By Kim F Miller
When it comes to stall flooring, young barn builder Emma Whillans knew what she wanted before she knew what it was: a surface with no cracks or gaps between mats. Even at 23, she’d spent enough hours hauling traditional mats in and out of stalls for cleaning, and inhaling ammonia odors from urine accumulation underneath them, to know they wouldn’t do at her own facility in the Wellington, Florida area’s Loxahatchee.
The notebook she kept while working for high-end hunter/jumper trainers and lesson programs tracked barn details she liked and didn’t like. The idea of mattresses topped her “like” list for reasons of safety, comfort, lower maintenance, labor and shavings costs and cleaner stable air. The only problem was that she didn’t know they existed. Online searches and visits to other barns led to “feeling defeated” as she began her search. That’s when Pinterest came to the rescue, popping up an image of the ComfortStall Orthopedic Sealed Flooring System.
It was love at first sight. “When I saw that flat surface of rubber, I knew that’s what I needed,” Emma explains. “No matter what happens, I knew I had to put that in the budget.”
The first of ComfortStall’s three layers is a soft, yet durable top cover that is sealed to the stall walls, preventing urine from seeping between mats and accumulating below. Underneath that is patented therapeutic foam with stability and give to support joint health and eliminate the need for deep shavings as cushion. Only enough bedding to absorb urine is required.
Lower Costs & Higher Appeal
Although Emma still likes to use shavings in part of the stalls, her hunch that ComfortStall would lead to substantially reduced bedding and maintenance costs has already proven true. The Whillans Equine team broke ground on what had been a five-acre nursery on Christmas Eve of last year. On May 1, Emma had five boarders. The facility didn’t officially open until July 1, but by July’s end she had eight of her 16 ComfortStall stalls filled. Their minimal shavings and cleaning requirements are already benefitting the stable owner’s carefully managed bottom line.
On a more personal level, Emma loves ComfortStall’s contribution to clean stable air. Less shavings means less dust, which is great for her horses and for her fiancé, who has asthma. Meanwhile, the horses are expressing their excitement by snoozing more. “A few of my boarders say they’ve never seen their horses nap and sleep so much!” (Emerging research on the benefits of sleep for horses indicate that ample sleep and REM sleep are as important for horses’ mental and physical health as they are for people.)
The innovative flooring is a strong selling point for prospective boarders, Emma asserts. “I strive to be a very safe facility, and this separates me from other boarding facilities. When somebody comes by and sees our vinyl Cenflex fencing and ComfortStall flooring, they say this is definitely the barn to be at.”
An “H” shaped concrete block barn is crack-proof and built to withstand the region’s occasional hurricanes. “I find it odd-funny that people won’t build a wood structure here for their home, but they will build a wooden barn,” says a mystified Emma.
Design for ventilation and safe, efficient horse handling, Tuff & Gusty marine-grade fans, a 200’ by 250’ silica sand arena and easy access to 800 acres of trail riding in an adjacent reserve are additional amenities that reflect Emma’s commitment to healthy, safe horsekeeping. An insulated metal roof has windows to vent rising hot air, and the concrete construction helps mitigate Florida summer temperatures that can be dangerously high.
DIY & Dreams Fulfilled
Emma is grateful that her contractor Marty Knapp recommended concrete slab foundation for the barn, and for the DIY-ability of the ComfortStall installation. The first stall took about two hours as Emma, her mother and fiancé studied the instructions and the space. Pre-drilling the holes where the top cover is secured to the wall eased the process and subsequent stalls required only 30 to 45 minutes each. Emma’s fiancé is a property manager with some construction experience, but otherwise the trio were newcomers flooring installations. Still they found the process easy and another big cost saver to do it themselves.
Opening Whillans Equine to boarders, training clientele and those seeking a high-quality lesson program is a dream come true for Emma. Throughout her junior and brief amateur career before turning professional at 19, she attained impressive accomplishments on the hunter/jumper show circuit, at home and in Europe. The higher she rose on the intensely competitive circuit, the more she missed the family atmosphere of her earlier riding days. In Whillans Equine, she plans to merge top flight horsemanship and training with prioritizing the family atmosphere. “It’s tricky to do,” she acknowledges.
Designing a barn around the horse’s safety and comfort and affordable horse keeping is a great first step.