10 Things to Know Before Building a Barn or Indoor Arena

courtesy of SmartPak

1. Visit and re-visit to find out your town’s laws. Every town is different and some are more agricultural-friendly than others. Go to every town department and find out their requirements and by-laws. Towns differ on a lot of topics, including but not limited to: buildings set back from property boundaries, how much land per horse, which departments need to get involved (building, board of heath, conservation, zoning, etc), abutter notification, etc. Be as prepared as possible before construction.

2. If possible talk with someone who has recently built a horse barn and/or indoor in the town. They will have gone thru the process and can better tell you what difficulties you might run into, or if you will actually be on easy street. But beware that if it’s for a business (a lesson or boarding facility), they may not be too keen on the idea of helping out more competition.

3. If a lot of engineering work is required, realize that you could be spending tens of thousands for site work and plans. With any luck it won’t cost that much, but include that cost in your estimate, just in case. This will depend on the town requirements, type and size of building, and use of building.

4. Location, location, location. Not just for where your farm is, but also where it’s going on the property. What direction does the sun shine? Where are the low-lying, wetter areas? Where is the water runoff going to go? Which direction does the wind usually blow? How much dirt needs to be moved around? Excavators can do amazing things to move dirt around but they can be costly depending on the project.

5. Don’t forget to leave plenty of room for parking, trailer/ large-rig turn around, horse turn-out, and a riding area. Get a plot map from the town and sketch out how everything will be laid out. Buy pink/orange flags from your local hardware store and place them where the building edges will be so you can get an idea of just how much space will be taken up.

6. Plan, plan, and plan again. The design for a horse farm will probably change a few times – building size, number of stalls, barn layout. It’s tough to plan for things like rock (which can force a whole building to move over). If building an indoor – go for the biggest size possible. If your building is 60’ X 120’ realize that is the measurements for the outside of the building and the arena will only be more like 56’ X 116’. If you plan to build stalls, where will the water come from for the horses (do you have to drill another well)? Where will the manure be stored? What kind of manure management system will you have in place? (Your neighbors will want to know that!) How will hay/shavings be unloaded and stored? Is there some place warm to clean tack in the winter? Will you have hot water? A wash stall? Do you need bathroom facilities? What kind of material for an aisle floor? Will the building have good ventilation? Will there be plugs at each stall for heated buckets/fans?

7. Find a builder you can trust and use references! Visit other barns that they have built to see their workmanship. Talk to others who have used those builders to get their take on how things went.

8. If you can’t pay for everything out of pocket, find a lender who understands the agricultural business and can see your vision and work with you to get the right loan. Most regular banks shy away from loaning for barns and other “non-residential” buildings.

9. Plan for costs such as kick/side wall wood on an indoor, stall doors, grates, latches, blanket bars, light fixtures, etc – it all adds up REALLY fast! You can cut costs by doing it yourself – but that’s not for the faint of heart or those who enjoy down time. Especially if you’re on a deadline it could mean working 12-14 hour days to get the job done.

10. Try out / test / pilot your ideas and contractors as much as possible in a small scale. For instance, try to get some of the contractors you are thinking of using to use do a small job around your house or farm, like a small electrical project or a smaller excavation job. This will give a good idea on how close they are to their estimate, their quality, their timely response, how easy/difficult it is to work with them etc.