10 Things to Know Before Building a Barn or Indoor Arena

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In addition to being a rock star Software Quality Assurance Manager, SmartPaker Jess is also a barn owner. She recently went through the lengthy process of building a new indoor arena, and she was kind enough to put together her top 10 list of things you should know.

  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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  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?
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  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.
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  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.
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12 comments on “10 Things to Know Before Building a Barn or Indoor Arena
  1. Kim says:

    Another tip – get a lawyer who specializes in construction to develop the contract. You don’t have the same protections as someone building a new home.

  2. Lin says:

    plan for delays if your zoning doesn’t go thru the first time!! ( and extra fees for “Weird rules”). Which way does the wind blow from the most? Will there be a cross breeze? The best thing I did for my indoor was add ceiling fans!! On a rheostat for speed. How about when a blizzard melts?- where will the runoff go? ( hopefully not into the arena like mine did the first year!)

    Get an expert to help with footing; I didn’t and still regret it.
    Lastly, be Thankful you have it!! :-)

  3. Constance says:

    Does the power go out very often? Are you on a well? A great investment is a generator hard-wired to your home and/or barn. The power at my place typically goes out at night during a snow storm just before night check. sigh. I have a switch in the house that turns on lights on the outside and inside of the barn so I can find it.
    The building codes are remarkably strict where I am and I had to keep reminding the building inspector that it was a barn not a nuclear waste facility.
    Thanks for sharing your journey.

  4. kalee says:

    WoW it looks amazing

  5. I’m amazed to see it constructed from wood, as I thought you needed steel to get the span. It certainly looks beautiful.We’re hoping to do the same in a few years – I hope it’s as good as yours!

  6. Kathy says:

    Ventilation is extremely important. Make sure air flows through stalls, down aisles, etc. Add as many windows as possible that you can open and close. When the heat index is 107 and there is no wind, you will be glad you can move the air and keep horses comfortable!

  7. Erin says:

    We are just beginnin the process and ultimately want 8 plus stalls, feed, tack and wash stall and an indoor arena approx 70×120 or 140…. i am still struggling with the design and am interested to hear if you are happy with having the stalls alongside the length of the indoor as pictured– and want to weigh the pros and cons of having an entirely separate center aisle barn w a breezeway or something similar. We obviously are limited financially as we are a non-profit TB Rescue. Thanks for any comments, suggestions, etc.

  8. Erin says:

    We are just beginnig the process and ultimately want 8 plus stalls, feed, tack and wash stall and an indoor arena approx 70×120 or 140…. i am still struggling with the design and am interested to hear if you are happy with having the stalls alongside the length of the indoor as pictured– and want to weigh the pros and cons of having an entirely separate center aisle barn w a breezeway or something similar. We obviously are limited financially as we are a non-profit TB Rescue. Thanks for any comments, suggestions, etc.

  9. Jessica Roberts says:

    “Thanks for your question Erin!

    It came down to space and cost. We didn’t have the room for a separate stable attached only by a breezeway. It was all about condensing. (As it was, we had to excavate/level a differentiating height of about 25 feet. That’s a lot of dirt to move!)

    It’s been a little over a year since we finished and there is very little that I would modify or change about the way we did the barn/indoor setup!

    The cons in my design with the stalls attached:
    - No loft space (without tripling the building costs due to radical engineering changes necessary in the building to increase the height of the roof). The hay is stored in a 10X36 area at one end of the indoor side of the aisle.
    - Some stalls without dutch doors. The stalls bordering the indoor don’t have any dutch doors. This actually hasn’t been that big of a problem, and to a degree has been a blessing. There is one horse who kicks A LOT at dinner time. He does much better with a solid wall behind him versus a dutch door. Maybe your separate barn won’t have any outside stall doors in which case this point is moot.
    - The biggest flaw to the design of having stalls on the long side of the building is when snow comes off the roof and it blocks the stall dutch doors. We can either move the large amounts of snow that pile up, or just leave it that way for the winter and have the dutch doors be un-usable. I wish I had put a 4-foot overhang so the doors can be swung open all year, without snow removal.

    Pros to my design:
    - Cost savings with one foundation, only one building permit to get, etc. Cheaper to have 4 outside walls versus 8.
    - Entry to the indoor is at either end/corner, which I find much less disruptive then an entry way via the middle of either the long or short sides.
    - Super easy to put in observation windows for the tack room and office.
    - We insulated the wall between the indoor and the aisle way wall, so although you can hear muffled noises over there, it’s not loud or disruptive.

    As long as there is some way to get the horses from the stalls to the indoor without having to go out in the elements, I don’t think you can go wrong. I hope that helps you a little with your decision. Best of luck!

  10. Therese says:

    The light fixtures look like an accident waiting to happen – sharp edges!

    Where’s the water? Hose from far end? Piped in to each stall?

  11. Therese says:

    One more thing – if you need to extricate a horse body from a stall, do the sides or front dis-assemble? Can you get a large piece of machinery in there to move the helft of a horse?

  12. rose says:

    If you plan on breeding make a birthing stall we did and it works as birthing/sick stall if we do not have a mare in foal. also make sure the alley way is big enough to get a truck in so if it starts to rain and you have a truck full of feed or hay if you are boarding really consider there own locker/tack boxes to keep people from borrowing things from other boarders when not around and honestly people think that they have a wash rack rack that its ok for the farrier to put them in there think of the farrier they don’t want to work where someone just washed there horse.most of the time if they had there own rack open to the back air flow and being able to pull up right to there space so much nicer that can be doubled for the vet to with very good lighting and electrical plug ins. And away from the feed room so if someone is in the feed room the horse will not be only thinking about eating.

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