Horse Health

A Greener Shade of Verde

April 22, 2010

The Weather Channel’s Dr. Anna Marie creates a haven for her American Quarter Horses.

Anna Marie Chwastiak came up with the idea of “greenovation,” converting the place from an energy-using property to an energy-producing property.

By Larri Jo Starkey in America’s Horse

Dr. Anna Marie Chwastiak, known for her “Forecast for Health” reports on the Weather Channel has always had a passion for Quarter Horses.

After a news segment she completed with Thoroughbred Smarty Jones comparing the athleticism of equine athletes and professional football players, Anna Marie bought her first Quarter Horses, a little red dun, RR Zans Shaker, and a bay gelding, Poco Quarter Note. She didn’t have a barn, so she boarded her horses in different facilities in Maryland. But because of her work with The Weather Channel, she was often in the southeast, especially in Florida, where she was and still is involved in the Black Stallion Literacy Project.

A friend and former president of the Black Stallion board, Larry Bramblett, took Anna Marie on a ride through Florida’s Ocala National Forest. As Anna Marie and Larry emerged from a cypress-lined trail into the light, right across the road, Anna Marie saw a house, an old 1970s ranch-style house.

It was for sale.

“It stuck in my heart,” she says, and she asked a real-estate agent to show it to her. He opened the doors to 1970s shag carpeting, 1970s discount catalog drapes and 1970s plastic lattice framing the entry.

“As I’m thinking ‘No way,’ the agent was undoing the drapes to the picture window out back.”

The view sold her. A few negotiations later, the place was hers – along with its shag carpet, catalog drapes and ugly plastic lattice – and its rundown barn with 23 acres butting up to Ocala National Park.

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“When we bought this property, people were laughing at us. My fiancé, Todd, is from New Jersey, and I’m from outside Philadelphia. They said we were Zsa Zsa Gabor and Eddie Albert from the good ol’ TV show ‘Green Acres.’”

Anna Marie promptly dubbed the place Terra Verde, which means “Green Land” or “Green Acres.” The entire place was a 1970s energy-sucking drain, and Anna Marie had hitched her wagon to the green train. She came up with the idea of “greenovation,” converting the place from an energy-using property to an energy-producing property.

She started with the barn, of course.

“I don’t think a horse had been in here since the 1990s,” Anna Marie says. “We went ahead and poured a concrete slab to make it more sanitary.”

She introduced ventilation slats between stalls, insulation and exhaust fans to prevent mold and mildew in the tack and feed rooms, and fans to cool everything. A new aluminum roof of post-consumer recycled aluminum went up on top of a new truss system of borate-treated Southern pine that should last 40 years or more.

Ultra-efficient LED lighting and solar panels on the roof complete the “greening up” project. Dr. Anna Marie is also planning to install two vertical axis wind turbines on the barn. Each one will generate about 2 kilowatts of energy for the barn and house.

After the horse barn renovations were well under way and “Rain” and “Poco” were ensconced in warm, well-ventilated stalls, Anna Marie turned her attention to her house. With the help of Orlando-based designer Jim Lucia, the goal was to transform a very “Brady-looking” structure into an eco-friendly and contemporary home. The first step was installing double-pane energy-efficient windows, spraying insulation into the attic and filling the home’s concrete blocks with Core-Fill.

Next was a geothermal heating and cooling system. Five trenches went 6 feet underground, spreading out from the house in a palm shape, using the earth’s constant temperature to heat and cool the house. From there, every decision has been made with health and “greening” in mind.

“I’m not a contractor; I’m not an expert,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of great people helping me do the research. I don’t expect people to do everything we’ve done. We’ve had some great green partners, but if someone is just looking for paint or cabinetry, they might consider a greener alternative like we used.”

Anna Marie has been her own project manager, and she confesses that sometimes Terra Verde turns into Terror Verde. But when that happens, Todd – always her best adviser – tells her to saddle up and hit the forest.

To read more about Dr. Anna Marie, check out the May America’s Horse, a special issue geared to recreational riders. If you’re not an AQHA member, become one today and start receiving this magazine as just one of your member benefits.

Tips from AQHA’s Stewards for Trails, Education and Partnerships, sponsored by Tractor Supply Co.:

  • Mower belts - Utilizing a banded belt (two or more belts connected with a common backing) on a multi-groove will give you one and a half to two times the horsepower as two individual belts.
  • Mower blades - Dull blades are difficult to push through the grass, so have your mower blade sharpened at the beginning of each season or buy a new one.

AQHA’s Common Horse Health Issues report gets you steered in the right direction and arms you with the knowledge you need to be a responsible horse owner. Get your copy today!