the perfect barn: lighting

during my barn-sitting gig, i cleaned the stalls quite a few more times than normal, as centex has been enjoying enduring a monsoon. i typically LOVE cleaning stalls. it’s meditative, satisfying, physical work. i don’t even mind cleaning henry’s stall (he is the peeing-est, pigpeniest pony in the barn!). what i do mind is not being able to see what i’m doing when i’m knee deep in shavings, wet and dry, and trying to sift out pulverized apples.

our little barn has 7 stalls on the south side and 5 stalls, plus two cross-ties and tack room, on the north side. an aisle runs down the center. the only electric lighting in the barn comes from classic fluorescent fixtures running across the aisle. there are no lights above the stalls.

the fluorescent light barely reaches into the stalls. not only was it dreary, i felt like i couldn’t see well enough to do a good job. there were shadows everywhere, especially when i had to clean around a horse or turn my back to the light source. and, when i cleaning the stalls on the south side, which receives natural light, i had to contend with looking right into the sun or being backlit. it was a frustrating challenge.

what i realized as i ruminated on the best lighting for a barn is that, at a minimum, stalls should be lit individually and on a separate switch than the aisle lights. (don’t want to jolt everyone awake during bed check!) if i could have turned on the stall lights while cleaning stalls, i bet my work would have been done better and faster! this would be especially true if the stall lights were oriented lower and positioned around the stall rather than a single light source from above. of course, this is assuming the BO has the capacity and funding to redesign the electrical layout of the barn.

I found this perfect summation from nancy ambrosiano, author of Complete Plans for Building Horse Barns Big & Small on stable management:
“Planning for barn lighting is different from regular work-surface lighting, since you have a big equine body in the way of things,” she says. Lighting straight down from above is blocked by the horse’s torso, throwing the stall floor and the horse’s legs and feet into shadow. “Rather than centering a fluorescent fixture over the middle of the stall or grooming area, place lighting at the corners or wall edges, shining inward to light lower-leg focus areas,” she says. (see more at:

you can see the fluorescents running along the aisle. the fans in the center are a nice touch, too.

can i get an amen?! from what i can tell from many threads on COTH, the consensus seems to be to place the long fluorescents above (at least) two parallel stall partitions, thus doing double duty (illuminating the sides of two stalls at once) and covering as much ground as possible. i’d also suggest placing the aisle fluorescents along both long sides of the aisle, to cover more area and illuminate the front of the stall.

i know some of y’all catch shifts doing stall at your barns. any pet peeves about barn lighting, or tips to make cleaning stalls more efficient?


the perfect barn: a squeeze stile

i am smack dab in the middle of a 10-day barn sitting gig at the barn (NSCS) where amchance and i board the derps. you might recall that we’ve been there since february, and it’s been wonderful. the barn is small–only 10 horses. the BO, BO’s hubs, and the rest of the gang are terrific. it’s a tightly knit group of eventers who genuinely enjoy each other’s company. interestingly, the fact that trainers come in to teach once or twice a week–rather than being on-site full time–has also been great. it’s a really quiet and low-stress environment.

anyway, since i’ve been “managing operations” at NSCS, i’ve been thinking a lot about barn/facility design and efficiencies. don’t get me wrong, NSCS is pretty darn perfect. but i’m an improver by nature–always thinking about how to build a better mousetrap.

i’m doing some research on a few of these items in order to expand on them, so i think i’ll start a series featuring some of the things i think contribute to building a better barn (assuming money is unlimited, of course, and building from scratch):

first up, the squeeze stile and its variants. a stile is an arrangement of steps [or posts] that allows people–but not animals–to climb over or through a fence or wall. i think most people are aware of the stile, but may not know what it’s called. for those of us who have foxhunted or evented, a stile may be even more familiar.

and here is a good example of a human stile:
but the type of stile i’m claiming is utterly necessary for an efficient barn is the squeeze stile. here is the simplest iteration. it’s simply a human-sized pass-through.


I am so over latching, unlatching, latching, and wrangling gates and chains when i need to get into and out of a paddock when i need to retrieve a feed pan, or wrangle a hose, or simply smooch my horse.

or there is the Y-shaped squeeze stile. a little more complicated in design, and perhaps a bit less appealing to a curious horse?

V gate

and there is this prefab design, appropriately called the C Gate. (sadly, i can’t find the website again. bad blogger!)

to me, a squeeze stile in every paddock is perhaps the single most significant improvement i would make to any barn. what to do you think? essential, or silly indulgence?