Category Archives: Handy Tips

Barn Configuration. What I Would Do Differently Next Time…

Sunday, March 28th, 2010 | Filed under Handy Tips

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This morning, as I was feeding, I noticed that grass is growing in the inside aisle of my barn. Well, actually, I have noticed this before today, but on this special  morning, it occurred to me that grass growing in the aisleway  inside my barn is not common. Maybe I should take note of this for the future…  And then, the “shudda” thoughts started rattling around in my mind.  I gazed about with a more open eye and took note.  (It helps that this is a Saturday and I’ve gotten up later, had my coffee and am more awake than my usual feeding stupor…)  So, here is my list.


(Just an fyi, I didn’t build this barn.  And, truth to tell, I basically love my barn.  But, these are the things I would change with my magic wand.)

First of all, my barn is not a training barn or a housing barn, it is more of a working barn for the management.  I do have 3 stalls but I only use them when somebody is sick or foaling.  Mostly, I use the stalls for hay storage (we’ll address this later).  I have a wash rack, a tack/feed room and a hay storage room.  It is a wood barn (very nice) with large gates on both ends.

1)  LIve Through 4 Seasons in Your Location Before Building:

I know this is almost impossible.  Once you purchase a place, you want to set up the barn right away!  But for me — who built a pool the first summer and didn’t notice how all the leaves on the trees drop straight into the water in the fall — it is important to watch how the rain flows and how the wind blows.   My barn’s footprint was carved out of a hillside.  The very hillside where all the water wants to collect before submitting to the culvert down the road.  If it rains heavily, the water takes shelter in my barn.  All the little droplets get together and discuss their fate while pooled either in front of my hay door (nice) or puddled in the aisle of the barn.  And, if it rains really hard, there is a mass gathering in the front of my barn with several conga lines venturing throughout.

We finally dug a french drain on the uphill side of the barn.  And, it works as well as it can work for the amount of rain.  However, the poor drain cannot keep up with its clients.  Hence, grass in the aisle.

Grass in the aisle is not a huge problem since most residents will happily play mower.  But, it is a bit unsightly.

2)  Which Way Does the Wind Blow?

This is the same concept as the above.  If you know how weather patterns move through your property, you won’t build the barn in the incorrect direction.  Now, my barn is built in the right direction, but my sheds aren’t.  It is laughable, sometimes, but not really funny.  The horses totally look at me as if to say, “Uh, what is wrong with this picture?  Can you see that my face/butt and legs are soaked here?!  How hard is it with all of those tools you have to at least make a decent shelter, eh?!  I don’t see you all wet in your shelter…”  I try to ignore them. (Pictured is the hill…)

3)  Awnings Everywhere:

We have a large roof awning overhang on the back of the barn.  It extends about 20 feet for the entire width of the barn.  It is really nice on sunny or stormy days.  What I would do differently is build this awning, or at least a smaller version, all around the barn where there are horses.  Basically, wherever horses live, I’d have a type of wrap around awning.  Why?  Well, there is always one horse who thinks the awning area is his and his alone.  In my case, Tess, the lead mare, owns the entire back porch area.  Part of it is her personal potty, another part is where she takes her meals and the other part is where she stands.  And, it doesn’t matter that this area could house 6 horses standing peacefully, she wants NO ONE there besides herself.  Great.  (Pictured is Tess guarding her area.)

The other sides of the barn only have a narrow 2′ slanted overhang.  I find that all the other horses are huddled against the barn under this tiny overhang while The Queen takes the entire covered area.  Mind you, I have trees all over the place, but there is nothing quite like the allure of the food barn to make a horse stand miserably in stormy weather…

4)  Hay Storage:

Hay comes in big bales.  Think about that when considering hay storage.  How to get the big bales into the storage area…  One way, of you take just a few bales or a ton at a time is to be able to back your truck up to the hay area with a huge sliding door.  You can open the door, push off the hay and you are done!  That’s what I have.  Unfortunately, I need a lot more hay than this method can store.  I end up using the stalls.  So, if you have the luxury to buy in bulk,  build hay storage that can accommodate a squeeze.  Do you know how many times I’ve heard, “Well, if we could just get a squeeze up there it’d be a lot cheaper….”  Sigh.  (Pictured is the sliding hay door.)

Note: if you are going to store hay in your stalls, make sure the stall windows can close on the side where your outside horses can stick their heads in and eat a perfect mouth-high chunk from each bale as it sits there…  These missing chunks make the hay stack very unstable.

5)  Wash Rack Size VS. Feed Room Size:

I see this often.  The wash rack is double the size of the feed room.  I don’t understand this.  At least for me, I bathe them a lot less than I feed them…  And, if I had less space in the wash rack, there would be less dancing about while trying to avoid the water.

Also, I find myself cramming all my feed, supplements, meds, supplies, tack, refrigerator, saddle racks —  nick nack paddy whack give you dog a bone stuff — into the tiny tack room.   However, I could land a jet in my wash rack.  So, I’d switch that. (Here is a pic of Tess in the large and safe aisleway.  It is really nice to have this area for a horse you might need to separate.)

6)  Don’t Put the Feed/Tack Room in the Middle:

Dragging grain bags around isn’t as much fun as not.  And, give your feed/tack room some load bearing walls.  You will want to use the walls to hang things and organize.  Sheet rock won’t hold a bridle rack…

7)  The Hot Water Heater:

If you are lucky enough to have hot water (love it!) make sure to insulate the tank well and put it on a separate breaker so you can shut that powerguzzler off!  That baby can pump up your PGE bill so fast you’d think you were housing the WOPR.

8)  Gates:

Make sure your exterior gates open both ways.  And, make your end stall doors at the ends of the aisle so you can open the exterior gate and the end stall gate to run a horse in if needed.  I had the lovely pleasure of being able to force a horse to enter a stall if I needed to.  Now, sadly, after replacing one exterior gate, it only opens out.  Not good.  Always be thinking of trapping mechanisms! (Pictured is my new gate which doesn’t swing both ways anymore.  I have to fix that.)

9)  Owls, Purple Martins, Bats and Skunks:

Owls eat what might live in your hay.  Purple Martins and bats eat flying insects.  Skunks eat just about anything.  I’ve never interacted with any of these residents, yet they have lived in my barn for years.  So, why not embrace the good will?  I say build an owl nesting area in the upper decks of your barn.  Get a few Purple Martin condos and bat hotels.  The Skunks will just move in.  But, let me tell you, I have had a family of skunks living under my barn for 7 years now.  I never see them.  But, we both know each other exists.  The skunks eat all the rodents, snakes and cat food they can find at night.  By day, they sleep.  My barn has no rodents at all.  And, not once, ever, have the skunks sprayed.  How do I know I have skunks?  I saw the babies once.  (Sad story.  Mama didn’t come back.  I had to catch the babies and send them to Skunk Rescue.)  Anyway, our barn is like a rental unit for skunks and bats and owls and birds.  They do a great job!  So, I say build it and they will come.

10)  Substantial Gates at Both Ends of the Barn:

I ended up adding a pipe gate so I had gates at both ends of the barn to totally shut it off from the outside world.  This is invaluable when something happens and you need to bring in as many horses as possible.  Or, when you have a recovering horse that needs space — but not too much space.  Having the aisleway available for a loose horse is a wonderful asset.  I have housed sick, recovering, need special training, babies, halter training, farrier, fighting horses… there are so many ways you can use the aisle if you are able to shut off both ends.  I use it so much, I think it is a MUST.  (Pictured is the grass inside the aisle.  It looks very healthy.)

11)  Flowers or Hanging Baskets:

I’m working on this one.  I’m short.  So, hanging baskets are a dilemma for me.  I need a watering system that the horses won’t pull down.  I also need some sort of raised flower beds that the loose horses won’t graze.  I think if I had some beds that had attached, decorated, cages that house vicious Jack Russels, I would be fine…

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Mounting Block, Ha! And, Do You Get Muscle Sore? So Does Your Horse!

I saw this photo and thought I had to start off with Luscombe Nodram.  He is an 8 year old Draft horse from Australia who measures 20.2′.  Ha!  Noddy is believed to be the tallest horse in the world.  So, I had to read up on him…  He weighs 2866 pounds and is a registered Shire.  Noddy comes from a line of tall horses.  In fact his great grandsire was in the Guiness Book of World Records in 1981 as the Tallest Horse at 19.2.  Ahhh, the kids are getting biger these days!

What I thought was really funny is that the trainer/rider (yes, he is trained to ride and drive) has to use a ladder or “swing from a tree” (no joke, that is what she said) to mount.  I’d like to try to order a mounting block for this guy… “Ah, Hello, Valley Vet… Um…”


I can just hear the flack flying as I delve into this controversial arena…  Actually, I had no idea it was such a big thing until I starting fishing around.

You see, a few years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn how to recognize and aid signs of particular equine soreness, or at least have an overall “feel good” technique to relax my horse while helping him heal his muscles, joints and structure without injury.  Oy. Who knew I was diving into such a bath of churning controversy.  In a nutshell, the people who own schools and teach this sort of thing have a point.  You cannot just hang a shingle and say you do equine bodywork without the proper training.  Yup, I would have to agree.  However, some of us just want to learn basic, lightweight, can’t hurt/could help techniques that don’t take 4 years to study.  This is where there is the rub…  In America, truly, you cannot do this easily. The fear is that one will not just work on their own horses, but will try to make money and hurt other horses.  OK OK, I get it.  But, what about ME?  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s horses, especially my own.  Besides, there are plenty of books out there, I could just teach myself.  Whatever.  It was frustrating.


I want to let you know that I researched from Equine Massage to Equine Osteopathy and everything in between.  There was mud slinging everywhere and I was appalled and fascinated at the same time.  After slogging through it all…

I flew in the face of adversity and followed the Maverick!  Yup, I went after the guy who has a big voice but also the power behind it.  EQUINE TOUCH.

Now, if you haven’t done the research, and why would you, you wouldn’t know that this guy has lots of mumblers.  But, everyone has mumblers so I took it with a grain of salt.  I studied who he studied.  I looked at what the old guys said about him.  And, I was impressed.

Here’s how I based my decision.  I wanted a body background.  I wanted osteopathy but easier.  I wanted the Obewons of the body workers to think this guy was onto something.  So, I followed Janek Vluggen, the best known equine doctor of osteopathy.  Of course, he is in the Netherlands and traveling, so not based where I could study him.  Bummer.  As I read more, I could only find one DVM vested in osteopathy in the US, Marcia DuBois, who happens to also follows Vluggen.  Ah ha!  I was getting somewhere, sort-of.  Then I read more about them all and found the name Jack Meagher.  He was just a guy in the US a while back who was known as the founder of equine osteopathy.  (He has a great, simple book… you might want to get it.)  Sadly, he no longer exists.  He did have students.  But, since the US doesn’t sanction Osteopathy without a DVM, of course, no once can teach this here.  Besides, I didn’t want to learn the whole thing, just the Cliff Notes.

This brought me to a Jock Ruddock of Equine Touch.  He was a human body worker first, has studied with both Janek and Jack Meagher and he does layman’s clinics!  Aha!  Sign me up!  Which I did.  Jock (from Scotland) and his wife Ivana (a vet in the Czech Republic) run this program/school.  It is well thought out for the everyday horse person (Levels 1 and 2) and for the Practitioner (Levels 3 and 4)  The great part is that you can actually make a difference with your horses after Level 1!   And, basic everyday people (like me) cannot accidentally hurt their horses because it is non-invasive and works on the fascia.

It is called Vibromuscular Harmonization Technique (VHT) or Equine Touch.  OMG.  It so works!  I could tell you the whole schpeil, but you should just go to the website and read if you are interested.  It has changed my life and the life of my horses!  Jock knows his stuff.  He is kinda big in personality and has a lot to say, but it is important to listen.  Ivana is the opposite.  She is lovely and gentle and teaches you the clinical side of it all.  They are a perfect balance.  I learned so much and saw so much.  I witnessed Jock work on client horses that were not part of the clinic (I went on a ride-along) and saw incredible improvement without pain.  I was hooked!

For me, I took my Level 1 in TexasNot only was I amazed at the work but I was also amazed that I could learn it.  I took my Level 2 in Hawaii which was nice…  ;)   I haven’t done my Level 3 but did watch it.  And, as much as I kicked and screamed about having to leave CA to learn, I met wonderful people who will be lifelong friends.  An adventure for sure!

Equine Touch advanced levels go into nutrition, feet, the complete horse… which is good to know.  But, you don’t have to start there, you can just go and learn the basics that work.  For me, it was good to observe that they are on the cutting edge of just about everything equine — in a sensible way — but I could return home with very practical, basic knowledge on lower level courses.

Downside:  The downside is that these two are so popular around the world that they don’t come to the US as much anymore (they will be here in May 2010).  But, they do have very adept trainers here who can teach you.

I highly, highly recommend that you do this if you are interested in non-invasive body work that you can do fairly easily on your horses.  And, if you can get yourself into Jock and Ivana’s training, you will never forget it.  They will be in the US in May.  So, sign up, if you want to/are able to.  (Or, email:  for a schedule.) I think you will be very happy you did.  (I have no affiliation.)


Here are a few honorable mentions that I didn’t try but looked promising.

1)  You have all probably heard of TTouch by Linda Tellington-Jones.  Her school offers a well-rounded technique of understanding your horse through several avenues and one of those is simple bodywork.  I think she addresses this correctly in that we all need to understand the ins and outs so we can better see the whole picture.  TTouch offers a 3 or 5/6 day course that covers many valuable aspects.  Check it out.

2)  The next place, Tallgrass Animal Acupressure, offers just about every type of body work imaginable.  I didn’t choose this but did hear many rave reviews.  Why didn’t I choose it?  Well, I needed a short course…

Tallgrass Animal Acupressure. Look it up if you are interested in a full education.

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