Icon of a book About Shelters

Every horse needs a well maintained natural or human-made shelter.  Barns are one type of structure used to house horses. They should be designed to minimize the risk of fire by avoiding storage of hay, bedding and other flammable materials. Individual box stalls, in which horses are loose, are commonly used for indoor housing. Indoor stalls must be large enough to allow the horse to lie down in a normal resting posture, stand with the head fully raised, walk forward and turn around with ease. Indoor housing requires a considerable amount of labour to remove manure and keep the stalls clean. For indoor group housing, horses must have sufficient space to escape from inter-aggression.

Technology and Shelters

Mechanized systems can decrease the labour cost of manure removal. During the cleaning of indoor facilities, horses should be removed for health and safety purposes. Examples of mechanized systems include:

  • A barn cleaner, which can be installed in the floor (as seen in a tie-stall dairy barn). It is installed either at the back of the stall or in the alleyway and is covered with grates that are lifted at convenient locations to facilitate dumping of the manure. A mechanical stable cleaner works well, although it requires extensive cement work and the daily lifting of floor grates. 
  • A dump station, which allows manure to be dumped into a small pit located inside the barn. An auger or elevator removes the manure to a storage area. 
  • Sliding partitions or gates, which move out of the way, will allow a tractor to come through an end wall door and facilitate the clean-out of a line
    of stalls all at once. This makes stall cleaning easy. The gates are hinged to the wall and swing out of the way while the sliding partitions are built to slide into the alleyway. 
  • A garden tractor and dump wagon or a manure spreader, which is driven down the alleyway going from one stall to the next. Manure is dumped into the wagon and removed to storage or directly onto the land. Carbon monoxide and exhaust fumes can be both irritating and a danger in a closed barn. 

Horse housing can be indoor or outdoor housing,
or a combination of both.

Shelter and the outdoors

Horses can live comfortably outside with appropriate shelter that provides protection from wind, rain, snow and sun. Three-sided sheds are often used in paddocks or pastures to provide protection from the elements.

Photograph of a horse shelter which provides protection on three sides from wind and precipitation
Figure 4.1: Three-sided shelter providing protection from wind and precipitation.
Credit: Steve Shattuck (2010)

Indoor exercise areas are an excellent addition to a horse facility, especially when horses must be housed indoors for lengthy periods of time (i.e. for medical purposes) or during inclement weather. Regular exercise is essential to maintain a horse’s health and well-being.

24/7 indoor housing of horses in not acceptable, 
unless a veterinarian has advised so, or due to extreme weather.


Horses can adapt to a wide range of environmental conditions due to their physiological and behavioural responses that help them maintain body temperatures within a normal range.

Outdoor housing can be a very practical means of maintaining horses. Horses maintain their core body temperature by thermoregulation. According to the NFACC Code or Practice “in horses, the estimated thermoneutral zone between 5 and 20°C.” The thermoneutral zone is the range in temperatures within which a horse can maintain its core body temperature without any increased energy needs. The thermoneutral zone for individual horses may vary, depending on their environment, age, health status, and acclimatization. When the temperature falls below this thermoneutral zone, additional energy is required to maintain a normal body temperature.

Horses will shiver if they are not thermally comfortable, as this is a heat-producing response to cold temperatures. A horse that is heat stressed will appear weak or disorientated, and may experience muscle tremors or rapid breathing. Behavioural signs of cold or heat stress should be addressed promptly to ensure horse welfare.

Precipitation, especially rain, increases evaporation heat loss directly by reducing the thermal insulation of a horse’s hair coat and by increasing convection losses. Cold, wet weather reduces a horse’s ability to maintain its body temperature and can result in weight loss. Snowfall is less cooling than rain for cold-adapted horses with dense coats. Winter hair coats insulate against body heat loss.

At Risk Equines

The following equines are vulnerable to cold weather:

  • Foals and geriatrics;
  • Horses that are injured, sick;
  • Horses with a moist or wet coat, due to rain or sweat (a wet coat has reduced insulation capacity) 
  • Body clipped horses
  • Horses that are not acclimatized to cold, damp weather.

These equine may require additional protection during inclement weather, such as blankets. However, blankets can lead to sores and/or heat stress, and mask changes in body condition score. If blankets are used, the condition of the horse beneath the blanket should be inspected frequently.

The bottom line,…

The aim of outdoor shelter is to reduce wind speed and prevent precipitation, especially rain, from causing heat losses. Simple shelter designs, trees or windbreaks can provide the necessary protection from the elements and can be a very effective means of maintaining horses. 

In areas with low annual rainfall, a windbreak may be all that is needed for outdoor housing. Windbreaks are essential for all animals housed outdoors to slow the wind speed and, therefore, the wind chill. 

Source : NFACC Code of Practice

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