Run-In Sheds

Dallas Goble, DVM, thinks quite highly of run-in sheds. "They offer better quality health for the horse than enclosed barns," says the associate professor of surgery, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee. "Run-in sheds have better ventilation and less accumulation of dust mold and spores than what accumulate in a normal barn. They're relatively safe--very few injuries are associated with sheds that are maintained in good condition. Individual horses have the opportunity to regulate where they want to be, and that's good for the horse's health and psychological well-being. Run-in sheds allow horses to act more like real horses. They're very horse friendly."

As most horse owners know, a run-in shed is a roofed, three-sided, free-access structure that offers protection to pastured horses from adverse weather. "In the winter, the run-in shed protects the horse from the elements of extreme wind or rain or snow," explains Susan Raymond, BSc (Zoology), Respiratory Health and Air Quality Researcher, Equine Research Centre, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. "In the summer, it protects the horse by providing shade and also protects the horse from flies by being in the shade, as flies don't go into the shade as much." Many sheds contain a feedbox and water trough, and some are extended to house hay, grain, and tack.

But for run-in sheds to provide maximum safety and protection, it's critical they be constructed and sited properly.

Siting The Shed

Probably the first consideration for your run-in shed is to identify the best place for it to be built. It should be located in an area that offers good drainage so horses aren't standing in muck and dirty water. Says Raymond, "Often there is a lot of activity at the shed, especially if you have hay there, so it can become quite muddy and dirty. Either have the shed on a slope so the liquid drains away, or consider grading the site by putting in gravel and top soil over it."

Avoid placing the shed in a low spot or at the bottom of run-offs, where water can accumulate during periods of heavy rain or from wet-season springs.

Of equal importance, situate the shed so the open face is opposite the side where prevailing winds come from, in order to provide shelter against cold northern winds or hot summer blasts. A poorly sited shed that faces into prevailing winds offers little shelter on wet, windy days.

Place the shed out in the open, not beneath large trees, which could be brought down by winds or ice.

Also, place the shed where it will be easy and convenient for you to work. Notes Raymond, "If you're going to be bringing hay and water up to the shed, you don't want it to be in the farthest part of your pasture."

Make sure there is plenty of clearance between the open side and natural or man-made obstacles in order to maneuver a tractor or other equipment in there to remove waste or soiled bedding.


After picking out a site for your shed, the next step is building it. The easiest, although most expensive method, is to use a ready-to-assemble package. You can find companies that offer these packages through advertisements in horse and agricultural magazines, extension offices, and word-of-mouth. Otherwise, you can construct the shed yourself, or have it constructed for you.

The basic elements of the run-in shed begin with supporting posts, siding, and sloped roof. "Generally, you see treated posts set into the ground, with two-by-fours nailed to the posts, covered by an exterior siding," says Raymond.

Any number of materials can be used for the outside, including a good grade plywood, metal (aluminum, steel, or tin) siding, cinder block, rock, or wood. "The more common is the pole-construction type--two-by-fours attached to telephone pole types of posts, then aluminum, metal, or corrugated tin cover the outside of the posts and framework," says Goble.

Metal sidings are low-maintenance--they require less repainting than wood, are untroubled by rot or termites, and are easy to sanitize and clean. However, metal siding does have some drawbacks.

"The problem with this type of siding, especially the tin," Goble explains, "is that horses can kick through the siding and lacerate tendons and legs, resulting in extremely serious injuries. You need to line the inside of the shed with at least three-quarter-inch plywood or two-inch boards. It's best to use plywood."

According to Raymond, protective plywood or boards (kicking boards) should be installed at least halfway up the walls.

Wood siding has been a traditional favorite for run-in sheds, but is losing its popularity, says Goble. "It's become progressively more expensive and there is a maintenance factor that isn't present with aluminum, which is now getting to be more popular."

As with metal siding, damage from frisky or fighting horses to wood siding can be minimized with kicking boards.

Cement, cinder block, and stone structures are sturdy and, as long as they don't have sharp edges, are safe, says Goble. "They're easy to clean and maintain, withstand spraying with disinfectants and scrubbing, and, in the case of stone, are especially aesthetically pleasing."

As with the exterior, roofing styles and materials can vary. Says Goble, "Roofs can be strictly shed style with a pitch that goes from the front of the shed to the back with a slope that drains the rain off the back of the shed into a gutter, or you can have a shed with a peaked roof with equal pitch on both sides."

You also can attach an awning from the front of the roof to provide more shade and protection.

You also might want to install a grounded lightning rod, particularly with metal sheds, suggests Goble.

"It's very, very important not to forget this, so we don't electrocute anyone or create a fire hazard," he warns.

Size Matters

Minimum height inside the shed at its lowest point (the back) should be at least eight feet, and should be at least 10 feet high at the highest point (the front). This extra height provides a little head room in the event that one of the horses rears up.

Make sure the shed is wide enough to accommodate safely the number and size of horses which will be using the shelter. Raymond notes that allowing 12' x 12' per horse--about the size of stall--is a general rule of thumb.

Temperament of the horses also might be a factor. "A group of Clydesdales will often be more amenable to sharing the shed than will Thoroughbreds or Quarter Horses that are smaller and more aggressive," says Goble. "Draft horses are a little more docile. Generally, about 75 to 100 square feet per draft horse is within acceptable limits."

Interior Motives

If your horses will be getting feed and water in the shed, place an appropriate number of feed boxes and water troughs at the back. If several horses will be accommodated there, space feed boxes apart to reduce a dominant horse from getting the lion's share. Advises Raymond, "Make sure that the hay and water are not all in one section. Spread it around."

Some experts, including Raymond, suggest using interior partitions in sheds. "Sometimes dominant horses keep the lesser horses out," she observes. "If you're doing a lot of feeding in your shed, put in small partitions so that each horse doesn't see the other one while feeding; that really helps."

Others, such as Goble, think partitions are a bad idea. "That defeats the purpose of the run-in shed," he says, "if you start dividing it up into stalls and partitions. Anyway, the dominant horse will gulp down all his feed and jump over to the next partition and kick that horse out, and they go that way down the line. To me, partitions just give an additional opportunity for injury."

(If you have an excessively dominant horse which prevents other horses from using or feeding in the shelter, consider building a second run-in shed.)

Although smaller sheds won't need supports, larger sheds will require interior bracing. The best choice for those are round, rather than square, posts. The squared and thus sharper-edged post is more likely to injure a horse which gets slam-med into it. For extra safety, protect posts, and horses, by affixing some sort of cushioning material to the supports. Says Goble, "Many use car tires around them, cut apart and lag-screwed into the post, as a rubber bumper type of thing. Sometimes people use marine bumpers like you put on boats, attached to the post with lag screws."

Another safety feature worth incorporating into the shed is rounding off the interior corners of the shed by nailing boards about six feet from the corners across from wall to wall. "Make these into rounded corners so one horse can't trap another horse where he can't get out," notes Goble.

Even though an entire side of the shed is open, additional ventilation might be a good idea to prevent moisture build-up (which can damage the structure of the shed) and to increase air flow during summer months. In areas where both heat and cold are extreme, windows or removable back panels can be used. In areas where excess summer heat is seldom a problem, small air holes drilled on the back of the shed wall close to the roof should suffice in preventing moisture build-up.

As with stalls and fencing, make sure the shed doesn't contain sharp edges or protruding nails, bolts, tin, etc.

The Ground Below

Good, dry footing is just as important in a shed as it is in a paddock or stall. If the soil surface inside the shed is hard clay free of stones, and only a couple of horses use the shed where holes or a wet surface won't develop, then that could be all the footing you need. Otherwise, you might have to cover the floor of the shed with six to eight inches of gravel, then add dirt and bedding. "You can use wood shavings, straw, or the rubber particles used in riding rings," Goble suggests. "Regardless, it's important that you have a good surface in the shed, and that it be clean and cleanable."

Keep in mind that lighter bedding can blow away in breezy areas.

Benefits Plus

A free-access run-in shed offers several benefits, including less time spent on turning out and rounding up horses as the weather changes, and more freedom for the horse. As long as it's sited, constructed, and maintained properly, a run-in shed can be a helpful addition to nearly any property. (For more information on housing your horse, see The Horse of September 1998.)

About the Author

Marcia King

Marcia King is an award-winning freelance writer based in Ohio who specializes in equine, canine, and feline veterinary topics. She's schooled in hunt seat, dressage, and Western pleasure.

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