Horse Housing Design

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Housing Design for Horses


Stable design and management can have direct effects on the health of horses. Poor design and management can result in respiratory illnesses. The risks of other diseases and direct physical trauma can also be increased by poorly designed stables. Problems can result from the design and positioning of ancillary buildings, such as feed-storage areas. Surfaces, passageways and walkways in and around stables can increase the risk of disease and injury. 

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. However, trees can also provide an adequate wind break for horses in exposed sites.

Light, Heat and Ventilation

Barns or shelters facing just east of south get the benefit of morning sun, especially in winter. Rows of shelters staggered down a slope or slight hill also get full advantage of morning sun. Avoid steep slopes, especially around corners, as horses can slip over and injure themselves easily.

During winter, supplemental heating is often used to prevent the freezing of water pipes. However, the presence of several horses in a stable can often create enough body heat to maintain the temperature above freezing. 

Horses tolerate a wide range of temperatures. In an unheated building with low air movement, horses may experience cold stress, particularly if they are unacclimatized, their hair is clipped, geriatric or young, have a low body condition score, or have low metabolic rates due to disease. Horses most likely to experience cold stress are newborn foals or horses whose metabolic rates are low because of disease or malnutrition. An extra source of heat, such as a horse blanket, may be necessary. 

DID YOU KNOW about the implications of feed, water and waste management on horse housing? If you think you need to know more, go to "Feed, Water & Waste Management Systems" in this module.

Increased air movement, or drafts, around animals has a chilling effect, especially if the animals are wet. Drafts at horse or foal height should be avoided or addressed. Ventilation should carefully consider the presence of drafts.

There are three natural forces of ventilation in stables:

1) The stack effect – 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. 

3) Perflation – wind blowing from side to side and end to end of a building will aid ventilation.

Properly placed and adequately sized vents and roof ducting are essential to make full use of these forces and maintain good air quality.

Insulation maintains a slightly greater temperature difference between the inside and outside of the stable and 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.

The lighting in stables should be sufficient to easily visualize horses during the day. Keeping horses in continuous darkness is not acceptable. Dark box stalls where horses have little visual contact with other horses can lead to behavioural problems. Stall-weaving, wind-sucking and other problems often begin with boredom. Some horse owners and caregivers recommend housing horses near each other in separate stalls to avoid boredom. Other 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 also be beneficial. However, the best defence against the development of these behaviours is adequate exercise.

The design and positioning of feed storage are also important. Dust generated in these areas can be a health hazard for horses and people. Fans or air filter devices are essential for closed-in areas.

Storage facilities for grain and coarse mixes and other concentrates should be vermin proof and completely emptied and cleaned on a regular basis. This is important to avoid problems such as forage mites, which damage feeds and can cause skin problems and gut upsets or digestive issues in horses.

Manure banks are another potential health hazard at stables. Nuisance animals like mice can be attracted to manure. Used plant-based bedding material can generate moulds quickly and can be a significant source of mould spores for horses housed nearby. Manure stored near vents or close to stables can allow environmental contaminants to enter the stable and compromise air quality. Stored manure also generates heat that can potentially cause a fire. For these reasons, manure banks should be stored away from any building.

Information adapted with permission from "Housing the Horse" by Andrew Clarke. 

What does the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines say about lighting?

“Lighting in indoor facilities should provide uniform illumination and permit effective observation of horses. Lighting is important for normal reproduction, seasonal endocrine rhythms and seasonal adaptation (e.g., hair coat).”

The following requirements are identified in the Code of Practice:

For horses kept indoors without natural light, artificial lighting must be provided during the day. 

Keeping horses in continuous darkness is not acceptable. 

These recommended practices are also provided in the Code of Practice:

  1. Ensure light fixtures are safe and not accessible to horses (e.g., avoid the use of exposed light bulbs).
  2. Provide horses, and especially foals, with a period of darkness (to encourage sleeping).

What does the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines say about indoor air quality and humidity?

“Respiratory problems can be created or made worse by poor bedding practices and poor indoor air quality. The concentration of ammonia and airborne particles, such as dust and mould, are of particular concern. The concentration of fungal spores, the main component of dust in stables, is determined by the rate of release from feed and bedding and the rate of clearance, mainly by ventilation. Keeping facilities and bedding clean helps maintain good indoor air quality.

Excessive ammonia concentrations can pose a health threat to humans and animals. The concentration of ammonia should ideally be less than 10 ppm and must not exceed 25 ppm. When a human observer can detect ammonia (by smell or irritation to the eyes), it is likely to be at a concentration of 20 ppm or higher. There are also several tools for measuring ammonia concentration, including litmus paper, detection tubes and electronic devices.

A good ventilation system will remove stale air, maintain ideal ambient temperatures, bring in fresh air (without causing drafts, especially at horse level) and remove excess heat and moisture (a factor in mould development). The horse’s respiration can be a significant contributor to indoor moisture.”

The following requirements are identified in the Code of Practice:

Air quality in barns must be maintained to prevent the buildup of noxious gases, dust and moisture.

Ventilation must effectively maintain good indoor air quality. The concentration of ammonia in the air must not exceed 25 ppm. 

These recommended practices are also provided in the Code of Practice:

  1. Strive to maintain good indoor air quality at all times.
  2. Avoid exposing horses to drafts when housed indoors. 


Flooring materials can have a significant influence on air quality, comfort, and the safety of horses. Stall floors must be made of a material that is non-slippery, and easy to maintain and keep clean. Some commonly used flooring materials include:

  • Sand or sand/clay mixture: This type of floor is economical and allows for good drainage and minimal odour problems. Pockets and holes still occur; however, they are easier to repair as sanitation develops. Sand and clay must be well mixed, leveled, and packed before horses are put into the stalls. This type of flooring cannot be disinfected which is a biosecurity concern.
  • Wood: The material should be at least 5 cm thick and treated to reduce decay. Problems associated with wooden floors include being slippery when wet and the attraction of rodents by creating an environment for urine to accumulate and feed to fall through cracks. It can become porous and floorboards can become cracked or loose. Correct construction of wooden floors and proper bedding amounts can minimize these problems. Wooden planks should be placed over a base of 15 to 20 cm of sand or gravel to aid in drainage. This type of flooring cannot be disinfected, which is a biosecurity concern.
  • Concrete or asphalt: This type of flooring allows for easy cleaning and sanitation, and minimal maintenance. However, drainage can be difficult to control and more bedding is necessary to avoid odour and traction problems. Concrete or sealed asphalt floors are often cold and can become slippery when wet. Unless adequate bedding is provided, increased leg problems can be associated with horses maintained for long periods of time in these hard stalls. If concrete or asphalt stalls are used, horses should be turned out for as long as possible and adequate bedding and/or rubber mats supplied to provide cushioning.
  • Rubber mats: This type of flooring can be expensive, but provides an easy-to-clean, soft stall for horses. The floor should be level and well-packed and mats should be one piece or a minimal number of pieces and at least 1.5 cm thick. Mats should fit tightly to each other and to the stall walls. The mats must be durable enough to withstand pawing. Bedding should be used in conjunction with mats to absorb urine and provide comfort when horses lie down or sleep. Mats can be placed over nearly any type of flooring, provided it is level. 

Drains within stables should be simple and easily cleaned. Covered drains or laid pipes within stables can clog with many feed and bedding materials.

Excerpt adapted with permission from "Housing for Horses: Flooring for Stalls" by Kathleen Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

What does the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines say about flooring?

“The ground or flooring in stalls and alleyways should be well-drained and must provide non-slip surfaces to reduce the risk of horses slipping or falling. Examples of non-slip surfaces include sand, dirt (but not mud), rough-cut planked floors, rubber mats, and stamped or grooved concrete. For shod horses, the addition of rubber mats or epoxy flooring to concrete helps avoid slipping.

Ideally, stall flooring will be reasonably level but designed to move excess moisture away from horses. Soft ground surfaces (e.g., sand, earth) should be routinely maintained by levelling out any holes.

The following requirement is identified in the Code of Practice:

Provide non-slip surfaces in stalls and alleyways to reduce the risk of horses slipping or falling.

This recommended practice is also provided in the Code of Practice:

  1. Ensure flooring is maintained as dry as possible and free from standing water or urine.
Excerpts from the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines (2013) have been used with permission, Equine Canada and the National Farm Animal Care Council. The process for the development of Codes can be accessed through the National Farm Animal Care Council.


Many horse owners use commercial stabling or boarding facilities, which provide services that help reduce the daily chores involved with horse care. Stables can provide opportunities to interact with other horse owners and caregivers and make it easier to access your horse. Many stables also have organized horse activities for those boarding horses. How and where horse care is provided will have a large impact on the needs for equipment and facilities. It will also affect daily operation costs, such as feed, veterinary care and farrier services. 

There are many considerations involved in selecting a stable at which to board a horse. Factors such as the condition of the facility, the overall health of the horses currently there and the quality of feed on site are all important. 

Personal concerns are also important. Each owner or rider may have different requirements. For example, a barrel racer needs barrels for practice, a trail rider wants access to trails and a jumper needs jumps and poles. 

Horse owners should consider factors, such as the following when selecting a commercial stable:

  • Condition of the facilities, including on-farm hazards
  • Facilities that are available to horse owners, caregivers and riders
  • Hours of operation
  • Riding and handling areas
  • Outdoor paddocks and pasture, including fencing
  • Stables, including ventilation, lighting, and spacing
  • Body condition of horses that are currently boarded there
  • Physical condition and behaviour of horses currently boarded there
  • Quality and provision of feed and water
  • Herd health management programs, such as parasite control, vaccinations, farrier schedules, and other protocols
  • Humane handling of horses
  • Experience and professional background and training in management and daily care staff
  • Emergency preparedness plan.
Information adapted with permission from "First Time Horse Ownership:
Selecting Horses and Budgeting", Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Oklahoma State University. 

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