Horsing Around


Lucky Brown is lucky indeed. Life is good for the two horses that share this custom-built barn in Placer County.

The 7-year-old Holsteiner lives in an elegant, 2,600-square-foot custom-built barn, nestled between gently rolling hills in placid Placer County. Along with his stablemate, a 10-year-old chestnut thoroughbred named Rise ’N Shine, he is living the equine version of the good life.

Their owner, Julie Ridgeway, recently built the barn at the edge of the 10-acre property where she lives with her husband, Michael, and their two small children.

Ridgeway, a tax and investment consultant who began riding when she was a little girl, had been stabling her horses when she decided to move them closer to home. “I thought it would be fun for the kids,” she explains. “I wanted them to be able to walk down the driveway and feed carrots and apples to the horses.”
But she didn’t want a dirty, smelly, dirt-floored, prefab barn.

So she came up with a design for a two-story, Spanish-style structure that is decidedly unbarnlike in appearance. With its fawn-colored stucco exterior, red-tile roof, custom-made double front doors and wrought-iron light fixtures, it takes its architectural cues from the main house. Says Ridgeway: “I wanted the barn to coexist with the house and be in harmony with the environment—not look like an afterthought.”

A lot of thought went into the barn’s gleaming interior. On the ground floor, there are four stalls (two remain empty until Ridgeway’s children are old enough to get their own horses), a spacious grooming area, a tack room (complete with a tiny kitchen) and a storage area for grain and hay. Upstairs, a comfortable, loftlike sitting room with a small fridge and bar provides a place for Ridgeway to relax and entertain friends.

The building has exquisite architectural detailing: a vaulted ceiling paneled in stained tongue-in-groove pine, wood truss beams and a stamped-concrete floor in a herringbone-brick pattern. (Designer Nikke Van Derhedyt-Sosnick helped with the interiors.) There’s heating and air conditioning, an integrated sound system, a bathroom with a shower constructed of tumbled stone with marble inlay, and custom cabinets and limestone countertops throughout the barn.

The horses have it good, too. Transom windows flood the stalls with light, and the stall walls are covered in white-pine paneling. Sharp-looking sliding stall doors were custom-made by a firm in Kentucky that specializes in high-end barns. Outside each stall hangs a handmade iron hook for the horse’s halter and rope. The grooming area, large enough to handle both horses at one time, has hot and cold running water and cushy rubber pavers underfoot.

Ridgeway admits that, perhaps, the beauty of the barn is wasted on the horses. “I’m sure they’d be just as happy in a big, open green field,” she says, “but I enjoy seeing them in this pretty environment.”

It takes a small army to keep the barn looking pristine. Ridgeway employs a groom, a handyman and someone to clean out the stalls.

Ridgeway, who grew up in Northern California, has had a lifelong love affair with horses. She got a pony at the age of 5, and two years later her father bought her a horse. She learned to ride English when she was 7 and started jumping competitively at 10.

“I didn’t show much as a child,” she says. “Mostly, I was just riding in the great outdoors.”
About 10 years ago, she began competing again—this time, as a way to achieve balance in her busy life. Although her husband, a trauma surgeon, doesn’t ride, “he thinks it’s great that I’m passionate about horses,” she says. “He loves coming down to the barn with the kids—they’ll play here all morning.”

The barn is part of a mini equestrian complex, with two attached paddocks, three detached turnout paddocks where the horses can stretch their legs and a large, covered outdoor arena with a jump course where Ridgeway exercises the horses and readies them for competition. (Both animals compete in the hunter division at equestrian events throughout California.) The ground is covered in a mixture of sand and ground-up tennis shoes to cushion their joints and legs. Outdoor amenities include stereo speakers and lights, so Ridgeway can practice at night.

Working with landscape architect David Gibson, Ridgeway created a lush backdrop for the stable, with decomposed-granite pathways and plantings of roses, boxwoods, olive trees and rosemary. Natural rock outcroppings surround a limestone fountain outside the barn door.

Located at the end of the driveway, the barn is just a short walk or drive from the main house. “It’s nice to have my horses right here in my back yard,” says Ridgeway. “I never get tired of it.” How much time does she spend here? “Not enough,” she says with a laugh.