Montana horseman Tim Unzicker designed his barn stalls to be sturdy by using railroad ties.
Story by Kate Bradley Byars • Photography by Ross Hecox
The stalls in Tim Unzicker’s barn often make visitors stop and stare. Made of railroad ties and a rustic metal gate, each stall adds an interesting log cabin look to the barn.
The Roundup, Montana, performance horse trainer saw railroad ties used to make horse stalls in Colorado, and adjusted the design for his own use. A former president of the Montana Reined Cow Horse Futurity, Unzicker specializes in reining and reined cow horses, and coaches non-pro riders. He stalls roughly a dozen horses at his facility.
“I liked that they almost looked like logs,” Unzicker says. “These stalls are 12 by 14 feet. Horses don’t chew on them [because they don’t like the taste of the creosote coating], and if they kick them they are quiet.”
Each square railroad tie is more than 6 inches thick, making driving nails a challenge. Instead, Unzicker used metal bars to stabilize them. Bolting a piece of angle iron vertically at each end, Unzicker stacked the logs from the ground up to a horse’s chest height for the stall fronts. Then he cut the other ties and placed them vertically, running rebar through them to hold them in place.
“On the ends, these are [secured] with angle iron and a slot is cut in it,” he says. “There is a pin where the ties meet, and there is half-inch rebar at every change in angle because you have to cut [the ties] to fit. I layer two ties, and then drill a hole and drive the rebar down into the layers.”
He followed the vertical pieces with additional horizontal ties, thus creating a window for horses to see out.
“Horses are social. I think it makes them happier to look around,” says Unzicker. “I [also] made metal gates that let them see through.”
In the dead of winter, when the temperature reaches well below freezing, Unzicker also found that the railroad ties offer insulation. Only a thin layer of ice, easily broken through by a horse seeking water, forms overnight in water buckets. That is a bonus Unzicker says he hadn’t considered when he decided to use the ties.
Railroad ties are a safe and practical material for stalls. The unique design makes for a functional and appealing barn for Unzicker to work from, whether taking cover from sleet and snow, or getting out of the hot summer sun.