Every horse owner has their perfect horse property in their imagination. The details, of course, will vary from one person to the next. There are different numbers of horses, different activities that are taking place down at your barn, and any number of breeds present. These dreams have one thing in common: You can look out and see your own horse, right there from your house.
Texas has more horses than any other state, and this dream is a popular one. However, if you are searching for your first equestrian property, do you know where to begin? Asking the right questions and doing your research will make your first foray into ownership a smooth and well-prepared ride.
With the advice of the Texas Agricultural Extension and the knowledge of the experts at Chicotsky Real Estate Group at Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, here are the best tips to follow when you’re ready to go after the equestrian property you’ve always dreamed about.
Horses have different fencing requirements than cattle. Barbed wire, even though it helped fence the Wild West in, is unsuitable for horses. This is a common issue when one is making existing pastures safe.
In Texas, properties are likely to have everything from welded wire to pipe fencing. It’s important to evaluate the condition and type of the fencing along with the property. Depending on the number of horses and the type of pasture, you may want to consider the possibility of cross-fencing larger sections. If so, using temporary electric fencing is an option, and you’ll need to evaluate the soil for suitability. Step-in style posts will need soil that can support them, and can’t be inserted where it’s too rocky.
In general, it’s better to work with the existing fencing than to pay to have it installed. If the property has horse-quality fence in place, find out when it was installed, and check the condition. Always keep the safety of your horses in mind, and make sure that fence is tight and strong, has no damaged areas, and is the correct height to keep horses secure. If there are sections that use T-posts, they should be topped with the soft plastic caps that will prevent injury to a horse that strikes the sharp top of the post.
A good rule of thumb is to allow two acres of pasture per horse. Bear in mind, this is actual grazing area. It’s important to assess the ratio of wooded land to actual grass pasture.
You should also evaluate future land usage with an eye to seasonal changes. If you can move horses and rotate your grazing areas, you’ll be able to cut down on the need for additional mowing and maintenance. Rotational grazing will keep down the weeds that infiltrate overgrazed pastures and help reduce the problem of mud and loss of soil in wet seasons.
Keep an eye out for low spots and potential marshy areas and assess how much actual use you’ll get out of them for grazing. The same holds for rocky outcrops. Depending on the location, you could be dealing with springs, river bottom or limestone layers. None of these are negatives in the overall picture, but they will impact your grazing acreage.
Good water is absolutely critical to any type of livestock operation. Many properties in this area will already have a pond in place, but the ideal situation will be to have both a pond and running water. Ponds are great - they’ll provide drinking water and most horses will love to wade in when the weather is warm - but can also be dependent on the amount of rainfall.
During a drought, you don’t want to be put in the position of hauling water. Make sure you have running water with good water pressure that will make filling water troughs or operating automatic waterers feasible. If you have that, you will also be able to hose down horses, set up a wash rack, or just clean things up.
Adequate water pressure would be a minimum of 10 gallons per minute. This is something to evaluate with any well water.
It’s easy to be excited about the potential of an existing barn. Don’t give this just a cursory look - having a good stable set-up will add an immeasurable amount of ease and enjoyment to your equestrian activities.
Ideally, you will have well-sited electricity outlets and hot water. Even in the relatively mild climate of North Texas, having hot water is a feasible luxury in almost any barn. You’ll use it for everything from wash racks to cleaning tack and soaking hooves. If you’ll be doing a lot of show prep and using a wash rack or stall, make sure that the hot water tank is large enough.
On older barns, see what kind of stall flooring you’re working with, and if it’s been replaced. Even with stall mats, it’s important to evaluate what’s beneath. It’s common to have packed clay for stalls in Texas. If this is the case, it may need scraping and repacking.
Barns may have any number of automated features, from stall waterers, horse feeders, guttered stalls, and conveyors for bedding. In newer barns, popular features are feed doors, rubber barn aisle pavers, grooming stalls, and lounge areas - for the people, not the horses. All of these add value to your equestrian lifestyle.
Depending on your breed, you’ll want to check individual stall measurements. 12’ x 12’ is standard, but if you have Warmbloods or larger Hunter/Jumper types, you may prefer stalls that are at least 14’ x 14’.
Take into consideration if there is a tack room, feed room, wash stall, or bathroom. Is there a hay storage area, or is this in a separate building?
Equestrian properties may have multiple types of riding areas.
Whether fully enclosed or just roofed, a covered arena has the power to make your riding a year-round activity - not affected by the weather. Or, you may have an uncovered, but fenced riding ring. It’s essential that they are well-drained and offer safe footing, with as little maintenance as possible.
With any arena footing, check the type and how old it is. Properly done, the arena will have a crushed gravel base for drainage, topped off with anything from sand to artificial footing made from rubber. Consider any maintenance involved and if the equipment will be sold with the property. If you will be dragging the area frequently, you will want to have the right equipment in place to maintain the footing - this will involve a harrow and a tractor.
With the popularity of round pens for natural horsemanship training, they are often part of the package in an equestrian property. Again, footing will be important. Without proper maintenance, there may be a trough worn into the perimeter of the pen. Be sure to consider any new footing or relocation of the pen as part of the budget.
For all, adequate lighting is key to keeping up your activities through the winter. Ideally, it’s good to visit the facility when it’s been raining and after dark. Both of these will alert you to any potential problems with drainage or lighting. Having a way to ride after the too-short winter days absolutely makes a lighted arena worth it.
In addition to the main barn area, there are a number of farm buildings that could be included. Although any of these can be combined in a mix-and-match fashion, it’s important to look at the provisions for each.
Whether buying it or baling it yourself, you’ll still want covered hay storage. Furthermore, you’ll want to consider its location. Although you will probably want to keep some square bales in the barn, bulk hay storage is best when it’s nearby.
Often, hay storage in Texas is done in pole barns. This keeps the hay dry, but accessible. It’s likely that you will be using a combination of square and round bales in the winter; both can be stored this way. A separate hay barn is a major plus for your horse property and also can reduce the fire risk that can be associated with freshly baled hay. Although uncommon, it is possible that hay can self-combust under the right conditions, and a good farm layout will help reduce the risk of a fire spreading.
For larger farms, there is usually a covered building for the storage of tractors, ATV’s, farm trucks, trailers, and other large equipment. The capability to store your horse trailer under cover is often underestimated and will have a big impact on how long it lasts.
Likewise, being able to keep any vehicle, like tractors, under a roof is extremely desirable. Just because equipment was made to be used outdoors does not mean it’s best stored there. This pays off in the long run, as it lasts longer and is more easily maintained.
Being able to dispose of manure efficiently and neatly is a part of stable management. You’ll want to be sure that there is already a system in place, or that you will be able to implement one. The ideal way to deal with stall waste is with a dedicated area that is located away from the high usage areas, but still accessible by tractor.
The storage area itself should be placed where the run-off will not infiltrate groundwater. Depending on the number of horses, an operation may be looking at spreading the composted manure, having it hauled away, or even offered for pickup by area farmers. In any scenario, placement and access are important. If there’s not an existing area dedicated for this feature, be sure to leave room for it.
Roads and Terrain
If you plan on showing or attending other activities that will require trailering out your horses on a regular basis, think about your property access. If you will be pulling a long trailer, make sure that there are no sharp bends or inclines that will make navigating the route difficult. Ideally, you’ll be able to load and unload at a safe distance from any roads, and as close to the barn as possible. If you’ve ever had to chase down a clean horse that is determined to go roll in the mud on the morning of a show, you will appreciate this capability.
Home on the Range
Finally, if there is a house on the property, it should `work in harmony with the horse operation. Even if you’re building the house on the site of an existing farm operation, keep in mind that the proximity of the stables and house to each other is key.
Part of the joy of having horses on your property is being able to enjoy them without a long drive. You’ll also want to have easy access to your barn from your home. Ideally, there will be a paved pathway between the two, so that your route there can avoid mud and snow and also allow you to get there quickly in an emergency.
And, what happens at the barn doesn’t always stay at the barn. If you’ve never had a mudroom before, you’ll appreciate why they’ve been a feature of farms for generations. It will give you a spot to take off your dirty boots, set down that bucket you forgot you were carrying, and leave the horse hair outside the main part of the house.
Equestrian and ranch properties may evoke a rustic sense of the past, but they have actually kept pace with the times. If you are just starting to look at rural properties, or are getting back into the equestrian game after some time off - well, you’re in for some pleasant surprises.
Horse barns and farm life don’t have the same old stables with dusty aisles and cattle guards that you rumble over. Just to whet your appetite, here are some of the newest and most desirable features for the barn, stables, and arena.
There are still outdoor wash racks in use at many farms, and they’re great for a quick rinse after a summer ride. However, interior wash stalls just keep getting better and more efficient.
Any size barn can have a designated wash bay. They’ll have a slip-free floor, drainage, and hot water hook-ups. You’ll be able to continue your show preparations and clean-up even in the winter months. One of the best features in a wash stall is an overhead hose boom system (as you would see in a car wash) that allows you to move freely around your horse without dragging a hose. Cross-ties, storage cubbies, and tankless hot water heaters are also popular enhancements.
Wash stalls are also a big benefit when you’re dealing with soaking hooves, spot-cleaning, or anything else that can involve water or overspray. If it involves cleaning in the winter time, or needs warm water they’re invaluable. Every barn should have one.
Drying Stalls and Solariums
Infrared heat can provide a spa-like experience for horses. When used in drying stalls, the panels provide a warm environment for clipped or young horses to dry out in after visiting the wash rack. These are often combined with a grooming stall set up, where the horse can be put in cross ties and kept clear of the barn aisle.
Taking infrared to the next level are solarium set-ups. These are infrared light arrays that provide the equine athlete with a customized experience that actually targets specific muscle groups. They are moved in fairly close to allow the heat to penetrate. They’re great for warm-up prior to exercise and also for drying and soothing afterward.
A more recent innovation for equines is hydrotherapy spa set-ups. If you have not encountered one yet, they are a tank that is designed like a narrow stall space. The horse walks in, the doors are shut and sealed, and the spa fills with cold saltwater.
Cold salt hydrotherapy has been a proven treatment method for professional operations and rehabilitation veterinarians for some years now, and the systems are now available to the horse-owning public. They reduce cold-hosing time and decrease recovery periods from injury or workouts.
The water provides a cold soak and the jets massage the legs. The units are set up with safety features for a quick release, if needed, and also have anti-rear straps that are used during the treatment sessions.
Lest you think that it’s all for the horses, rider lounge areas have become standard. It’s eminently practical to offer a climate-controlled spot for owners and guests in the stable area.
Common features for lounges are a kitchen area, comfortable seating, and bathroom access. There is no reason to not include a shower space and sink when there is already plumbing for a wash stall in the stable. A well-appointed lounge space can make it easy to spend as much time as you’d like at the barn.
A kitchen set-up makes it easy to store vaccines, medication, and other items in the refrigerator - like apples and carrots. Or, sodas and wine.
As plumbing has become essential to the barn area, it is also common to find a laundry facility that can be dedicated to the sort of thing that should never go into the home laundry. A commercial grade washer is a great feature for taking care of polo bandages, sweaty riding clothes, and stable rags.
If the property has a covered arena, it is standard to have a viewing window that looks out to the ring area. For anyone who seriously entertained the idea of living at the barn as a kid, a good lounge set-up makes it darned near possible.
Just when you think that stall design couldn’t change much, there are new innovations. The best of these make daily stable chores easier, while improving stall time for the horse.
Integrated hay and feed systems are new. Instead of the wall unit design that places the hay manger over the feed pan, these are placed on the floor and raise the food to a correct comfortable height for the horse. These are now made from horse-proof polycarbonate plastic, so there aren’t sharp edges or rust to worry about.
Also for feeding ease, there are swing-out doors that allow you to fill and retrieve feed and water buckets from the aisle. These are an extremely efficient way to deal with several horses at feeding time.
The latest upgrade available in this category is automated feeder systems. Intended for horses spending significant time in their stalls, automated feeders dispense grain and pelleted food in small portions throughout the day. Like most of the latest stable upgrades, these are based on sound research. Slow and gradual feeding matches the natural equine metabolism, reducing colic risk and stable vices. Stalls equipped with “slow” hay feeders also address this issue. Rather than the usual hay net or barred hay manger, these also keep the forage at a natural grazing level and match the pace of normal grazing, while cutting down on waste.
Down at the ground level, the most luxurious, but still practical, development in stall mats is a pillow style that incorporates a resilient mixture of foam sandwiched between two rubber mats, This is sealed at the edges. These beds can replace up to 6 inches of shavings per stall. These have been used in Germany for some time, and their distribution is new to the United States.
The spidery contraptions that you used to see outside barns and arenas have been upgraded and replaced with enclosed tracks that are superior in their safety features. It’s possible that you may have seen one from the exterior, without realizing what the structure was.
The latest style of exercisers use gates between the horses to move them forward, rather than tying the horse to anything. The circular track is enclosed on both sides. In Texas, these structures can be partially roofed for protection from sun and weather, or placed totally indoors. They’ll use about the same square footage as most round pens.
Aquatic exercisers are also becoming popular. There are two designs that you may encounter on well-equipped equestrian properties in this part of the country.
The first type is more like a standard pool, with either a circular or a straight layout, and a ramp to enter. They’re deep enough for horses to actually swim in, while the handler supervises from the adjacent walkway. These work on the same principle that aqua-aerobic classes utilize for people - increased resistance. They help exercise equines without adding additional weight-bearing stress on the legs, and they enhance mobility. These are superb for rehabilitation and therapeutic use, as well as exercise.
The second type of aquatic exerciser is an innovation that is based on the traditional round exerciser set-up. Just like the tracked exercisers described above, these push the horse through a water-filled track with moving gates. The water is just deep enough to provide resistance, at shoulder height, but is not deep enough to swim in. This is a relatively new design, rapidly gaining in popularity.
Not yet a standard, but something new and desirable are equine tornado shelters. In our area, these are not impractical. Designed to FEMA “Safe Room” specifications, they can accommodate any number of horses in a compact arrangement that is similar to a slant-load trailer. With the frequent weather alerts in the D/FW Metroplex area, these are a novel idea, but will assuredly become more common.
Look for a design that makes cleaning stalls faster and easier. Modern barns incorporate an aisle width that allows equipment to be driven down the aisle to pick up soiled bedding and to drop off new shavings. The stall waste can be thrown directly into the collection trailer, and then transported to the composting area.
Manure management is part of a well-designed equestrian facility. The most modern and desirable will employ a central collection area that is easily accessible from the stables. Depending on the size of the operation, the holding area will handle up to several months worth of manure and bedding, which will age out and decrease down into valuable compost. A good set-up will have at least 3 bays for each phase of aging compost.
A composting shed is an excellent advantage for any farm - it cuts down on odor, run-off, and the end product can be used elsewhere on the property for fertilizer, or even sold off to local farmers. They’re not part of the immediate stable set-up, so inquire about this feature while you’re visiting properties with your real estate agent.
These have moved beyond dusty open rings, and have become outright showplaces, on the best farms. An enclosed indoor is essential to anyone who wishes to continue with their showing schedule through the winter months, or, indeed, to keep up with their general training and riding program.
Covered arenas have somewhat standardized dimensions that will correspond to competition standards. The minimum size will be about 60’ x 100’. Standard size competition arenas are approximately 100’ x 200’. They can, and do, get even larger.
For dressage rings, the dimensions are defined as 20 meters by 40 meters, or 20 meters by 60 meters. These are more rigid dimensions, due to the precise nature of the sport.
The arena itself can be fully enclosed with climate controlled features, or merely roofed. Top-of-the-line facilities will incorporate some of the newest innovations. These can range from the actual arena footing up to overhead air handling and lighting.
The most basic footing in Texas is sand. It’s widely available and easy to replace. The newest and most advanced footing options will include a mixture of synthetic and natural for maximum protection of legs and joints. The latest trend is to use additives, normally a blend of geotextile fabric, rubber, and wood chips, to a sand base, creating a footing that will resist compaction, require less arena watering to reduce dust, and help prevent injuries.
As for the rest of the arena, wishlist items will always include mirrors, an invaluable training aid. Even these have new innovations - the latest are remote-controlled blinds that can be dropped down to cover the reflections, as needed.
Well-designed indoor facilities will address the issue of lighting and avoid shadows in the corners with efficient LED fixtures. High bay lights have been improved dramatically and now start quickly in cold weather, while giving a more natural light and atmosphere to work under. At this point in time, there is really no reason to continue using halide or vapor lights - especially for activities that require strong lighting without deep shadows, such as cutting, roping, or jumping.
Ventilation has also improved. Ceiling fans are larger, quieter, more efficient, and can reduce the temperature up to 10 degrees in indoor arenas. It’s not unusual to see facilities using fans with wingspans of up to 24 feet. They can redistribute heat in the winter, keep moisture and humidity down year-round, and in general, keep man and beast much more comfortable.
We touched on viewing areas earlier, but those off the arena have evolved into real lounge spaces for guests. The best designs allow visitors to watch from a climate-controlled area. Common features? How about fireplaces, leather furniture, a kitchen area, restrooms, closed-circuit TV, Wi-Fi access, and the central audio controls for the arena stereo system? All are possible and available in the newer riding arenas.
Outdoor arenas have also improved with better footing material, brighter lights, and improved drainage. A desirable upgrade here is an arena cover. These are similar to the infield covers that are rolled out for rain delays, and are custom-sized for the ring. They can do wonders for keeping the footing in place and usable during the rainy season.
Exterior Paddock Areas
The introduction of mud control grids has been rather revolutionary for these adjacent, high-traffic areas. These are added to the existing soil in a flush layer slightly below the normal grade, then re-covered. They allow drainage, while reducing mud thorough stabilizing the soil. A property installed grid can completely transform a turn-out paddock or other areas that tend to get churned up around barn entrances. They are efficient in stabilizing erosion, as well. This is a feature that may not be obvious to the naked eye, but it is a definite plus for any horse facility.
Part of the joy of hunting for your new ranch or equestrian property is seeing the possibilities and getting excited about the sort of goals you’ll be able to accomplish. It’s hard to keep up with all the latest innovations and developments in horse facilities, all while weighing out the other important decisions that accompany a farm or ranch purchase.
At the Chicotsky Real Estate Group are here to help. From locating the properties that will meet your needs, to acquainting you with the ins and outs of the Metroplex equestrian communities, we can make your property-buying experience as easy as possible. You’ll be well-informed and ready to focus on your future plans. Call our Fort Worth Realtor today.
Working the Numbers
Having the right real estate agent will be invaluable as you search for the right equestrian property. If it’s the first time you’ve looked in the area, you’ll likely be overwhelmed with the choices. Each area around the Metroplex will have something different to offer. Depending on your discipline, you may wish to be closer to arenas or trail riding. The Chicotsky Real Estate Group knows this area very well and will be able to help you narrow down your choices.
If you haven’t lived in the country, you’ll be looking at options like well water and septic tanks, as well as pasture grasses. It can be overwhelming to ponder what will be needed for property insurance and inspections. A real estate agent who is experienced in equestrian and rural properties will be able to guide you through the process and find the right professionals to work with your dream.
Farm financing is also different, and the Chicotsky Real Estate Group has the knowledge and connections to make your purchase go as smoothly as possible. They are equipped to help you with all your questions, and their team problem-solving approach will provide solutions, no matter what the context. When you’re ready to explore the possibilities of finding your dream equestrian properties, call us.