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Housing your horse

The horse spends approximately 22 hours per day in its stable. Stable design and
management can have direct effects on the health of horses. Perhaps the most widely
appreciated diseases in this context are those affecting the horse's respiratory well 
being. However, the horse is more than just a set of lungs. The risks of other diseases
and indeed direct physical trauma can be increased by poorly designed stables. The
incidence of many of the so-called stable vices of horses can be increased by stable
design. Stables themselves aside, problems may also arise from the design and
positioning of ancillary buildings, such as feed- storage areas. Surfaces in stables,
passageways and walks around stables can also increase the risk of disease and 

There are four basic types of stables. These are:-
1) Stalls
2) Looseboxes
3) Barns
4) Combination of 2) and 3)

Stables should not be positioned near dust sources such as large hay sheds or grain
dryers. Trees in close proximity can cause problems with leaves blocking drains, yet
alternatively, may be useful in providing a wind-break in exposed sites.

Boxes facing just east of south, will get the benefit of morning sun, especially in winter.
Rows of boxes may be staggered down a slope or slight hill, again to get full advantage 
of morning sun to all boxes. Avoid steep slopes, especially around corners as horses 
can slip over and injure themselves easily.

General recommendations for dimensions of boxes are given in Table 1. Small 
doorways increase the risk of horses injuring themselves. Sliding doors can be 
very useful. Their safety and reliability have improved considerably and half-open 
hinged doors tend to block or decrease the available width of passageways.

Table 1: Stable Dimensions        


Dimension (m)

Box Stall

Ponies (1xW)
Horses foaling or
Isolation box

3.0 x.3.0
3.6 x 3.6
5.0 x 5.0

Standing Stall

Width (min.)
Rear passageway (min.)





These factors are considered together because of their inter-relationship. First it must 
be appreciated that horses tolerate a wide range of temperatures. In an unheated 
building with low air movement, the only horses likely to experience cold stress are 
new born foals or young stock whose metabolic rates are low because of disease or
malnutrition. These animals can undoubtedly be stressed by cold and an extra source 
of heat, such as a radiant heat lamp may be necessary. In climates such as a 
Canadian winter, supplemental heating is often used to prevent freezing of water pipes
etc. While general hypothermia is unlikely to be a problem for well fed stabled horses
wearing rugs, local hypothermia, or regional chilling, especially of limbs in extremely 
cold environments can be of concern in relation to comfort and the healing of injuries.

- heat loss to or gained from the fluid moving over the body of the individual
- forced and natural
- cold winds and cold water currents
- depends on size (radius of limb or trunk)

- depends on a linear difference in temperature between the body surface and an 
  object in direct contact such as floors and bedding

- energy transfer between two objects accomplished by the exchange of 
  electromagnetic waves
- proportional to 4th power of temperature difference between the two surfaces 
  (highlights the benefits of rugs).

Increasing air movement (draughts) around animals has a marked chilling effect,
especially if they are wet. Draughts at horse (or foal) height should be avoided. 
This requires careful attention for the provision of ventilation.

There are three natural forces of ventilation for stables:

1) The Stack effect, i.e. warm air rising off the horse will rise up and leave the stable
drawing fresh air in.
2) Aspiration - wind blowing across the top of a stable will help to draw stale air out.
3) Perflation - wind blowing from side to side and end to end of a building will aid

Properly placed and adequately sized vents and roof ducting are essential to make 
full use of these forces. Guidelines for the requirements for natural ventilation are
presented in Table 2 below. However, in designing new stables or improving existing
buildings, calculations for individual structures should be carried out. Allowances for
exposed walls and extremes of weather likely to be met.

Table 2 shows that for most loose-boxes an open top door will provide adequate inlet 
area for natural ventilation. However, allowances must be made for the (heaven forbid)
situation when doors are closed. A permanent vent can be placed above the front door.
Most boxes should have a back wall vent as well to ensure proper air mixing and
movement. For a monopitched roof, this should be high in the back wall. Boxes with 
a peaked roof should have a capped chimney or covered ridge to act as an outlet for
warm, stale air. Draughts can be cut down by baffling vents or covering them with 
plastic mesh such as Netlon. This will also prevent the entry of rain or snow into 
boxes. It is critical to ensure thorough movement of air in a stable, especially barns.

Table 2: Requirements for natural ventilation of a typical barn & horse stalls

Dimensions (per horse)



Volume (m3)
Surface area of building (m2)
height from inlets to outlets (m)
Ventilation rate at 4 ac/h (m3/sec)
Ventilation heat loss at 4 ac/h (W/C)







"U" value of walls & roof (W/m2C)
Building heat loss (W/C)
Temperature gradient (C) at 4 ac/h
Required inlet area/horse (m2)
Required outlet area/horse (m2)





One of the benefits of insulating stables is high lighted in Table 2. Insulation by
maintaining a slightly greater temperature difference between the inside and outside 
of the stable allows smaller openings to be used to provide adequate natural ventilation 
in still air conditions. It must also be highlighted that the benefits of insulation in terms 
of warmth within an average stable will only be a matter of a few degrees centigrade unless additional forms of heating are provided.

Another advantage of insulation is that it will decrease the risk of condensation.
Condensation is a tell-tale sign of poor ventilation and is the cause of the pattern 
staining which often occurs in the roofs of stables.

Dark boxes where horses have little visual contact with other horses are likely to lead 
to behavioral problems. Box-weaving, wind-sucking and other vices often begin out of
boredom. While one extreme approach, advocated by some, involves housing horses 
in groups, simple approaches such as providing adequate provisions for light and
anti-weaving bars so that horses can put their heads out over the stable door can be

Horses have evolved as gregarious and free ranging animals. They spend approximately
60% of their time grazing and continually move over their home range living together in
close knit herds. Stables horses are restricted to one or two hours exercise per day, 
have restricted social interaction and fed concentrated rations which are quickly
consumed. In these conditions stables horses can develop sterotypiec,
characterized by bouts of frequently repeated, invariant and apparently purposeless
activities. Examples of these include licking, crib biting, weaving, box walking and 
pawing. These activities are apparently coping mechanisms for prolonged periods of
frustration. Owners often find these behaviors "objectionable and irritating". However, 
in other species the prevention of sterotypies by restricting the animals movements has
been shown to significantly increase corticosteroid concentration. Some cases respond 
to provision of a more stimulating environment, e.g. putting a goat or a mirror or a 
bouncy ball into the stable. Ultimately, the long term aim must be to identify and provide
stimulating environments which help to prevent the development of sterotypiec behavior,
especially early in life.

Simple skylights can be provided by clear corrugated perspex. Sunlight has the added
advantage of ultra-violet light, a natural killer of airborne bacteria and viruses. In this
regard, plastic skylights with u/v pervious glass are superior to glass since the latter 
does not normally allow the penetration of u/v rays. As a general guide, approximately
10% skylight area in a roof is suitable.

Decreasing hours of daylight is the main stimulus for a horse to lose its summer coat 
and conversely increasing hours of daylight lead to the loss of a winter coat. Daylight
hours have been manipulated with artificial light in stables for many years as a way of
bringing mares into season early in the year. The same technique can be used to help 
a horse lost its winter coat. Suitable light levels can be achieved using fluorescent 
lighting. It is essential to ensure appropriate levels of light int he centre and the edges 
of all boxes.

Ordinary fluorescent bulbs providing between 100-200 lux (simple inexpensive light 
meters are available) are suitable. Increasing day light hours up to between 14 and 16
hours in late November is effective in stimulating the early onset of oestrus. However,
there are times of light sensitivity and insensitivity during the day. Anoestrus mares can
be stimulated to cycle earlier by adding 2.5 hours of artificial light after sunset but before
sunrise. A one hour exposure 9 to 10 hours after natural sunset has also been shown to
be effective.

Little thought is often given to the design and positioning of feed storages. Dust 
generated in these areas can be a health hazard for horses and humans. Fans or 
air filter devices are essential for these areas if they are closed in.

Storage facilities for grain and coarse mixes should be vermin proof and regularly 
emptied completely and cleaned. The latter is especially important in relation to 
forage mite which damage feeds and can cause skin problems and gut upsets in 
horses fed contaminated feed.

A floor gradient of between 1 in 40m and 1 in 80 is required for adequate drainage. 
Drains within stables should be simple and easily cleaned. Covered drains or laid 
pipes within stables clog quickly with most feed and bedding materials.

Muck pits are another potential health hazard at stables. Mice and rats can be 
attracted to muck-pits. Used plant-based bedding material moulds quickly and 
can be a significant source of mould spores for horses housed nearby. A typical 
position for a muck heap is behind stables, just below the back wall vents, thus 
ensuring easy access for dust generated in this area into the stables and the horse's

The design, selection and positioning of new stables or alterations to existing buildings,
require careful planning to avoid unnecessary problems. The money invested in these
buildings is not always an indication of their effectiveness in terms of housing the horse.
The well being of horses housed in the most carefully designed stables can be
compromised by the use of contaminated feeds and beddings or management practices
such as deep litter bedding.



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