By Deborah Donohue Photography by Roger Wade
When a California couple with a rich ranching pedigree and a devotion to horses decided to put down new family roots in southwestern Montana, they found the ideal property—actually two historical ranches from the 1800s, both steeped in history. The ranches were adjacent to one another and were bordered on several sides by Forest Service land. Both had water and breathtaking views of the Bridger Mountains, and were visited regularly by a menagerie of wildlife, including herds of majestic elk. The property met practical requirements as well: not too isolated, not too high altitude, and easy access.
Along with their plans for the main residence, guesthouses and a cabin, the family longed for the pleasure of year-round riding, and the varied equestrian events that they had enjoyed throughout the temperate seasons of the sunshine state. They knew the Montana climate could be formidable in winter; a simple indoor arena would not fit the bill. No cold bleacher seats and dusty stale air! They dreamt of a state of the art equestrian facility combined with a stylish space for entertaining, along with living quarters that could be used to accommodate overflow houseguests or the ranch summer staff. It would be a space in which both horses and humans were comfortable and safe, with elegant—yet ranch appropriate—surroundings. The family put their heads together, brainstorming with Montana’s renowned Locati Architects, and SBC Builders. The result is a dramatically designed structure that allows the family to continue a multitude of equestrian activities and hosted events year round, comfortably and in high style.
One of the challenges was to make the arena’s sophisticated steel structural design appear from the outside as though it had been standing in place for many decades. This feat was accomplished by using reclaimed materials from the antique agricultural buildings on the original ranches, and by incorporating their iconic shapes within the larger structures. For instance, the outside of the modern arena is cladded in siding from the repurposed wood from a grain bin that once stood there—a gracious nod to history.
The arena itself is a mechanical marvel, with attention to detail that starts from the ground up. According to builder Jamie Bottcher, the dustless arena footing is a magical mix (specified by horse experts) containing mineral oil and other components that keep it continually moist. There is also an overhead irrigation system in the ceiling that can sprinkle the footing if more moisture is desired.
More evidence of the innovative design appears in the seamless melding of the various rooms and areas of the arena structure, each serving its own purpose, while being part of the larger picture. A brilliant example is the elevated viewing/dining area adjoining the arena itself. A nearby commercial kitchen serves the dining area that seats fourteen for a sit down dinner, and another five at the bar, all overlooking the action in the arena below.
The horses’ stables are a remarkable blend of beauty and function. Eight individual stalls each open to their own outdoor run, which in turn opens onto an expansive pasture/turn out field. Hay storage and a veterinary treatment area are nearby. Stalls are an artisanal mix of ironwork forged by a local blacksmith and stained Douglas Fir panels that can be individually replaced if a horse happens to kick one out. The stall isle is exposed aggregate concrete, as regular concrete would be quickly destroyed by the horses’ hooves. A spiral duct system ensures not only cooling and heating as needed, but an air exchange system-ensuring a breath of fresh air for the horses.
Human sleeping arrangements in the arena are bunkroom style. Bunks are of reclaimed timber. Walls and ceilings are two-coat hand troweled plaster. A neutral color palette throughout, along with the use of indigenous materials keeps the cozy ranch feeling authentic. The powder room is a modern interpretation of classic bunkroom style, with a trough sink. A full shower and toilette are beyond to the right, private, efficient and accessible.
The arena’s charm—beyond the obvious amenities in such close proximity to the equestrian area—is created by the blending of old and new. The patina of its cedar shake shingles, copper roof, and antique, repurposed wooden siding all belie the modernity of its interior. Both rugged and refined in turn, Running Elk arena is an inspiration in all seasons.
Locati Architects & Interiors, Project Architect-Kyle Tage, www.locatiarchitects.com
SBC, Inc., Jamie Bottcher, Chad Bottcher, www.sbconstruction.com
Locati Architects & Interiors, Amanda Heys, www.locatiarchitects.com
Click through the slides to see rest of the images of Running Elk!