By Sarah Welk Baynum
Andrea Knowles was like so many horse girls who were practically born wanting to ride.
Her parents bought her first pony at age seven, and she rode at a local barn near her hometown in northern California. “I rode jumpers all through college, but stopped when real life kicked in,” Knowles says.
She began a career in interior design after college but she always missed horses. “You want to get back into riding and competing, but it’s hard knowing the time for that is limited when you run a business and have a family,” she says.
Despite her busy schedule, Knowles began her search for a new horse. But when she would visit the barns while horse shopping, she noticed elements in some of the equestrian facilities that could use improvement.
“Most architects aren’t necessarily equestrian-focused, but if you’re designing a barn, you really need to know the horse world,” Knowles says. “I realized there was a real niche that needed to be filled here. I really got into the foundation of what makes horses healthy and happy, and started working on a concept barn.”
That’s when Knowles began building a business called Equine Residences, designing barns for equestrians. Equine Residences is a now full-service company and even helps its clients early on in the process to assist in finding the perfect property if they don’t have one already. They also re-design and renovate existing equestrian facilities. After a property is selected, Knowles and her team conduct a thorough evaluation of the land and design the entire barn, pastures, and arenas from the ground up. Knowles has built relationships with vendors in the field and keeps up with all that’s going on in the equine world.
Having Equine Residences design the spaces and layouts of their clients’ barns means things are where they should be. Where tack rooms, cross ties and wash stalls are located is more important than many realize.
Knowles says she starts by creating a master plan for the site, looking for things like where the best airflow on the property is, or where water access is located, and then placing the barn, arena, and pastures in spots that best utilize the land. “It’s important to note where I’m putting horse pastures for turnout versus where the arena is located (so I’m not putting those too close together). I’m always thinking like a rider and what would be important to me.”
Prioritizing Horse (and Human) Care
The number one consideration for Knowles is the horse care. “Show barns don’t always necessarily need a ton of turnout space, since they are getting exercised and are competing during the day. Maybe they don’t have as many bucks to get out, but the horse owners still want to have pastures and paddocks while making the best use of their space. However, they may instead want somewhere where the horses can relax during the day, so, for example, we may consider doing larger stalls and a runout,” Knowles says. Equine Residences is always looking at the individual horses, what would be best for them, and what would make them happy.
“Making things easier and quicker for barn staff or owners is also important when working with the horses,” Knowles says. Things like the flooring you choose may seem simple, but if it just looks pretty but is impossible to clean, it’s not very efficient. Knowles looks for the flooring that’s easier to clean and lasts a long time.
“Little design changes can help reduce the steps barn staff have to take to keep barns clean and sanitary. Things like looking into auto-manure removal may help by reducing barn staff hours or horse owners’ time spent cleaning. This will help them have more time for things like riding or spending more time with the horses,” Knowles says. Long term solutions for helping manage horse waste is also a priority in the design phase and can really help keep equestrian facilities looking their best, even years in the future.
“Everything in a barn should easily be hosed down and cleaned. The cleaner the barn, the less likely the horses are to get sick as well,” Knowles says.
The Equine Residences team look into high-end finish work for projects, but also keep clients mindful of how much they are spending on each item.
“It’s nice to have round corners in the pastures and it’s organically good for the horses, but I think getting too organic with the shape might not be good for your budget. Sometimes spending more on a really good waterer than a funny shape in a pasture might be better, and something I remind my clients of. I ask myself how would I want my horses treated at that particular barn.”
Housing is also an important factor when you have people living on site at equestrian facilities. “I love the idea of putting a staff apartment on the second floor in a barn for example,” Knowles says. “There are ways to make that work and still keep things like fire safety or city permitting in mind. All these things are doable and don’t have to cost too much.”
The Importance of Bio-Security
“A bio-security focus is very important to me when designing barns, especially because of the recent herpes outbreak and how traumatic that was for horse owners. Horses were stuck at Thermal because there wasn’t bio-security in their own barn to bring their horses back home,” Knowles says. “We can make a bio-secure stall or stalls in a barn to prevent the spread of outbreaks in the future.”
When it comes to designing equestrian facilities, Knowles says she has found that while people are eager to make sure every detail of their horses’ health and wellbeing are taken into consideration, spaces designed with the owner and rider in mind are sometimes more of an afterthought.
“Clients are always focused on making the horses comfortable during the design process, but we also want to make sure the people’s needs are taken care of, too. People spend a lot of time in the barn and we love being in the barn. Focusing on tack room or lounge spaces and making those spaces somewhere you really want to hang out, that’s something we see missing quite often.”
Tack rooms are especially important, and that importance is often overlooked.
“Tack rooms that look less like a locker room and that are more aesthetically finished are important to me,” Knowles says. “Things like having a sink installed or cabinets on the walls are some things we like to implement. We also think adding touches like using outdoor rugs and fabrics because they are easy to clean and readily available are both practical and add to the space. Organizing solutions within a tack room are extremely important and overlooked. We consider things like saddle pad storage, blanket drying solutions, and keeping items so they are aired out in the way they should be, and then designing saddle racks for that purpose, as well.”
The overarching goal for Equine Residences when designing equestrian facilities is to find the best solutions in a new or existing space to give clients beautiful, healthier barns.
To learn more about Equine Residences, visit www.equineresidences.com.
*This story was originally published in the March 2023 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!
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