Building A Good Home For Horses

Like many animals, horses are happiest with ample safe outdoor space to roam and graze on, as well as an indoor shelter to keep them out of the elements when necessary, though what their living space ends up exactly looking like could vary quite a bit depending on your resources and geography!

If you are bringing new horses into your life, you also need to ensure that you have an appropriate quarantine space to keep you and your existing residents safe!

Indoor Living Spaces For Horses

People have employed many different materials and structures for housing horses, but we believe it’s best that horses have access to a fully enclosed pole barn with adequate ventilation.This is particularly true for very young or old or sick residents. Not only are pole barns less affected by inclimate weather, water, and drafts, but they are also easier to get into and clean, which is very important for the health of any animal. The exception to this rule is for sanctuaries in warmer environments, where you can house horses in a three-sided structure that faces away from the prevailing winds if necessary. When it comes to sizing a horse’s indoor living space, there should be adequate space for horses to comfortable stand, turn around, lay down, and get away from other horses (if houses together). Dirt-covered flooring or another slip-resistant material is important for horse living spaces since slips and falls could lead to torn ligaments and joint damage. If your living space floor is concrete, you should layer a half a foot of dirt onto the concrete floor or use rubber mats if necessary (which are safer than concrete, but will require quite a bit of daily cleanup). Bare concrete and hardwood floors are not acceptable for horses.

Loft Concerns

Larger animals such as horses should not live in areas below lofts if at all possible. If they were to require medical attention or need to be manually removed from the space, the loft will prevent equipment from being able to safely navigate the space!

Ideally, you should provide a lot of dry and clean straw in a horse’s living space. horses like to use straw as bedding (though there are other acceptable types of bedding), and it’s important to give them extra bedding material in much colder weather. You must remove and replace all moist and soiled straw every day to prevent serious health risks to horses. There are products you can spread on wet areas such as hydrated lime alternatives like Sweet PDZ or Stall Dry to keep the living space free of moisture. If you cannot provide straw, you can use other clean and replaceable materials such as wood shavings, but straw is best for horses! If it’s your only option, you can provide a thick layer of (naturally-sourced only) sand, but it’s important to keep this material clean and dry as much as you can because waste doesn’t tend to absorb in sand like it does in organic material. Exhaust fans with locking shutters are very effective at keeping barns well-ventilated and dry.

Summer Considerations

A horse’s indoor living space needs to be waterproof and free of drafts, in both warm and cold conditions. Very high standing temperatures (especially combined with high humidity) can lead to exhaustion, dehydration, and dangerous side effects in horses. Therefore, you need to make sure that they can stay cool in the summer with ample access to clean water. If it gets too hot for them to be comfortable, you can provide a pool, hose off the horse, or use indoor water misting fans (keeping their power cables out of reach from horses!), but you have to make absolutely sure you aren’t getting their indoor living space or bedding too moist. Even basic circulating fans can be kept on automatic thermometers to keep residents comfortable, but you must ensure that all cables are safely secured!

Winter Considerations

In the winter, you have to make sure that the barn is ventilated, because humidity can quickly build up in a warm barn and cause dangerous pneumonia and bronchitis outbreaks in a herd. If your barn is properly insulated from drafts, a horse’s body (especially a herd of horses in an appropriately-sized area) will provide a good deal of warmth. Horses are quite resilient in the wintertime, assuming you’re feeding them extra hay to make up for the cold. If you feel the need to heat a horse’s living space, you should keep it no warmer than 50 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent excess moisture buildup.

Condensation Concerns

If you feel condensation on the walls or ceiling of a barn in the wintertime, it must be immediately ventilated as it is far too moist for safe horse habitation!

An oversized indoor living space is not ideal in the winter as they will have a harder time keeping warm in it. If absolutely necessary (such as housing a very young, very old, or infirm horse), you can use heat lamps, but you must make sure to keep electrical cords out of reach from curious residents and make triple sure to keep heating elements clean and dust free! Barn fires are tragically common occurrences. If you must use extra heat, use ceramic heaters, or if you have ample funding, radiant floor heating covered in dirt is the most ideal and safe heating solution for animals in barns. We do not recommend blanketing healthy horses because this can disrupt their body’s natural winter adaptations to withstand cold weather effectively.

Determine if and at what temperature the indoor water supply may freeze in the winter. Be prepared to empty waterers at night and provide fresh warm water for overnight access.  Automated waterers with heaters on thermostats can be very helpful for keeping residents safely hydrated all season long.

Ensure that there is no risk of snow or ice falling off of structures and striking residents.

Outdoor Living Spaces For Horses

Horses need a safely enclosed outdoor space to spend time and exercise in throughout the day (and a pasture to graze on if your land can nutritionally support a horse). The outdoor living space must be fenced in with materials that can’t be easily knocked or jumped over by a horse. There are a variety of different fence materials suitable for horses, including wood, woven wire, pipe fencing, or a combination. We do not recommend using barbed wire as it can injure residents. A horse’s fence should be stretched tightly if wire, at least five feet high in height regardless of material, and secured to posts every ten feet or so. If using no-climb fence, the bottom of the fence should be about a foot off the ground so horses can’t get their hooves trapped in the wire. You should keep fence posts on the outside of the horse’s living space to avoid horses from running into them. Wood also needs to be inspected regularly to ensure that there are no damaged pieces or protruding parts that could injure a horse.

It’s very important that you know what kind of plants are in a horse’s pasture. Certain plants are toxic to horses, and you need to ensure that any dangerous plants are removed from the pasture before a horse is allowed to roam there. A local governmental agricultural department should be able to tell you what regional plants you need to protect horses from. You also should not let a healthy adult horse graze primarily on an alfalfa pasture; alfalfa is very high in protein and calcium, an excessive amount for most horses. Take your time introducing a new horse to your pasture as they need to acclimate to the new food source over a period of a few weeks. Otherwise, the horse is at risk of developing bloat and other gastrointestinal problems.

It is crucial that each horse in your care has enough space to walk around and run freely when they choose. At the very least, you should have about 75×60 feet area in which they can exercise without being stopped by a fence! This is critical for their physical and mental health, and as we do not advocate for the riding of any animals, it is important that all horses in sanctuaries are given the opportunity to exercise where they reside.

Ideally, the outdoor space should consist of horse-safe grazing pasture, and you should have at least two acres of land per horse, with a little more or less needed depending on the quality of pasture, season, and whether you’re primarily feeding them with hay or if they’re getting all their food by grazing. If a horse’s pasture is consistently muddy, make sure to provide ample space for the horses to keep their feet dry. Chronically dirty feet can lead to foot infections. You should also have a shady area in their outdoor enclosure that they can access on the hotter days of the year. Clean water should be easily accessible wherever horses prefer to spend their time!

Avoid Salt

If you are de-icing areas that horses walk on, do not use caustic or salt-based products as these can damage their feet!

If you are caring for a number of horses getting their primary nutrition from pasture, you should have multiple pastures for horses, so you can let unused portions of your pasture regenerate while one is in use. Rotating pastures can also help reduce internal parasite prevalence in horses.


How Much Land Do I Need For A Horse? | Extension

Nine Poisonous Plants Horses Should Avoid | Blue Cross

Horse Stall Bedding | Horse Wellness

Managing Horses During Hot Weather | University of Minnesota (Non-Compassionate Source)

Equine Winter Care | University of Minnesota (Non-Compassionate Source)

Safe Fencing For Horses | Illinois University (Non-Compassionate Source)

Housing For Horses | University of Massachusetts (Non-Compassionate Source)

Non-Compassionate Source?

If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

Updated on September 4, 2020

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