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My neighbors and I often talk about horse barns and stalls. We typically agree about most things, but recently we had differing opinions on what a horse needs in a stall versus what’s nice to have in a stall. So I decided to research the topic and provide my opinion.
Horse stalls need adequate ventilation, suitable flooring, lighting, a hayrack, tie rings, and eye rings to hang buckets for water and grain. It also requires a proper door or gate. A barn doesn’t need to be fancy, but the stalls need to be set up correctly.
One of the most critical considerations when designing a horse barn is ensuring the stall has everything a horse needs to stay safe and healthy. Obviously, a horse needs hay and water, but many other critical factors are necessary for a proper horse stall.
Why you need a horse stall
You had a nice ride and started unsaddling your horse when a torrential rainstorm begins. Thankfully you have a dry barn you so can bring your horse out of the rain. Once inside the barn, you realize there’s no safe area to leave your horse, and it has to be turned out in the rain.
Or another common horse farm scenario, you go out to catch your horse for a trail ride and notice it’s limping. You reach down and check to feel its leg for heat, and yes, it’s hot. No external wounds, so you pick up its foot and see the problem; it stepped on a sharp object and has a deep cut.
The wound needs vet attention, and he suggests stalling your horse for a week or so while the wound heals. I could continue; horses that are bullied, recovering from injury, or on a restrictive diet are just a few more of the many reasons horse stalls are useful.
Designing a horse stall
So now you’ve decided to take the initiative and build a safe stall for your horse, so where do you start? Your primary considerations are size, flooring, wall height, and overhead height. So let’s dive in and get the dimensions.
For standard horses, those between 14 and 17 hands tall, a 12 x 12 stall is just the right size. I like to have a removable wall between stalls to open it and have one large 12 x 24 stall if I need it for long-term care or foaling.
After you choose your stable size, you need to decide on a suitable stall flooring. If you’re using an existing structure, you may not have a choice, but don’t worry because you can alter most surfaces with some thought and rubber mats. If you’re starting from scratch, I prefer to use clay for stable floors, but you can also go with other materials such as concrete, asphalt, or gravel.
But if you go with a rigid surface, you need to cover it with a rubber mat or extra thick bedding to prevent injuring your horse. I wrote an article about concrete flooring for stalls you may find helpful: Can Horse Stalls Have Concrete Floors? Why Or Why Not?
Most horse stalls are built with 7.5-foot walls to prevent horses from getting their legs caught on the top of the wall. Horses can kick seven feet. Stables are typically open overhead but ensure at least ten-foot clearance of the rafters and light fixtures. This height provides adequate ventilation and is high enough so your horse doesn’t hit its head if it rears up.
Finally, the stall should have a minimum doorway opening of 42 inches wide so a handler and horse can pass through safely. Most openings are larger, some up to 48 inches wide. If you intend to buy a commercial door, I suggest you check the sizes they supply before finalizing your plans.
Horse stall necessities
1. Adequate ventilation
Horses get respiratory illnesses like heaves when they breathe in dust, and barns have a lot of airborne dust. To reduce the risk of your horse getting sick, you need to make sure fresh air is available in its stall. To circulate fresh air and move bad air out, you must design the stall with suitable ventilation.
The ideal stall has an open ceiling, a window that opens to the outside, and a fan to enhance air exchange. Fans also help keep flying insects off your horse. I wrote an article you may find helpful on the best barn fans and explain why they are needed: 7 Best Horse Barn Fans For Stalls and Aisles.
Good lighting in a stable is essential for various reasons. You likely lead your horse outside or into the barn aisleway to groom and give it a thorough examination. But there comes a time when you have no choice but to check your horse in its stall, and to accomplish this task properly, you need good lighting.
Having adequate lighting is also useful when cleaning stalls. To bring light into the stall, you need to use a combination of natural light and electric light. Windows are an excellent light source, and as I said earlier, they have the added benefit of ventilating the area.
When you run the wiring for electric lights, be sure they are in a place out of the horse reach, at least 8 feet high, and use a conduit to prevent rats from chewing the wires. Use fixture with a protective covering like a cage and Install them on the front and side walls to decreases shadows and lighten the entire area.
How to feed hay in a stall is something my friends and I didn’t come to a consensus on; some think it’s best to feed hay off the ground, while others believe it’s best to use a hayrack. I’m in the hayrack group. Feeding hay on the ground is a more natural way for horses to consume forage.
I agree with this premise and have no problem feeding hay on pasture ground, but not in a stall. When you feed hay on a stall floor, there is a high likelihood it mixes with urine and feces. For this reason, it’s best to mount a hayrack in the stall.
When you install a hayrack, put it at the height of your horse’s withers, this position is high enough to keep a horse from getting their feet caught in it but low enough that hay dust doesn’t drop into their face. It’s also vital that you use a hayrack with smooth corners so it doesn’t poke your horse. Remember, your horse’s well-being is your primary consideration.
You can also use hay bags, just set them at the same height recommended for the hayrack. I like hay bags because they’re easy to take down and use in your horse trailer or anywhere else you may want to use them. Some are even designed for slow feeding, and most are durable and long-lasting.
4. Tie Rings
Tie rings are useful in stables. It allows you to secure your horse to saddle, groom, or check for injuries. Some people clean their stalls with the horse inside, and tying it keeps the horse out of their way. There are a few different style tie rings.
My favorite is the hide-away type. This ring falls inside a concave, so it’s not protruding from the wall. There are also tie rings that drop flat—your goal is to have the fewest items in the stall that can cause injury. So when you choose a spot for your tie rings, put it at least as high as your horse’s withers and away from their feed and water buckets.
5. Feed and water buckets
Fastening feed and water buckets to stall walls are pretty basic. Use a double-ended snap and an eyehook. This combination works well to secure the bucket handle, and it’s easy to remove. There are also specially designed hooks for holding buckets. These also work well, are safe, and allow easy bucket removal. Being able to take a bucket down easily is essential because they need to be cleaned often.
Place the eyehook at a height that positions the bucket’s rim about chest high on your horse. Separate the buckets far enough apart, so they don’t drop feed in their water. Some barns use automatic water devices, but I haven’t tried them yet, but I plan to order some to find out how they work.
But I’m not convinced automatic waterers are worth the money and trouble because you should check your horse regularly, especially if they’re in a stable, so why not refill the water yourself? Plus, automatic waterers work with a floating device, so what happens when it gets stuck? It will flood your barn.
6. Stall Doors and Gates
Your stall door is an integral part of the stable design. It must be wide enough for a person and horse to pass through safely and strong enough to keep your horse housed. Doors and gates come in various styles, and your choice depends primarily on the horses you keep.
Horses comfortable in a stable and those with a calm temperament do fine with just a web gate, while unruly horses may need a durable full-length door. I prefer a web gate or half door whenever possible because they allow air to move better than full doors.
But some horses try to jump over a gate or half-door, and they’re not an option. One other style gate is metal mesh; these can be full door size, and they have the added advantage of permitting airflow.
The hardware you use to hang your stable door is also critical. Horses are notorious for finding sharp objects, no matter how difficult, and cutting themselves. So, choose hardware, latches, and handles that are strong and have rounded edges.
So, be diligent and don’t put anything in a stall that could hurt them. Safety is vital, but the hardware must be easy to use because, frequently, you’re leading a horse and have one free hand to open a stable door. But you don’t want the door to be so simple to open because your horse will likely figure out how to open it.
But regardless of the door type you decide on, it must be safe for your horse, and if you go with a full-length door, it should reach close enough to the ground to keep a horses’ foot from slipping under typically less than 3 inches.
What’s the best stall bedding for horses?
Proper bedding is essential for horses kept in stables. There is a variety of materials horse owners use, but my preference is pine shavings. They absorb moisture well and are easy to clean. To learn more about bedding material used in horse stalls, read this article: What’s the Best Stall Bedding for Your Horse Barn? 4 Options
What’s the best stall fan?
My favorite barn fan for the price is the wall mount iLiving fan. It provides good airflow and has an enclosed motor which is essential for barn fans. But the best fan is the Global Industries Outdoor Oscillating Wall Mounted Fan, 30″ Diameter, 3/10hp, 8400cfm; however, it is pricey.
Can you use concrete for horse stall flooring?
You can have concrete floors in your horse stall; you just need to cover it with a thick rubber mat and good bedding material. I cover this topic in detail in this article: Can Horse Stalls Have Concrete Floors? Why Or Why Not