June 2020 - Milberry Farm
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Thursday, 28 May 2020 04:35
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Friends, neighbors and European ideas influence horse-centric Rancho Santa Fe remodel.

by Kim F. Miller

Photography: Brady Architectural Photography, provided courtesy of Anne Sneed Architectural Interiors

Rancho Santa Fe is quintessential California in many ways. Sun-kissed and blessed with ocean breezes and nearby beaches. Travel down the neighborhood’s winding roads, however, and Europe may come to mind, especially if you’re an equestrian. Barn design details, cutting edge equipment and horse keeping ideas imported from Europe are everywhere.


Amateur jumper rider Sara Brawner and her husband Mike didn’t have to go to Europe when they began thinking about renovating the property they bought in Rancho Santa Fe last year. In reflecting on the eight-month design and building process and now four months of equine occupation, Mike says the generosity of horsey neighbors is his biggest takeaway.


“There are a lot of nice barns and friendly people here,” Mike explains. Many of the recommendations they shared came from European horsekeeping ideas and equipment manufacturers.

Eddy Sepul, Karl Cook, Ali and Francie Nilforushan, and the owners of LuckyJack Farm were among the many “kind enough to invite us over to see their barns and talk about what worked and what hadn’t,” Mike says.

There was no need to reconfigure the main lay-out of the 20-stall barn. The just-under four-acre property had been the home of Tish Quirk’s breeding program. Re-christened Milberry Farm in honor of the Brawners’ dogs, Mildred and Huckleberry, the private training facility is now home to Sara’s longtime coach, Guillermo Obligado and clients in his jumper training business, Woodgrove Farm.

As a structural remodel was not needed, functionality and ideal horse care and health were the project’s focus. A lifelong horsewoman, Sara had dreamed of having her own barn. Mike is not a rider, but he loves the equestrian scene and jumped happily into researching the options for each aspect of the facility, close to home and in Europe.

Here are some highlights:
Views & Ventilation

Guillermo Obligado loves his new hunter/jumper training base.

Röwer & Rüb European stall fronts and partitions with bars instead of solid walls allow maximum air flow and let horses see each other and socialize safely. Shuttered windows in the back of the stall allow horses to follow the action outside. Skylights and clerestory windows in the raised segment of the barn’s roof add light, release heat when open and contribute to ventilation.
Stalls have one-inch rubber mats that extend four feet up the back of the stall wall for extra protection. Dutch doors at both ends of the barn allow the lower half to stay closed, for safe containment in case of a loose horse. The door’s top half stays open to keep the air flowing. Huge ceiling fans that rotate slowly and quietly add to airflow.


Maximizing Space

Mike found that European barn design and equipment was well-suited to relatively small horse keeping properties and their management. Manure handling is particularly tricky on a small property.

Sara Brawner had long dreamed of her own barn.

Milberry uses galvanized metal carts, made by Grossenwinkelmann in Germany. Manure and soiled bedding is directly pitched into the carts, then the trolley is rolled outside where a small tractor lift, a mini-telehandler, raises and empties it into a dumpster. “We found that some of the manure dumpsters were too tall for a standard tractor to dump into, so we use the telehandler, which can reach higher,” Mike explains.

Milberry is named in honor of its real bosses: Mildred and Huckleberry, pictured here with Sara Brawner.

Arena Amenities

A 250’ x 150’ arena features Dammann RisoHorse Ebb & Flow watering system. It is watered and drained from the bottom, eliminating water waste and facilitating simple fine-tuning of the surface. The footing is fine silica sand with no additives. Its softness or firmness is adjusted by how much water is added each day. “No wet or dry spots,” Mike notes. A normal drag, with a Platz-Max groomer, at the end of the day is all that’s needed for maintenance.

Guillermo loves the footing and was especially thrilled with drainage that enabled riding the day after unusually heavy spring rains. “Having just sand makes it a more natural riding surface,” the show jumper comments. “We can specify if we want the surface softer or looser by how much water we use.”

Guillermo also loves the jumps from Top-Jumps of Belgium. They are lightweight aluminum and enable training over the same obstacles often found in top international competitions.

The arena rails look normal from a distance, but closer inspection reveals a safety feature achieved by the rail resting in a notch in the supporting posts. “It’s a continious rail that would come loose if somebody fell on it,” Mike explains. These are made by DeSutter Naturally of Belgium, as are all the pasture fences. All fencing is made of tropical hardwoods. Stain or paint are not needed: it will age like teak, and neither termites nor horses choose to consume it, Mike relays.

A gallop track around the outside of the arena is a mix of washed plaster sand and ProTex Gold from Premier Equestrian. ProTex gold is also used in the 60’ round pen for a lighter footing and durability over multiple uses. Sand turn-outs have washed plaster sand mixed with GGT 3/4” fiber for stability.

A six-horse Kraft Brothers horse walker has an oblong shape so the horse spends more time on the straight away versus in a circle the whole time. That’s better for horse’s body.

Two large, irrigated grass pastures complete outdoor opportunities for horses.