Lori De Pucci
Realtor® | Phoenix Award Recipient | Top Sales Associate

It’s Time to Exit the Building

By Holly Davis


When’s the last time you walked through a door? Just a few minutes ago? Of course.


Anything that common in our life generally gets overlooked. Yet, doors are critically important, providing access from one side of a barrier to the other. Just stop a moment and think:


Feed in, horses out… cold out, warmth in… fire in, people and horses out.


Wait. Did I say fire?


When the worst of the worst happens, such as the horrific experience of Boyd Martin, Phillip Dutton and the horses in the barn that night, doorways become a matter of life and death, an exit you seek while burning rafters are crashing down and smoke overwhelms you. How does your barn layout stack up to the following criteria?
  1. No spot within the building may be further than 75 feet from the nearest exit.
  2. That exit must be large enough for the largest living creature housed within to exit. (So if you have graduated to elephant keeper, you have more than larger shovels to buy.)
  3. There must be a minimum of two of those exits total per building.
  4. No dead ends.
  5. Aisles a minimum of 10 feet for stalls only on one side, 12 feet if you have stalls on both.


Seventy-five feet is an extremely long way to travel in a fire, so if your barn is breaking that rule, I have to strongly recommend that you remedy it, to protect fire fighters, you, and your horses.


Let’s take a 14-stall barn size as an example. It has seven stalls in a row on one side, and on the other, four stalls, plus a 12 x 12 feed room and a 12 x 24 tack room. That’s 84 feet in length. While a center stall is within limit of the 75 feet (42 feet to either end of the building) if one of your two exits are blocked, you may be left with 70-80 feet to travel from a stall next to the blockage to the other end of the building. In any case, the more exits the better, so here are a few ways you can modify an existing barn to give you and your horses a safer haven.
  1. Add exterior doors to one or both of the two center stalls. Minimal cost, but still a little difficult functionally in a fire.
  2. If you can do without one or both of those stalls, knock them out completely to give yourself a grooming and/or wash stall. Add regular exterior doors, or open up the whole thing with breezeway doors to create a cross aisle for additional convenience, light and ventilation.
  3. Add exterior doors to every stall, so you never have to go further than a few feet inside to grab a horse. Be sure to have a supply of quickly-accessible halters outside the barn.
Ultimately, my colleagues and I are educated horse owners and barn and travel product specialists, but for the real deal, call your local Fire Marshal and invite him or her out for a farm review. They’re not the enemy, they won’t shut you down or fine you. But they will provide site-specific guidance as to things you can do to improved safety, and they’ll also then have your farm in their records, with the best access for water, location of animals, any apartments on site, etc. For more guidance on this topic, including how to best prepare for such a visit, please don’t hesitate to contact us at always@horse-first.com. We have writings on those topics, as well as barn safety tips that we’re happy to share.


Holly Davis is co-founder of Horse First, a safety-oriented product specialist and retailer for MDBarnmaster, Jamco trailers, and Polylast horse flooring. Many lifetimes ago she was a certified instructor, and since then has made her way through a number of states and sports before ending on eventing and the attempt of good dressage. Currently her non-work hours are spent expanding her semi-retired Oldenburg’s comfort zone beyond the little white fences to embrace trail riding in Milton, GA. She invites you to contact her at holly@horse-first.com for free consultation, before building or renovating a farm, or selecting a horse trailer.

Pictured here is a darn-near-fireproof MDBarnmaster, which allowed this barn owner to go with just windows (and beautiful landscaping!) and still feel pretty safe about the choice. However, there are many emergencies other than fire where an outside door is handy. So a better option may have been dutch doors that are used only in an emergency, with the tops left open to keep this gorgeous vista.