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Does a Horse Need a Barn? Shelter in a Pasture? 6 Benefits

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Our son bought six acres of fenced land with some mature trees that he intends to keep a couple of mares. He asked me if he has to build a barn for the horses. He knows we have barn access for all our horses, but is it necessary? I decided to find out.

Horses don’t need a barn, but having access to one is extremely useful. For example, barns help restrict injured horses’ mobility, control their eating, and separate them from others.

Horses are resilient, but they rely on us to provide them with the necessities of life. For some breeds and geographical locations, those necessities include shelter, which is why we’re going to cover the pros and cons of horse shelters thoroughly.

Barns are useful on a horse farm.

You don’t have to have a horse barn if you own horses; however, they are useful. Here are some of the ways barns are beneficial to horse owners.

1. Barns are essential when you have a sick or injured horse.

We’ve used our barn on numerous occasions to house injured and sick horses. Horses are herd animals, and it’s challenging to keep them separated in a pasture without a barn or paddocks.

When any of our horses contract a contagious disease, like rain rot, we treat it condition and isolate the horse from the other animals on our property. Without a barn, separation from other animals is a challenge.


There are also times when a horse pulls a muscle or has a cut and shouldn’t be running in the pasture. If you own horses, it’s likely to have sustained an injury.

As much care as we take to ensure our pastures are free of hazards, we still have horses that get injured and need time in the barn to heal. Horses allowed to roam a field with an injury risk slowing recovery or reinjury.

2. Barns help control a horse’s diet.

We often own horses that require us to restrict their diet; we feed them separately in our barn. Some horses need monitoring because they are an easy keeper and get obese if allowed to free graze on our rich pasture grass.

Grazing muzzles are a useful tool to restrict a horse’s forage intake while allowing them to remain in a pasture. To read more about grazing muzzles, click on the link to read my article on the best grazing muzzles and why your horse may benefit from wearing one. 

We also monitored horses’ diets to ensure they eat the right amount of vitamins and minerals to perform at peak levels. This requires us to feed them a specific type and amount of feed and hay. We don’t want them to overeat grass.

And you have to feed some horses separately because they are bullied. It’s not unusual for one horse to be pushed away from feed, hay, or grass by more dominant herd members. If these submissive animals are not fed separately, they will become malnourished.

3. Barns are used to keep horses apart.

There are numerous reasons you may need to keep horses separated: some horses fight, or you want to control breeding. Some breeders like to bring a broodmare in the barn for foaling and give the mother and foal a chance to bond before turning them out to pasture.

4. Barns protect animals from the elements.

Most horses do better outside in the fresh air than kept in a barn for extended periods. Horses are naturally free-range animals, and they typically tolerate cold weather well.

However, some horses need protection from cold weather. For example, specific breeds, like the Arabian or horses with clipped coats, don’t tolerate frigid temperatures well and should have a suitable shelter to escape the elements, like a barn!

5. Barns are useful for horse grooming.

Many barns are equipped with wash racks and tie rings, making it an ideal location to groom your horse out of the elements. The barn is also useful to house your horse after being groomed to ensure it remains clean before competitions.

Inevitably a clean and well-groomed horse will roll around in the dirt when turned out in a pasture.

6. Barns are a great place for storing tack, feed, and hay.

Horse barns typically have a feed room, tack room, hay storage area, and stalls for horses. If a barn is designed correctly, they are efficient and indispensable on a horse farm.

Types of shelters for horses

Besides barns, there are other types of shelters, such as run-in shed. You can house horses in various structures, and they don’t need to be designed specifically for horses.

However, they must be safe for horses. For example, a lean-to built initially for a tractor can easily be converted to a run-in shed for horses. You can also keep horses with other common farm animals like cows, pigs, or sheep.

However, barns are the most widely used shelter for horses. Interestingly, we consider a barn as a building that houses animals, stores equipment, and feed; however, in Britain, a barn only refers to feed storage, while the similarly looking animal shelter is called a stable.

A run-in shelter is a small, improvised building used for horses to escape the elements. It is typically located in a pasture, away from a barn, and is open so an animal can go in and out unincumbered.

Lastly, stalls are special enclosures used to keep horses in a barn. A standard-sized horse stall is 12 ft. by 12 ft. They can be stand-alone structures or can be built as part of a barns structure.

Stalls don’t give much space to the animal, so you shouldn’t keep one in a stall for extended periods.

Picture of horses in a shelter.

Do horses need shelter in a pasture?

Having a large pasture is undoubtedly a benefit when you’re keeping horses. That way, horses can get enough exercise and socialize with other animals; this is hugely beneficial for horses. Learn more about keeping a horse happy and healthy here.

The real question is – if you have good pasture, do your horses need a barn? They might not need it, especially if the field is big enough, but you should still have a barn, for the reasons we described earlier.

Run-in shelters for horses

As we have said above, a run-in shelter is a small, improvised building used as a stop station for horses, potentially even other animals. It is located in the pasture, typically away from the barn, and protects horses from harsh weather conditions when in the field.

Run-in shelters can be bought, or you can build them yourselves if you’re good with wood and nails; the procedure is not that complex, but if you’re not that good with such type of work, you should call the professionals. However, if you are crafty, you can check out this tutorial.

As for their size, you’ll find many different recommendations online, but things are like that for most products where there’s no clear rule. What you’ll be sure of is that wider is better than deeper, so always go for the width and not the depth of your run-in shelter.

It is also essential to leave enough space for the horses to fit without being bunched up if you have multiple horses and see how they behave when you first get them.

Some recommended minimal sizes – per horse – are 10’x10’ or 12’x12’, but if you want more space, you can also build a 12’x18’ shelter for each of your horses; this is undoubtedly going to give them enough space to hide from the harsh weather.

Should you keep your horse in a stall?

Picture of a horse in a stall.

Stalls are special enclosures used to keep one or more animals. They are typically incorporated inside a horse barn; however, there are stand-alone models as well.

These enclosures are mostly used for horses and cattle and are the smallest of the three types of horse shelters. The first thing you should know about stalls is that you should avoid keeping your horse in one for extended periods.

Indeed, they have their advantages – you can keep the horse in check, it is easier to oversee it if they’re injured, it’s easier for them to heal, etc. – but they are overly confining for a horse.

Despite larger stalls confining a horse to such a small space, where he has the necessary nutrition, restricted movement isn’t good for their mental health.

No animal or human could thrive in confined spaces, especially if it’s in direct contradiction with their instincts. So if you have to stall your horse, it’s best to limit the time to what is necessary.

That way, you’ll at least minimize the negative side-effects as much as possible. As for the dimensions of a stall, it should be as big as possible to allow your horse’s movement.

The size depends mostly on the horse’s weight; typically, a 1,000+ pound horse should be comfortable in a 12’x12’ stall, while some smaller breeds can stay in a 10’x12’ or even a 10’x10’ stall.

Ponies and other miniature breeds can even stay in 8’x10’ stalls or even smaller ones. Some odd sizes which are present, but are uncommon, are 10’x14’ and 12’x16’.

It all depends on the breed, and if you are new to the world of horses, you need to learn as much as you can to provide them the best possible care.

Does your horse need a barn?

The necessity for a barn is a debate amongst horse owners, and there is no universal answer because there are so many variables, and not everything good for one horse is good for another.

The fact that there are horses in the wild capable of surviving harsh weather conditions or finding shelter in nature shows that horses thrive without barns or other human-made structures.

The important thing is that whatever you choose, you provide your horse with the proper living conditions that are best for your animal and safe.

A lot of this depends on the horse as well. If you have a horse with a thick coat, it may do better in a pasture during the cold weather, but I always have at least a run-in shed so they can escape extreme conditions when necessary.

On the other hand, if you have an old horse or a horse very susceptible to illness, you’ll certainly need to provide it with a shelter of sorts, and a barn is an excellent choice because it offers the best protection from the elements.

When it comes to housing, horses mustn’t be exposed to safety hazards. Since horses are prey animals, they are easily startled and on edge. This is why it is essential to teach children and adults unfamiliar with horses to approach them calmly.

Horses thrive outdoors.

The main disadvantage of barns is that they confine horses and reduce their instinct to socialize and free graze. Horses prefer being outdoors; confinement in a closed space – however big it might be – is certainly not going to do it much good, which is why keeping a horse in a barn is not optimal.

Horses housed too long often get depressed, anxious, or even aggressive; they are social animals. Horses are smart, curious, and playful; they didn’t evolve to live alone.

If you can’t avoid it, though, you should provide the horse with some company (if you don’t have another horse, a sheep or a goat will do just fine) because it might reduce the feeling of isolation and social anxiety. 

There are different breeds of horses, and you can’t care for them in the same manner. For example, you can’t treat the Yakutian horse, which thrives in the brutal cold climates of Siberia, the same as an Akhal Teke horse, a breed developed in the hot deserts.


To provide your horse with the best possible care, you should combine a pasture (outdoors) with a barn (indoors). That way, they’ll have enough space and opportunity to socialize while also having adequate protection from different types of hazards.

Horses don’t need a barn, but there are a lot of advantages to having one. We hope we’ve been helpful and that you’ll find our advice useful. See you next time!


Do horses like being in stables?

In general, horses love to be outside roaming and grazing, but some like being inside as well. Older horses or those in poor health appreciate the warmth and security of a barn with plenty of bedding they can lay down on at night for restful sleep free from predators.

Do horses get bored in stables?

Yes, some horses can’t help but be frustrated with their lack of space in the stable. They are not like many other domesticated animals that have grown accustomed to being indoors. They often don’t understand why there is a barrier between them and freedom, so some become obsessively chew on wood because it’s something for them to do.

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