mostly be behind other things. Here is what the Ipswich Pine looks like on my pine paneling (the ceiling and molding are shown unfinished for comparison):

It really doesn't look much like the tack room that inspired me (much redder), but it sounds like we used slightly different products because hers was a stain/poly combo and I couldn't find anything like that in Ipswich Pine (maybe it's been discontinued?). Nevertheless I really like the look and it was easy. This is how I did it, learned through trial and error:
  1. Cover up outlets, the edges of breaker boxes, etc. with blue painters tape.
  2. Use a 4" paintbrush to apply Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner (not the water-based one). No need to saturate it, just apply it more or less evenly and enough that the wood looks wet. I used up 2 oz of wood conditioner on a portion of the wall that was about 7' x 7'. (Yes, 2 oz was the most that the local hardware sold but you can get quarts at Home Depot.)
  3. Wait 5-15 min for the wood conditioner to absorb, then wipe off any excess with a clean cloth. I didn't have any excess so maybe that means I didn't use enough, but the effect was good.
  4. Use a 4" paintbrush to apply stain to a board or two at a time, in the direction of the wood grain. I did two boards at a time, starting at the top of the boards and working my way down. It doesn't need to be perfectly uniform or very heavily coated. For a while my wonderful boyfriend helped me and he slathered a lot more on than I did, but when I wiped it off the results were exactly the same, so I think it's just a waste of stain. For the ceiling and corners like under the windowsill, use only a light coat. You don't want this stuff dripping down on you from the ceiling. If you let it drip off windowsills onto the wall below you will get some unattractive drip marks, so be sparing, watch carefully, and wipe them off as soon as you see them.
  5. Continue applying, one to two boards at a time, until it's time to wipe the stain off the first boards you did. I would start my stopwatch when I started staining, so I could keep on track. My goal was about 6 minutes but I found the stain to be very forgiving of any variation. I figured that I applied to two boards per minute, so I would spend a minute wiping them, then move on to the next until I was done wiping and it was time to stain again.
  6. Using a cotton cloth, wipe the stain off the boards so there are no wet areas left. I squished the cloth into the grooves between the boards to get the stain out of there. That wasn't entirely successful but it looks fine to my eye. (My perfectionist brother might disagree. To me it was more important to get stain into the cracks so their wouldn't be obvious light-colored areas in the midst of the stained ones, than it was to get the stain back out again.)
  7. Let the stain dry.
  8. Watch out where you lean or touch while you're working. I left a couple of stainy finger- and elbow-prints by catching my balance on a stained wall while doing the ceiling.
I did not sand, and I did not do a second coat. I tried different things in small patches that would eventually be covered, and found that sanding was not worth the trouble but wood conditioner did even out the color and make it rich enough that a second coat wasn't necessary. At $11/quart it's worth it, and it's very easy to apply. Another suggestion that I tried but did not ultimately use came from a professional cabinet finisher who happened to be at the local hardware store when I was. Seeing the blotchy results of the golden oak in a cell phone picture, he suggested that I rub lacquer thinner over the boards before staining to help draw any sap out and equalize moisture levels. He seemed to have more confidence in this technique than in wood conditioner. I did try it but I'm not sure it made much of a difference and the fumes were ghastly. Ultimately I did not have the same blotchiness issues with the Ipswich Pine as I did with the Golden Oak, so I just ended up with a bunch of lacquer thinner that I don't need.

Lesson learned: Try different combinations of preparatory steps and finishes in small areas that will eventually be covered up (or scrap wood that's identical to your walls). Purists might disagree, but you may find that you don't need to do annoying, time-consuming things like sanding to get the look that you want.

Also, a few final words on preparation. It was really annoying to be done for the day then realize I had no good way to clean my brushes. I ended up pouring paint thinner over the brush into an empty sour cream container, but an actual metal pail or something would have been better. If you are going to be using the brush again, squeeze out the excess stain, wrap it in paper towels, then wrap it in saran wrap and it will stay moist and not stiffen. Also, wear gloves because stain will make your hands stink like chemicals.

In addition to staining the walls, I installed laminate flooring for a finished look. Here are some pictures:

Unfinished floor.
Laminate flooring installed.

Hello, Farm Builders!

After a lifetime of riding and 15+ years of horse ownership, I have finally had the amazing opportunity to bring my horse home. Midway through the construction process, I am learning more all the time and thought maybe others could benefit from my experiences. So, the purpose of this blog is to spread useful information on how to construct and, eventually, manage a small horse farm. Or, to help you learn from my mistakes! I hope you find it useful.

For privacy reasons I will be somewhat vague about my location, the particular service providers I use, and costs. However, if you send me a direct message about these things I may be willing to answer them. That is some of the information I found hardest to obtain when planning, and I hope to be able to help others out.

Since I have already gotten started I will have to play catch-up with my posts for a while and hope to make them topically focused, i.e., a post on wood finishing, a post on arena planning, a post on barn plumbing, etc.