Horses are outdoor creatures. Frequently, however, they’re living indoor lives. And while some horses will let you know they really prefer the sheltered experience — we’ve all known that horse who demands to be returned to his stall the moment a cloud appears in the sky — the fact is, their physiology is still designed for wide open spaces. They require motion, fresh air, and natural light.
Natural light is superior to electric light for a number of reasons, and its effects on both horses and humans is well-documented. Exposure to unfiltered natural light allows the development of Vitamin D, a pro-hormone synthesized through skin exposure, which supports the body’s absorption of important minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. If you’re spending any time analyzing the nutrition levels of your horse’s diet, from hay to sweet feed, you know how essential the right balances of calcium and phosphorus are to the mix. Vitamin D has to fit into that equation. Your horse’s skin, coat, teeth, and bones will all benefit from sunlight.
And while humans can absorb enough sunlight to keep them in Vitamin D for weeks in just a matter of minutes, horses require significantly more light to get through the barriers of hair and chemical residue (from fly sprays, polishes, shampoos, etc.). If your horse isn’t spending the day in a pasture, you definitely want to find a way to get some sun on his back in the barn.
So how do you incorporate natural light into your barn design? There are a number of techniques architects use to welcome sunlight inside, while still taking steps to prevent the resulting rise in temperature. Here are just a few:
Translucent ceiling panels: Alternating a few translucent polycarbonate or acrylic panels with traditional roofing is a great way to increase natural lighting in your barn. Or run them as a skylight along the ridge of your roofline.
Translucent wall panels: You can also add them to the walls of open spaces such as your arena to increase natural lighting – a great energy saver – as in this private farm’s magnificently lit indoor arena.
Roll-up doors: Get protection from the weather with the option for natural light and air-flow with roll-up doors along your indoor arena walls, as we did with Deviere Farm. The garage-style doors are designed to fit the elegant facility, while turning an indoor arena into a covered arena on fine days, giving riders the best of both worlds.
Open windows: If you can take off the bars and provide a window your horse can stick his head out of, you’re adding light both to the barn and to his body – a huge health benefit.
Prepare for heat build-up concerns by putting your translucent panels and windows in places that can expect some shade in the most intense summer sunlight. While windows can be shuttered and roll-up doors can be closed against hot sunshine, ceiling panels in exposed sunlight in hot climates can increase your barn’s temperature. Plan for additional airflow from fans or windows if you’re waiting for some shade trees to grow up!
Adding natural light to your barn isn’t just good for you and your horses — it’s good for your bank account and the planet, too! Save the energy costs you’re racking up with expensive lighting systems (especially in indoor arenas) with smart planning for the future. It’s a bright idea all around.