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Horse Stable Engineering

When one thinks of keeping horses, a vision centers on the stable.
Paddock with run-in-shed

Paddock with run-in-shed

Horses are housed in stables for many reasons but they seem to fall into three general categories that include human convenience, providing a less severe environment than experienced outdoors, and tradition. The first two reasons are related to providing an environment where the handler is comfortable working and the horses are efficiently cared for. The environment and management of the stable is designed to be an improvement over outdoor conditions or the horse will be disadvantaged by being in a stable. The third reason, tradition, has received little discussion. Keep in mind that the horse is most often more healthy, both physically and mentally, by outdoor living.

Horses have traditionally been kept in stables. Horses as the precursors to “cars”, or “trucks”, or more appropriately, “SUVs”, were kept in a stable behind the home/business like our cars. In this tradition, horses were used all-day, virtually every-day, and stored for the night in a stable until they were needed tomorrow. Compare to the current Amish expectation where horses are consistently expected to drive dozen of miles each day and auction horses change hands with the ability to drive 20-miles each way to a work site. Now we use our cars everyday to move dozens of miles and use most of our horses for recreation with few miles per day. It may be alright to close our cars in a garage and to let them be idle most of the day but a living breathing horse is better suited to being outdoors or, if confined, in an open airy environment.

The “traditional” use of the horse has dramatically changed, but not our horse housing. Most horses are kept in suburban settings for recreation use rather than for any type of “work.” This is fine but perhaps our thinking about horse stabling needs to change to match the change in how we use horses. Modern horses are often inactive most of the day and confined to a stall where they originally were only expected to rest and sleep for work the next day.

Run-in-shed
Horses can be housed outdoors in groups with a run-in-shed designed shelter

Throughout this bulletin series there are several references made to horse housing design in relation to livestock housing design. This upsets some horsemen and horsewomen since they don’t think of horses as “livestock”. Indeed, within our American culture we do not eat or derive food products from horses as we do from hogs, cattle and poultry. But there is an unnecessary trend in stable design toward more residential-type construction that is not appropriate for healthy horse keeping.

Horse housing needs to be more like livestock housing than residential housing. Horses are our companions and treated as family, in many cases, but horses are livestock when it comes to housing. Horses are large, strong animals with instincts and habits that require they be housed in facilities that recognize their needs. As livestock, horses will drop feces and urine on the floor. As livestock, horses are fed and bedded with relatively dusty materials. Horses respire gallons of water into the stable air. Horse stables have more moisture, dust, and odor than found in human-occupied environments, and hence, require the substantial ventilation rates typical of our best livestock facilities. In fact, horse stables should have even better air quality than typical livestock facilities to maintain horse health and athletic ability.

The Horse Facilities series of bulletins accessed at this web site are written in relation to a typical 1000-pound horse. Clearly, scale-up proportionally for larger animals. We don’t often scale down for smaller equine but in the case of significantly smaller ponies and horses, accommodate their needs with fencing and stall panels that allow them similar safety and ability to see neighbors, respectively, as provided for the typical 1000-pound horse.

One of the biggest challenges in conveying the information contained in the Horse Facilities bulletins is the wide range of suitable horse housing designs. Designs vary from the simple, low-cost back-yard facility thoughtfully planned and constructed for fully functional horse care. In contrast, some back-yard facilities incorporate beautifully detailed, expensive construction. Stables large and small can be successful with informal features or may incorporate every available convenience. Within large horse enterprises there is wide variation from “high-end” facilities to average construction. Some readers will be picturing their stable with chandeliers and impressive architectural features while others want advice on how to most economically achieve horse housing goals. These bulletins have been written to provide recommended practices for an average, well-built stable that will be attractive with features that others will recognize as thoughtful, functional design. There is an emphasis on labor-saving functional planning. Surely, special features and finishes may be added to enhance visual appeal of the facility once fundamentals of housing the horse in a suitable environment are provided.

Individuals using the technical information from the Horse Facilities bulletins will be able to effectively plan and design a facility that best meets operational goals.

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Horse Stable Engineering

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Contact Information

Eileen E.  Fabian (Wheeler)
  • Professor of Agricultural Engineering
Phone: 814-865-3552