For many of us it’s a lifetime dream to build our own yard from scratch but what is the reality of taking on such a massive project? Event riders Angus Smales and Andrew James both built and moved into their own yards last year and we thought we’d ask them about their reasoning behind the choices they made and whether they are pleased with the results. A very worthwhile read if you’ve ever considered designing and building your own yard…
Angus Smales: Barn on top of a hill
Angus chose to build a single large barn with all the stables, tack rooms, wash bays and even lorry parking under the one roof. “The land is on top of a hill which would’ve made an outside yard unpleasant in the winter, everything would be cold and wet and unbearable for our staff and horses. All the open sides face north as predominantly the weather blows up from the south in the UK”.
“My old yard was a barn system too which I liked but we had lots of other storage barns across the site which meant lots of handballing hay & feed etc around and it was a hike to the muck heap meaning a lot of work for my staff. I now have a muck trailer dug into a pit (so no more pushing heavy barrows up ramps for our head girl Whizz) right next to the stables which is taken away when full so no muck is stored onsite – a big consideration for planning & infrastructure”
“Because I wanted to be able to drive the big lorry fully in from the north side of the barn it’s much higher than typical barns, the lowest point is 2.4m above the tops of the stables. This also means it’s extra light and airy which is great for the horses’ wellbeing. Having the lorry inside means loading the lorry in the rain and dark is no longer an issue when we set off at 4am for events, the horses and kit all stay dry for when we arrive. The only thing not under cover is the horse walker but it’s rare we really need to put the horses on it in the rain.
“The walk ways between stables are wide enough to drive a tractor through and the centrally placed tack room is huge meaning there’s enough room to build storage above or even a small staff room”.
The barn is at the end of the driveway on the flattest part of the land with an arena behind it designed for dressage more than jumping, it’s 60 x 20 with no surrounding fence – “I wanted it to be exactly the same size as I compete in, it can be easy to school in a 25m wide arena with sides at home but then get to an event and suddenly the horse has less space and nothing to lean out onto”. The surface is a fibre sand rubber mix which Angus was confident would work well from experience.
“Regarding the stable design, I didn’t research much as I knew what I wanted but I did go and look at other people’s stables to see what they were like. The stables I chose look fantastic once they were up but I wish I’d looked into it more as the craftsmanship of them wasn’t as good as I expected. Building them myself I found a lot of the pieces needed to be recut as they were a couple of millimetres out which was very frustrating and took 3 times longer to assemble.”
Angus saved a lot of money by doing a lot of the work himself, he now considers himself a fully qualified digger driver, carpenter & builder ;) but left the arena to experts. “I knew this was the one thing which I couldn’t afford to not get right as we’re all so reliant on our arenas. I fully believe the best surface for a horse to jump is on grass so I have left a flat area especially for jumping and can look after the arena surface by only jumping on it when really necessary.”
“One thing I’ve really thought about was keeping the yard clean & dry so we have small walled areas around all the taps with corner drains. Where possible everything is chucked in to the central drains under the taps & not over a long drain you often see down the middle of yards. The dry bays, mostly for grooming and tacking up, have a smooth concrete surface so the farrier can see the hoof on a truly flat surface”.
“Finally we put the paddocks up using wooden posts and mains electric fencing, it’s quick and easy and SO much cheaper than wooden rails. When we build the house we might put up more post and rail along the garden side but I’ve spent too much time in the past fixing wooden fencing and once they’ve had a zap from the mains electric we have no trouble with them breaking through the electric so it’s working really well. I’d also like a lunging arena to protect my arena surface but this is after the house on the list”.
Andrew James: Low lying courtyard style stables
Andrew by contrast built his own yard on a low lying sheltered piece of land and having been used to an outside courtyard style, he wanted to replicate this. “I wanted my horses to have their heads out in the fresh air and sunshine and see each other and what’s going on around them. The yard is in 3 main blocks so we have a main entrance on the long side with corner exits to the arena and muck trailer. The horse walker is in the middle of the grass and the wash bays / tack rooms and feed store all central on the other long side. This way no matter what job we are doing we can keep an eye on any using on the walker”.
“Similar to Angus, our yard is at the end of a long driveway making the stables less visible and we can see who is coming in from the road plus you don’t hear the noise of any traffic. The paddocks are also post and mains electric roping although there are 2 railed paddocks for the mare and foal and the naughty escaping shetlands! Each paddock is ¾ acre but the ones along the drive are larger for those who are turned out in pairs. All paddocks have easy access onto the central walk way and can all be seen from the drive and intended site for the house”.
Andrew also did a lot of the work himself with help from skilled family members and saving costs in one area meant more to spend on other things. “The stables company we used were fantastic, they came on time, finished on time and the stables look wonderful, fittings work well and it was completely stress free”.
“Basic costs of road surveys, levelling, drainage, installing water and electric were all more than expected and something to consider, the further away from the road you want them the more it costs for the basic infrastructure before you even start building what you can see. We have high hedges and woods all around us so the council wanted us to plant more trees within a year to keep it in tune with surroundings and these do look lovely down the drive. The council were very accommodating and supportive of the build. I’ve been running my business for over 10 years in this county so they knew it was viable and wanted to keep me here. Once the road surveys and the access site from the road had been agreed the rest of the planning was relatively easy. Overall it has cost approximately 20% more than we’d initially hoped as we didn’t consider a lot of the above, good drainage is essential and costs a lot!”
Similar to Angus, Andrew gets their muck removed by a local farmer which reduces cost as there are a lot of legal considerations with storing muck. Andrew also selected a sand fibre mix for the arena but opted to build the arena themselves. “We contracted a digger driver for some bits but otherwise did it ourselves. We are really happy with the surface, it has frozen a couple of times on very cold days but it rides very well. We’ve had a few jumping clinics now and it’s holding up well which is great”.
A big thank you to Angus and Andrew for taking time to share their experiences with us. Clearly a lot of time, effort and money goes in to building a yard from scratch but the results are well worth it if you get it right. From what they’ve both told us, do your research, have a nose at other yards for inspiration, do what you can do yourself to cut costs, but be realistic about what you can do yourself and expect to go over budget….oh and good drainage is essential!
If you’ve built your own yard from scratch, we’d love to hear your experience too!