When it comes to designing, building and improving horse facilities, and equestrian spaces, flexibility is key. From round pens and arenas to barns and storage sheds, choosing products and designing their horse facilities and equestrian spaces to be safe, effective and flexible may create fewer headaches and protect your investment in the long run.
When setting up round pens, arenas or turnout pens, it is hard to beat metal panels. Their flexibility and ease of assembly have made them understandably popular.
Typically, panels are available in 6' to 14' sections and in heights from 62" to 74". Color, weight, finish and connection systems are just a few of the additional choices you have.
"I think that it is important to choose the right tool for the job," says David Fillebrown of Priefert Ranch Equipment. Panels that are going to be used in a close confinement area, such as a 24' x 48' run connected to a stall, for example, are going to get more horse contact than panels used in a 150'x 300' arena. That should give you pause for thought as you make your purchasing decisions.
Round pens also see a lot of use, and the ideal panel for your setup will depend on your stock and how you use your enclosure. If you are working with a recently adopted BLM mustang, for instance, it is probably money well spent to invest in heavier and taller panels.
"The more trained your horse is, the lighter the panel you can probably get by with," Fillebrown points out. However, he emphasizes the need for safety wherever horses are concerned. "You want to make sure there are not any sharp edges or places a horse could get caught in," he advises.
"The first and foremost thing you need to evaluate when you are purchasing a round pen is the safety issue," agrees John Andrews, wholesale manager of John Lyons Round Pens. For the horse and rider's safety, he says it is important to look at the metal on the horizontal bars, as well as the intermediate vertical supports. Andrews notes that many horses have gotten hurt on panels that use flat stock and have square edges.
Fillebrown says that drilling intermediate vertical stays through the horizontal members also helps. "It makes it a little safer as you are riding around closer to the panels," he says. "That horse isn't going to be as likely to hang your knee on a panel."
Panel height is also critical in a round pen to discourage a horse from jumping over or onto the panels. The height of the bottom rail is important as well, along with the leg configuration of the panel where it meets the ground.
•Flexible structures can give your operation room to grow and change.
•If you design structures that can be converted to non-horse use, you'll increase your property's marketability.
•Think about whether you prefer a permanent barn with flexible uses or a portable barn that you can move completely.
•Investigate all parts of flexible equipment with horse safety in mind.
•Check the connection systems for ease of assembly and adaptability if you want to expand.
"The supports of our panels are very open so that if a horse does get a foot through the support opening, he can easily slip it back out," says Andrews. "The supports also are taller than most, so that when the horses are working around the edges, it doesn't hit their ankles or tendons."
Consider how the supports at the panel bottom affect ease of transportation. If a panel has a large, rounded, closed loop at the bottom, it often is easier to slide along the ground and is a much better option in terms of water penetration over a panel with a simple straight leg.
Look at how the panels join and what type of connection profile they create at the top. "The thing to look for is squared top edges," says Andrews. "It used to be common to see panels with rounded edges at the top, and what that did was create a dangerous V or funnel where the panels connect." That V-shaped dip caused a lot of major injuries, especially when horses reared over the top and got one or both front feet caught in the depression.
Priefert panels butt close together due to a chain connection, oval tubing, and a small, closed loop at the top corner of each panel that allows the corner to be strengthened. "We designed the corners with that 'fishhook' so that if a horse did rear up and get its front end over the panels, as it moved along, those hooks would provide a block to get off," explains Fillebrown.
It's also important to consider the type of gate that will work best for you. The bow type gate, with a continuous metal bar that creates a frame around the gate, allows for greater strength. However, it is important to look at the clearance below the top bar. It is generally not recommended to ride through the gate of a temporary pen, but in reality that commonly occurs. So look for a gate with ample head height clearance, at least 9 feet.
Think about whether you are going to drive heavy vehicles or drags through the gate, as these will likely damage the bottom of a bow gate. In that case, you can disconnect the panel and swing it out of the way to get equipment in, or you may be better off with a standard gate. Also consider the width of the gate, and if your tractor, truck, trailer, and arena drag can fit through if needed.
It's always wise to take the time to compare the quality and safety features of several manufacturers' products. Look at the quality of the welds. Make sure they are complete and that no welding wire sticks out. Examine the way the panels are constructed: Are there any openings or places where water can get into the interior and weaken the panels over time? Some manufacturers cap off the corners with plastic or metal, while others are welded or rounded to prevent water from entering seams.
Connection systems are another issue. Can you attach the panels to allow the angles that you want? Can the panels be set up on uneven ground? Are the connections something that a horse could tamper with when bored and potentially escape? Can the panels be attached to panels made by other manufacturers?
The most common connection system is the pin system, where a vertical metal pin slides between loops welded onto the end of each panel. This is a fast and easy way to connect panels with no special hardware or tools needed. You can also set up panels quickly for temporary box stalls, corrals, and other enclosures. A well-designed pin latch system will not protrude into the inside of the panels, so there are no safety concerns. However, some pin systems have limitations, as often you can only attach two panels to each other unless you use special, and sometimes cumbersome, adapters.
Another popular connection system uses chain connectors that are welded to the top and bottom of each panel end. This allows for added flexibility, and the panels can be joined tightly for safety reasons. Chain connectors also function well on uneven ground. They allow panels to be connected midpoint to another panel, to a panel by another manufacturer, or to a permanent structure such as a wood post or anything permanent that the chain can fit around.
Designing Flexible Barns
A flexible barn may be something to consider, especially if you think your horse operation will change. You can build a barn that will allow for future expandability or even allow for a different use altogether that doesn't involve horses.
Dennis Rusch ofMortonBuildings, a company that specializes in several barn types, cautions his clients to really think about the future and not build a barn so far from the norm that its resale value will be affected.
"We want to encourage our customers to think of this," he says. "As soon as the son or daughter grow up, and if the hobby wears off for the wife of the family, let's make the building that will allow for future marketability."
The most adaptable barn employs a clear span structural system, with no internal columns. Stall partitions can be added or deleted as needed. Should the owner sell the property later, that building will appeal to a larger number of people, as the stalls can be removed, and the building can be used for anything from vintage car storage to a workshop.
Be sure to lay out the facility in a way that will allow for expandability. If a client is building what Rusch calls a "combination facility" of a barn and indoor arena, Morton personnel are careful to lay out the facility in a way that best addresses site and weather conditions, as well as allowing for future flexibility.
"We want to make sure we place it on the property properly, so that we can take care of the weather situations, the access situation, the service needs," Rusch explains. "Then we also keep in mind if we are going to do future expansion."
Many types of prefabricated stalls are on the market. You'll find that the same concerns applicable to panels apply to stall partitions.
Safety is paramount, especially since the horses will be in such close proximity. A stall partition with a solid lower half is considered safer. It is possible to use panels to set up barn stall partitions. However, if horses start to squabble, they are much more likely to injure themselves kicking through a panel or rearing over it.
When choosing stall partitions, again look at the welds, construction, durability, and overall quality of the system. It is also important to evaluate how the partitions connect to each other, and if they allow for flexibility in connecting to a permanent barn wall or freestanding column. Ideally, you should be able to convert two stalls into one by removing the center partition should the need arise to create an oversized foaling or lay-up stall.
Instead of creating a multi-purpose barn, you can build one that is completely moveable. Such structures often employ a modular system and are moveable after they have been separated from their concrete foundation.
George Mahfouz of Port-A-Stall specializes in such structures and has seen them used in a variety of ways. "Our structures are flexible in respect that you can always add on stalls, or take out divider stalls and make two stalls into one," he explains.
Port-A-Stall barns are designed as a kit of parts. "You can disassemble our barns and relocate them," Mahfouz says. To do so, you disassemble the building from the roof down. After the roof, purlins, and uprights are removed, the base channels remain. Tack welds, which secure the base channels to the weld plates, are then cut, and all that remains is the poured foundation.
15 Riverside Drive W.
P.O. Box 38
John Lyons Round Pens
8714 County Road 300
Morton Buildings Inc.
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After everything is disassembled, says Mahfouz, the barn can then be moved. "You will have to create a new perimeter foundation, which is 6" wide, 8" deep, and every 12 feet there is a footer channel that goes in," he explains. "Any parts that need to be replaced due to wear and tear can easily be replaced because it is all designed in a modular system."
Temporary Stalls and Barn Structures
If you are not expecting to need permanent structures, or you need stalls that can be easily taken down and reassembled, several stall and barn systems fit that purpose. Chinook Stalls, for example, specializes in temporary and semi-temporary stall and barn assemblies. Often, they rent out large numbers of covered stalls to fairgrounds, or open stalls to large facilities such as convention centers, with large clear-span buildings that are used for everything from car shows to sport expos.
For example, at the Lyons training facility in Parachute, Colo., Chinook Stalls are used in both long, back-to-back covered shed rows, as well as covered breezeway barns, which have a fabric roof overhead and a 10' aisle between two inward-facing stall rows. Chinook, located inCanada, both sells and rents the modular stalls/barn setups, which are based off of 10' x 10' stalls.
"The covered stalls and barns are usually bought for permanent or semi-permanent use, for example, if people are renting property," explains company owner Bill Shaw. "Then if they have to move, they can easily take them with them. They also are easy enough to move so they can be moved from pasture to pasture."
Chinook Stalls are made of 1½-inch, 14-gauge high tensile tube, with quarter-inch puck board. This puck board, which is used in hockey rinks, is a high-density plastic. Shaw notes that they have never had a horse kick through the puck board, and the material discourages horses from chewing on it.
The stalls anchor to the ground at regular intervals due to a welded loop every 10 feet that can be attached to an anchor connector appropriate for existing site conditions. Stalls such as these are not appropriate if you are looking for a long-term, totally enclosable barn structure. However, if you are in a warm, temperate climate, or only need them for certain situations, they might be just the ticket due to their modularity and cost effectiveness.
Regardless of what type of barn you build, be sure the structure is compliant and appropriate to the codes in your area, which are influenced by local site-specific elements such as wind, fire, snow, earthquake, and existing soil conditions. It is also advisable to check with design covenants if you live in a development, as there may be certain material or aesthetic restraints.
In the end, flexibility in an equestrian facility often comes down to doing your research to find the best product for the job, while still thinking of how you or another owner might use the operation in the future. It also is wise to get referrals from other horse owners who have been using the products you are contemplating. They will be best suited to give an honest appraisal that has been time-honored.
When it comes to decisions that are driven by budgetary restraints, keep in mind that safety is paramount. It probably will take just one vet bill to offset the difference between a cheaper and a higher quality item.
As David Fillebrown points out, "These are companion animals. If your horse breaks a leg, you have broken a heart - your wife's, your child's, or your own. These are animals that we have come to love."