Guest Post: The Barn Door

April 22nd, 2014

Nothing says barn like a big, rolling barn door.  The right door can be beautiful.  It can capture the light and throw it deep into the aisle.  The door is the first thing you touch when you arrive at your barn, and the last thing you touch when you leave.  The barn door keeps the rain out and the heat in.  So it’s worth spending some time considering how it’s designed.


Manufacturers – Barn doors may be handmade or purchased.  While you may find a reason to build a custom door, first look at the manufactured products.  You might just find exactly what you’re looking for!  Many manufacturers also allow for customization in size, shape, materials, hardware, glass placement and configuration.  You may even be able to customize the placement of glass “mullions” or dividers.

Materials – Barn doors are made primarily of wood or metal.  The material you choose should harmonize with the rest of the materials in the barn.  If you find something you like, consider purchasing windows that are made by the same manufacturer, or at least made of similar materials.  This will unify the look of your barn.

Shape and Size – When sizing your door, consider the height of your barn, the vehicles that need to be driven into the barn and the proportions of the door.  Doors should be at least nine feet wide to comfortably drive through.  You may consider designing the door so that it is almost the full width of the aisle for optimal traffic and air flow.  For a beautiful look, consider ordering a door that is much higher than strictly necessary.  This can give the inside of the barn a cathedral feel.

For wide openings, two rolling doors are more practical than one.  It’s easier to lock two doors together than to lock one door against the building.

Hardware – Barn doors may swing or slide.  Large doors typically slide.  For exterior barn doors, the top side of the roller track should be protected to prevent it from getting gummed up with leaves and debris.  Interior doors can have exposed rollers, if you prefer that style.  You can also consider using rolling doors in other spaces on your property if you like the look.

Hardware for your barn door is typically purchased from the manufacturer of the door.  If you’re building a door yourself, consider purchasing the hardware from a barn door manufacturer.  There are many available styles and finishes.  However, if you’re inspired by something specific, you may be able to get custom hardware made locally.  Beautiful hardware will add elegance to your barn that you will appreciate every day.

The well-designed barn door is one that distinguishes your barn as uniquely yours.  It’s worth the effort to plan the design, from the size to the hardware.  Work with your designer or barn manufacturer to craft a door that best suits you.

Heather E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB is a principal at Animal Arts, an architectural firm that has exclusively designed animal care facilities since 1979.  Heather’s primary area of expertise is the design and management of equine and large animal projects.  She is also highly experienced in the streamlined management of animal shelter projects. Heather was the Project Manager for the country’s first LEED Platinum animal shelter designed for the City and County of Denver.  Heather speaks regularly about the design of large animal facilities at such conferences as the Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Conference for the Central Veterinary Conference and the American Association of Equine Practitioners Annual Conference.

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April 21st, 2014


The Maremma, also referred to as the Maremmano, has descended from ancestors that lived as early as 768 BC. While the Maremma’s exact ancient history is largely unclear, the breed has made important contributions to both the farms of Italy and to the Italian forces in World War II.


The origins of the Maremma are largely a mystery. The Maremma is believed to have originated during the Etruscan civilization, an ancient civilization which lived in the areas now known as Tuscany, Umbria, and Latium, Italy, from 768 to 264 BC.

The Tuscany and Lazio areas are now known as the Maremma region, hence the breed’s name. The Maremma horse served as a work horse and stock horse for centuries and was popular with Italian farmers, some of which also bred the horses. The Maremma also roamed freely in the Tuscany and Lazio regions.

In the late 1800s, breeders began to cross the Maremma with lighter horses, including the Thoroughbred. They sought to produce a taller, more refined horse useful for riding. This “improved Maremma” proved to be strong, versatile, and athletic.

The Maremma served as a cavalry horse in the Italian forces during World War II. The Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia rode Maremmas in the successful August 1942 charge, overpowering the Soviets. The Maremma’s strength, speed, and athleticism contributed to the success.


The Maremma’s build, while refined over the past century, still reflects its hardy, workhorse origins. The Maremma typically stands between 15 and 16 hands tall. Its head is somewhat heavy compared to its body, with a thick build and a broad neck. The horse is well-muscled and sports a broad chest, a short back, and legs with strong bone development, all of which make it a powerful horse suitable for light farm work and for riding. The Maremma’s hooves are strong and compact. Its coat is typically dark, usually consisting of bay, black, or dark chestnut colors. Grey and roan colorations do sometimes occur.

The Breed Today

The Maremma is often used for cattle work and draft work on Italian farms. Under saddle, the breed is versatile and is used for many purposes. The Maremma makes a highly competitive jumping mount. Its excellent temperament makes it easy to train, and the Maremma often serves as a trail horse.

In a salute to the Maremma’s history, riders compete the Maremma in several mounted games that reflect the skills possessed by successful cavalry riders and horses. The “Saracen” game challenges a horse and rider to gallop toward a warrior-shaped puppet mounted on a pole. In one hand the puppet holds a shield – in the other, a stick meant to resemble a sword. As horse and rider gallop toward the puppet, the rider attempts to hit the puppet’s shield with a spear. If the rider misses, though, the puppet swings about on the pole, hitting the rider with the stick.

Though the exact ancient history of the Maremma will likely never be known, the breed has made significant contributions to Italian culture within just a few recent centuries.

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Horse Shows on a Budget

April 18th, 2014

Competing in horse shows is a great experience, but it can also be financially difficult. The costs of shows quickly accumulate, and the cost of a whole season of showing is significant. But you can still ride in horse shows on a budget – here are some money-saving tips to keep you in the saddle at shows.

Horse Shows on a Budget

Show Locally

The cost of showing increases significantly when lots of travel and overnight stays are required. Try to find shows that are close to home. You’ll not only eliminate the cost of overnight stabling for your horse and a hotel for yourself, you’ll also save on gas and the overall cost of travel.

Trailer With Others

Rather than hauling your horse yourself, try to combine transportation with other horses and riders going to the same show. By hauling multiple horses together you can reduce transportation costs, and will also have extra people available to help with the loading and unloading.

Consider offering an empty spot on your trailer to a friend and horse – you’ll gain companionship for the day and will balance out the load of your trailer. Before you accept money for transporting the horse, though, check to make sure that your insurance would cover you in such a case – you may need commercial insurance for that situation.

Register In Advance

Shows often offer discounted advance registration, which can save you money over the cost of registering on the show day. If you’re certain that you’re going to attend a particular show, you may wish to take advantage of the lower costs by registering in advance.

Catch Ride

If the cost of transporting your own horse to an event is too great, but you’re a solid rider with good competition experience, put out word that you are available to catch ride at shows. You can sometimes pick up mounts on the day of the show without the cost of transportation and stabling your own horse. Catch riding is also great in that you’ll learn how to quickly adapt to new and unfamiliar horses.

Bring Your Own Food

While show grounds often have concession stands, the cost of buying water, lunch, and snacks quickly accumulates throughout the day. You’ll be better off to bring your own food in a cooler, rather than purchase from vendors. Plus, the food that you bring from home may be healthier than what you could purchase on the grounds.

Work as a Team

If you’re able to attend a show with friends, then you can work as grooms for each other. Friends can be a great support system on show day, and you’ll all save on the cost of having to hire a groom for the day.

Horse shows don’t have to be super expensive, and you can show on a budget. What are some of your best money-saving tips for show days?

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Making Your Child’s Introduction to Riding a Positive One

April 17th, 2014

Making Your Child's Introduction to Riding a Positive One

If you are planning on letting your child take horseback riding lessons in the future, then you will want to make sure that your child’s introduction to horses is a positive one. Not all instructors or lesson barns are the same, and you may need to do a little work to find a barn and instructor that are a perfect fit for your child. To get started, consider the following:

Find a Reputable Lesson Barn

Selecting a barn for your child is very important to ensuring a positive introduction to horseback riding. Look for a barn with an established lesson program in the discipline that your child is interested in. If you expect that riding in horse shows will be important to your child, then you may want to look for a barn that participates in local show circuits. Going out to see a few local shows can give you an idea of the barns around, how their riders ride, and what their approaches towards horsemanship are.

It can also be a great idea to talk to those riders (and their parents) who currently ride at a barn that you are considering. Ask them how they like the barn, what they like about the program, what originally attracted them to the barn, and if there are any aspects of the barn that they don’t like or would like to change. An insider’s perspective can give you great insight.

Make Sure the Instructor is a Good Fit

If you have found a barn that could be a good match, the next step is to make sure that the instructor and your child are also a good fit. Ask if you can observe the instructor teaching another child, or if your child can ride in a trial lesson. The instructor’s teaching methods and approach will be particularly important – can your child learn easily from the instructor, and does your child feel comfortable working with the instructor?

Make Safety a Priority

Wherever your child rides, your child should wear an ASTM-certified helmet every time he or she mounts up. Make sure that your child is outfitted in proper footwear, and that he or she is always supervised when around horses as a beginner. The horses that your child rides should also be safe and dependable as he or she is learning to ride.

Stay Positive When Dealing with Fear

You may find that your child encounters issues with fear when learning to ride. That is normal, and is something that many children face. You can support your child by staying positive and reminding him or her that many people feel nervous when trying something new. Many children overcome this fear naturally, but if the fear stays with your child or worsens, consider enlisting the help of a child psychologist.

Learning to ride a horse is the dream of many children. With a little work and research, you can make your child’s introduction to riding a positive memory that will stay with them for life.

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What’s Your Emergency Care Plan for your Horse?

April 16th, 2014

What's Your Emergency Care Plan for your Horse?

When handle your horses’ care yourself, you know all of the details of their day-to-day care. But take a step back for a minute – in the unfortunate event that you became injured or sick, could another person step in and care for your horses? Do you have information posted that would allow someone unfamiliar with your horsekeeping habits to help you out in an emergency? If not, you might want to consider the following methods to ensure that your horses are well cared for in the event that you’re not able to care for them yourself.

Keep Feed Charts Current

A sudden change in feed quantity or type can be dangerous for the sensitive-stomached horse, so keeping your feed charts clear and current is an absolute must. List all of a horse’s feed, including his supplements, on a feed chart, and specify when the feed is to be given – morning, noon, or afternoon. Be sure that the amounts that you specify are easily understood by someone who is unfamiliar with your feeding system – keep a clearly labeled feed scoop nearby and reference that in determining feed amounts.

List Individual Horse Contact Numbers

Keep contact cards for each horse clearly posted on the horse’s stall. Contacts for the horse’s owner, vet, farrier, and any other relevant person should be listed. Additionally, include any necessary warnings about the horse on this card in red lettering, such as the fact that the horse kicks, bites, or is prone to colic.

Identify Stalls and Horses

If a person is unfamiliar with the horses at your barn, telling them apart can be a challenge. Keep a stall nameplate with the horse’s stable name on each stall. Nameplates on halters can also help a person determine which horse is which. Additionally, consider putting a card with a physical description of the horse’s defining characteristics – like his facial markings, height, or other unique features – on his stall.

Keep a Turnout Chart

Keeping a chart which clearly shows which horse can be turned out in which paddock can greatly assist a person stepping in to cover care. Be sure to note the turnout times and whether any horses go out together. If there are “tricks” to turning the horses out, such as if one horse should go out or come in before another, make note of this important information as well. Post the chart in an area where it is easily spotted. If your turnout situation is reasonably stable, you might also consider putting plaques or signs on the turnouts themselves to identify which horses go out where.

If you plan ahead, you can make it easy for a person to step in to care for your horses in an emergency situation.

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Horse History – April 14, 1860 – The First Mail Pouch Is Delivered by the Westbound Pony Express

April 14th, 2014

Horse History - April 14, 1860 - The First Mail Pouch Is Delivered by the Westbound Pony ExpressOn April 14, 1860, the Westbound Pony Express delivered its first mail pouch to San Francisco, California. The Pony Express used a relay horseback system to deliver mail quickly across the county, essentially connecting the developing California with the eastern side of America.

The Pony Express, a relatively short-lived system, began on April 3, 1860 and continued to operate until October of 1861. The discovery of gold in California had prompted the state’s rapid development, but communication between California and the states on the eastern side of the country was slow – stagecoaches took weeks at a time to deliver mail. A better, faster system was needed.

William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell, owners of the Russell, Majors & Waddell shipping company, came up with a solution. They reasoned that single riders mounted on horseback could travel more quickly than a stagecoach, improving the mail delivery system. The three men founded the Pony Express, hiring 120 riders and buying 400 horses to create a relay system across the county.

Russell, Majors, and Waddell proposed that the Pony Express could deliver the mail from one side of the country to the other in ten days. Such speedy delivery was unheard of at the time, and the men’s claim was met with public disbelief. Still, the Pony Express founders believed in the system they had established, and searched for the shortest, most direct paths across the country for the Express riders to take.

Through the relay system, a rider galloped a horse for ten to fifteen miles, arriving at one of the more than 150 Pony Express relay stations. At each station, the rider would trade in his horse for a new, fresh horse, transfer the mail pouch, and then begin galloping again. At the end of a rider’s shift, the rider would hand the mail pouch off to another rider, who would continue across the country with the mail.

Pony Express riders faced harsh conditions. They rode long hours – sometimes as many as 20 hours at a time – in all weather and braved undeveloped areas alone. Robbery was always a possibility, and riders were instructed that the mail pouch was of utmost importance – they should do anything necessary to defend it.

The first mail run of the Pony Express traveled from St. Joseph, Missouri to St. Joseph and Sacramento, California. The first rider left Missouri on April 3, 1860, and the first mail pouch was delivered to St. Joseph, California on April 14. A subsequent mail pouch arrived in Sacramento a few hours later, proving that the Pony Express could deliver mail across the country in only ten days.

To learn more about the Pony Express, visit the Pony Express National Museum’s website.

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Horse Show To-Do Checklist

April 11th, 2014

Show season is upon us, and now is the time to prepare yourself and your horse. While you’re probably used to many aspects of show day preparation like cleaning tack and braiding, there are a few preparations that are less standard, but just as important.

Horse Show To-Do Checklist

Check the Show Rulebook

Before you start packing up to head off to the show, check the rulebook to make sure that you and your horse will be legal in the competition. Different show associations have rules regarding medications, bit eligibility, and equipment approved for competitions. If you unknowingly violate any of these rules, you could find yourself disqualified. You put so much effort into preparing for a single horse show – make sure that your riding in the show will count, and check the rule book ahead of time.

Read Your Horse’s Supplements Carefully

After checking the rule book for prohibited medications and substances, turn a careful eye to the ingredient listings on your horse’s supplements. Some supplements contain substances that will test at a show. Make sure that your horse’s supplements are free of any prohibited substances, or you could inadvertently find yourself disqualified.

Brush Up On Trailer Loading

The last thing that you want to discover on the morning of a show is that your horse has suddenly become deathly afraid of the horse trailer, so practice at the barn ahead of time. Brush up on his trailer loading skills now. Be sure that the trailer is properly hitched to your truck, and then load and unload your horse until he loads smoothly. Come the morning of an important show, you’ll be thankful that you put in the work ahead of time.

Update Your Emergency Contact Information

In the unfortunate event that you were injured at a show, would show staff or your friends know who to call? Keep an “emergency contact” sheet posted to the inside of your trailer’s dressing room door with all of the necessary information, including your next of kin contact, your primary care physician’s name and number, and an emergency contact who could come and assume care for your horse.

Additionally, keep a separate list of emergency contact information for your horse, including contacts for his vet, farrier, barn owner, and trainer. When you’re traveling it’s also a good idea to keep information on roadside emergency services, like AAA or US Rider.

Most importantly, make sure that all of this information is correct and up-to-date. If you’re traveling with a friend, be sure that the friend is aware of where the information is located.

In your preparation for horse shows, put these important tasks at the top of your to-do list.

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Introducing Your Child to Riding on a Budget

April 10th, 2014

Introducing Your Child to Riding on a Budget

If your child wants to learn to ride horses, you’ll quickly discover that riding is an expensive hobby. If you’re on a tight budget, though, that doesn’t mean that your child can’t learn to ride. Here are some ways to save money but keep your child riding.

Take Group Lessons

While taking a private lesson with a trainer does have its advantages, group lessons, especially while your child is beginning to learn to ride, offer a more affordable and perfectly reasonable alternative. Riding in a group lesson will help to save money while also teaching your child how to safely ride with other horses and riders in the ring. Look into the rates that the barn offers for private, semi-private, and group lessons to select the option that works best for you and your child.

Work Off Lessons

Many barns offer students the opportunity to work off part or all of the cost of their riding lessons. Large barns which offer lesson programs and boarding are often in need of people to feed horses, turn horses out, and clean stalls.

If your child is new to riding, he or she won’t have the skills to work in a barn immediately. Barns may also have an age requirement when allowing students to work off lesson time. However, your child can start developing the skills and knowledge necessary to work in a barn by volunteering to help care for the horses before and after his or her lesson.

Buy Only What You Need

Before you go out and buy your child equipment for his or her lesson, find out from the trainer exactly what equipment the barn requires riders to have. Some barns have very specific requirements in terms of the items purchased, their styles, and even their colors. Learning this information ahead of time can save you from purchasing equipment that you will need to return or that your child cannot use. Some barns also provide certain equipment to their riders, like helmets, so find out what is available first before you go shopping.

Buy Equipment Used

Breeches, boots, and gloves can all be purchased used at greatly discounted prices. Much of the used riding apparel available for children will have only slight use, since children outgrow clothes at such a rapid rate. Be sure to ask the seller for multiple pictures of the apparel, and ask specific questions about its condition.

One item that you should never purchase used is your child’s riding helmet. Riding helmets actually expire after 4 or 5 years, and are stamped with expiration dates, so buying a used helmet does not offer great financial savings. Additionally, if a helmet has been kept in improper conditions like in a hot car, or if it has sustained a fall, its integrity is compromised and it is no longer safe for use. New helmets come in wide price ranges, with many helmets available in the $40 price range, so buying a helmet used is not worth risking your child’s safety over.

Riding is an expensive hobby, but with some creativity and legwork you can help your child to learn to ride, even on a budget.

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Horse Barn Spring Cleaning To-Do List

April 9th, 2014

Horse Barn Spring Cleaning To-Do List

This spring weather can only mean one thing: It’s time for spring cleaning. When you clean your barn to prepare it for the summer and the upcoming show season, there are some important chores that you need to remember to do. We’ve come up with a little list to get you started.

Check Gates and Fence Lines

With their snow, ice, freezing and thawing, winters can be rough on fence lines. It’s important to walk all of your fence lines and check for breaks or areas that need repair. Pay particular attention to fences that run along the outside of your property, or which run near roads.

Tighten any electrical fencing that needs it, and check to make sure that the fence is still carrying a charge in different areas. If you have wood fencing, look to see if boards have become loose or if areas are chewed and in need of replacement. Check PVC fencing to make sure that the panels are still tight and in place.

While you’re checking the fences, also take a look at your gates. Are the latches still closing securely, and are there any signs of rust? Check the hinges to make sure that they are functioning correctly and that the gate swings clearly of the ground. Oil the hinges to prepare the pasture gates for their use this summer.

Evaluate Your Arena

Your riding arena will face heavy use over the spring and summer. Now is the time to evaluate the condition of its footing. If there are ruts or uneven areas in your arena, tend to them with a tractor or by hand with a shovel and rake. Be careful not to dig up the base of your arena; only work with the top surface. Drag the arena and evaluate the footing – is it even, draining properly, and providing enough cushion to your horses? If you need to add footing, now is the time to do so before your arena is in full use during the competition season.

Clean for Fire Safety

When all of your horses are turned out for the day, go through your barn and remove all of the cobwebs that have formed over the winter. Cobwebs are a fire hazard; make a point of regularly removing them. Additionally, sweep any old hay out of your hay loft.

Check the expiration dates on your fire extinguishers and replace any extinguishers that are too old. Be sure to also replace the batteries in your barn’s smoke detectors.

Summer is right around the corner. Getting your spring cleaning done now can ensure that your barn is safe and ready for the busy months ahead.

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Exmoor Pony

April 7th, 2014

Exmoor Pony

The Exmoor pony, rooted in history possibly dating back to as early as 400 BC, still roams freely in the British Isles today. But the breed’s numbers are critically low – less than 300 breeding mares are in existence – putting it at risk for extinction.


If you ask many fans of the Exmoor pony, they will tell you that the breed’s bloodline has descended purely from wild horses that originated in the Ice Age. While this theory is not supported by DNA research, the Exmoor pony does have a rich history.

The remains of horses have been found in Britain that date all the way back to 700,000 BC. Some of the fossils of early horses discovered in the region show that humans first hunted the horses, then later domesticated them and used them for transportation. Since these ancient horses roamed the same areas in and around Exmoor that the Exmoor pony does today, it is likely that the Exmoor pony descended from these herds of horses.

Many Exmoor ponies were sold off in the early 17th century and were crossed with other breeds, though some breeders worked to preserve the Exmoor pony’s pure bloodlines. The Exmoor Pony Society was created in 1921 to further protect the breed’s decreasing numbers.

The breed nearly went extinct during and after World War II. The Exmoor pony’s habitat became a British training ground, and the pony’s numbers dwindled to approximately 50. Thanks to the work of dedicated breeders the Exmoor pony’s numbers increased over the rest of the 20th century, and England is once again home to small herds.


As you might imagine, the Exmoor pony is hardy. The breed is equipped for survival in the moors of England; the pony has thick bone structure, a deep chest, large teeth to grind coarse marsh grasses, and strong hooves. The Exmoor pony’s coat features two layers of coarse hair to keep it warm and dry in the wet weather. Its mane and tail grow thick and long. The pony’s coat colors range from the standard dark bay to black and a mousy dun. Exmoor ponies typically stand between 11 and 12.3 hands.

The Breed Today

While the Exmoor pony still runs free in some areas of England, many have been domesticated and are bred in private breeding programs. The Exmoor pony is sturdy enough to be ridden by either an adult or a child. It has a calm, willing temperament, and can make an excellent riding horse.

The Exmoor pony is agile, athletic, and a talented jumper. Only a handful of Exmoor ponies are present in the United States, so it is rare to see them in competition, but they are shown more in England where the breed has greater numbers. The Exmoor pony’s versatility and intelligence make it suitable for farm work, showing under saddle and in hand, driving, and trail riding.

If you would like to learn more about the Exmoor pony’s presence in the United States, visit the website for the Exmoor Ponies of North America.

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