Housing a Horse

Stable Design / Stable Floor / Bedding / Construction

Conquering Boredom / Storage / Water / Paddock

Stable Design

There are basically two types of stable design. These two can be combined, and many variations can be created to suit your budget and your needs.

The first type of stable is elaborate, with controlled temperature and ventilation, large stalls, and even an indoor ring. In the winter, the horse stays indoors. This kind of stable takes up a relatively small amount of land, but it is very expensive, and not very common in Canada.

The second type of stable is for the horse that stays outside all year, except during very bad or very cold weather. This stable is the place where the horse is fed, groomed and saddled. (Important note: do not clip or brush a horse’s coat during the winter if he stays outside: his coat is covered with a wax that protects him from snow, rain and cold, and brushing will remove the wax.)

It is advisable that the stable have a floor area of at least 60 square feet per horse. If there is only one door, it should face south, or as close to south as the lay of the land permits. This arrangement will allow a maximum of warmth and consequent drying and airing of the stalls. The walls should be windproof. Horses are susceptible to drafts, and can catch colds. The building should have drinking water facilities and mangers. Bedding is not required for this type of stable.

A variation on this very basic stable is the box or open stall. In this stable, the horse is locked up at night or in bad weather, and turned loose the rest of the time. Bedding is needed only at night. The minimum dimensions of a box are 10 x 10 feet. If you have several horses, the building can be designed so that all the boxes open up into a corral. It’s useful to have a walkway running along the front of the boxes, and it can be protected by an overhanging roof, which should extend out at least 10 feet. This overhang will provide shade in hot weather and a sheltered working space, and will keep out all but driving rain.

A much more elaborate variation has box stalls with an interior walkway. The animals may remain indoors all winter, except for a period of time each day when they are let out for fresh air while the stalls are being cleaned. This type of stable must have good ventilation and lots of natural light. It must also be well insulated to provide protection from sudden drops in temperature, which could be fatal as the horses will not have grown a proper winter coat. The temperature must be kept above freezing at all times in this stable. Do not confine the horses too closely though, to conserve heat, because illness, fighting and injury can result.

In choosing a site for the stable, look for an area higher than the surrounding terrain. This will allow for good drainage, which is essential for sound hoofs. A lot of horse diseases are centred in the bottom of the hoofs.

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Stable Floor

The stable floor should be designed for allow for good drainage. If the horse’s bed is sloped slightly, say 3 degrees, the urine will drain off freely, and his hoofs will stay dry. A gutter can be included in the floor design to catch the waste.

As horses drop their wastes five to twelve times a day, you will probably want to consider a floor that is easy to clean and maintain. Asphalt is a very good choice. Clay, wood, concrete and river sand are also possible choices.

Clay over gravel on a well-drained soil works well in an outdoor shelter, but it’s hard to disinfect. Clay is inclined to be damp, and it is impossible to thoroughly clean a clay floor. Concrete is easily cleaned, but it’s cold and hard on the horse’s feet. Water and urine can freeze on the concrete and make a dangerously icy spot. River sand makes a good floor, except in winter when freezing affects drainage. Wooden floors are easy to sweep and scrub, but are hard to disinfect. They will give off the strong odour of ammonia, which is unpleasant to people and horses alike. If you do choose wood, elm works best, as it resists splitting. Asphalt may the best choice, as it is relatively inexpensive, easy to clean, and is not hard on the hoofs.

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Horses confined in the stable require bedding. Daily cleaning of the stall, and the removal and disposal of the bedding is not a pleasant task, but must be done to keep the horse healthy and happy. Horses do lie down occasionally. Good bedding must be absorbent, and also spread thick enough to do the job properly. If a six inch layer of bedding is put down, wet spots and droppings can be removed and bedding replaced without the need for renewing the bedding every day. The traditional bedding is straw. Straw absorbs about 2 1/2 times its own weight in urine. Straw is bulky and can pile up in a hurry. Some horses like to eat their bedding, so it should be clean straw, and never moldy. About 10 pounds of straw daily will be needed to replace soiled bedding. Wood shavings are also used for bedding, as are sawdust, sand and peat moss. Wood shavings are not as absorbent as straw, and should be free of chunks of wood that might injure the horse. Wood shavings don’t decompose very quickly. Sawdust is a good bedding, especially if your horse tends to eat straw. However, if it is too fine, it tends to be dusty. Also, soiled sawdust must be removed quickly, as it ferments and attracts flies. Sand is good in hot, dry climates, but it gets too cold when there is damp weather. A horse can get colic from eating sand. Peat moss does decompose nicely, but it’s expensive. Whatever bedding you select, remember that the bedding material must be disposed of, and replaced with a fresh, clean supply. You choose.

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All wood in stalls and doors should be two inches thick. Anything smaller will not withstand the wear and tear. A kicking horse will make short work of lighter lumber.

The minimum height of the ceiling should be no less than 7 feet. Some horses jerk their heads up to avoid being bridled, and could bruise their skulls if the ceilings were lower. The larger the horse you have, the higher the ceiling should be.

Windows should be fitted with iron bars spaced no more than 4 inches apart for safety’s sake. The horse could put his head through the windowpane without the bars.

Each horse must have its own manger, a bowl for concentrates, and a drinking trough. The manger must be big enough for a ration of hay, and should be placed near floor level. If the manger is placed too high, the horse’s neck muscles will be in poor condition in spring for stretching down to eat grass in the pasture.

If your horse is tied up in the stable, the rope should be long enough so that when he is eating from the bottom of the manger, there will be a little slack. The other end of the rope must be attached to the wall at the height of his head when he straightens up so that he won’t get his legs tangled in the rope.

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Conquering Boredom

Boredom is a common complaint for stabled horses. For entertainment, many horses begin gnawing everything they can reach. A radio playing in the stable may also help combat boredom, but make sure the radio and wires are out of reach of the horse’s teeth. If several horses are housed in 4 x 8 foot stalls, open-work partitions help reduce boredom since the horses can see each other. Open partitions also improve ventilation, and require less lumber to construct.


A tack room incorporated into your stable will be convenient for you. Saddles and tack, and various other equipment can be stored there. Note that the saddles should not be left on the floor, as they will tend to warp.

The feed should be stored out of the reach of the horses. Hay can be stored outdoors, but it must be placed above the ground on a latticework floor, and under a roof to keep off the rain, snow and direct sunlight. It is not a good idea to stack hay on the ground and cover it with a plastic tarpaulin. The plastic traps moisture and heat, and the hay winds up cooked. Hay must be well ventilated and shaded. Hay can also be stored indoors. If you are storing it at ground level, there should be a ventilated false floor beneath it to prevent wet rot.

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Water can be brought in by pail or piped in. Because horses consume a lot of water, and toting pails is heavy work, guess which option we suggest. The pipes must be laid well below the frost line, and preferably have a hydrant, a tap for opening the line and a drain valve. This arrangement would allow the pipes to remain empty when not in use, so that they will not freeze up in the winter.

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We’ve discussed the stable, but what about the paddock? The fencing must be strong enough to contain the horse. We do not recommend barbed-wire or electric fences. We do suggest 2 x 8 foot boards nailed inside the paddock to posts that are no more than 8 feet apart. The bottom boards should be about a foot above the ground, in case you have to make a quick rolling exit away from stomping hoofs. An acre or two of land for the paddock would provide the horse with room to wander about. Anything smaller than an acre (70 x 70 yards) gets trodden badly, so that grass won’t grow, and the area will become soiled. Without the grass, the are will become a sea of mud during the spring. Thus, the paddock should be large enough to permit adequate exercise for the horses, and allow some green cover to grow.

Be sure to leave nothing lying around the stable yard that could injure the horse. Nails, for instance, can be very deadly. And don’t forget to have a sturdy gate which is fitted with latches that can’t be jarred loose, or worked open by some enterprising horse’s teeth.

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