Housing the Horse

The health and safety of the horses that will live in a barn are of primary importance no matter the style. But barns come in many sizes, shapes, and styles to meet the needs of intended use, climate, site, and the owner's budget. Personal tastes and preferences of the owner also factor into the barn's construction.

In this article we'll look at some key points in housing your horse. You might be building from the ground up, looking at a pre-fab or metal building, or want a cover that allows you flexibility for the space beneath. Or you might just want to refurbish an existing structure rather than build from scratch. Whether you have a couple of head or hundreds of horses, this article should give you information to help you make horse housing decisions.


Pre-fabricated buildings and/or stall parts and accessories work well for many horse owners. When building from the ground up, you can configure a barn from modular parts. From storage sheds to indoor arenas and barns, they can be customized to your individual needs.

Some companies also make barn accessories, such as windows, stall doors/panels, stall mats, hay racks, feeders, and waterers. Construction and installation is usually done by local distributors, but some can be installed by experienced owners.

Metal barns with metal roofs are used throughout the country for various breeds. Steel-framed, fabric-covered "coverall" buildings are another option. Made of UV-resistant coated polyethylene, the clear fabric covers let in lots of light.

Before proceeding with new construction or renovation plans, a property owner should apply for a building permit and also understand the limitations of the location (easements, availability of water and electric, building restrictions, etc.). A contractor can handle these details, or you can talk to a local planning board.

Experts' Experience

R. K. Walker is the director of equine operations for the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP) near Lexington, Ky. The park has a total of 1,194 box stalls in 25 barns, which include 20 barns that host horses visiting for numerous events, including the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. There are more stalls for the permanent residents in the Hall of Champions, the Breeds Barn, the horse-drawn tour area, the draft horse barn, and the carriage barn. The 1,224-acre property also features a 37,500-square-foot indoor arena and 15 outdoor arenas.

Tad Campbell is the maintenance supervisor for the Salt Lake County Equestrian Park and Event Center (SLCEP) in South Jordan, Utah. The park can accommodate hundreds of horses on its 120 acres. The facility has three 102-stall show barns, six shed-row barns with 30 stalls each, and four enclosed middle breezeway barns with 35-40 stalls each. There is a 45,000-square-foot indoor arena and five outdoor arenas. Following are Walker and Stuart's comments on several areas of barn design and function.

Ventilation--At both facilities, some barns have center aisles with stalls facing into the aisle and windows in the rear facing outside. Stall front doors at KHP have steel bars. At SLCEP, they have galvanized tubing. Both let air circulate; another option for ventilation is a second door, rather than a window, in the back of the stall.

Flooring and drainage--At both facilities, most barns have three-quarter-inch thick rubber stall mats over concrete or blacktop floors. "Especially for our big, heavy, draft horses standing on that rubber, it's really paid off. It helps their joints tremendously," Walker says.

Most flooring at KHP is porous asphalt. "It could drain well," Walker said, "but then you put those rubber mats on top, and that does away with that, so we had to go with a drain toward the back of the stall. We have a 1% drop in the floor toward the back of the stall, and then a shallow trench along the back walls that runs to one end of the barn and on out into the sanitary sewers. That urine has to go somewhere."

The barn must stay dry, even after heavy rains. Wet barn floors foster disease.

Site planning for drainage is essential. You must have a proper height and grade (the way the land slopes) for the barn to drain properly.

"Build a barn up on a pedestal," Campbell says. A barn should be raised up on a concrete foundation that has a low grade, so water can drain away from the barn rather than into it.

Stall and roof panels--Some barns at SLCEP were built by the previous owner, a Quarter Horse enthusiast. Several shed-row-style barns have wood roofs topped with galvanized metal covering pre-fabricated stall panels. Several concrete show barns were built by the parks. These barns are outfitted with pre-fabricated stall doors and panels.

If considering pre-fabricated barns and stall equipment, do comparison shopping.

Hay and bedding storage--Hay and bedding can be stored in an overhead loft or in a separate building near the barn. When a loft is used, easy delivery of hay and bedding into the loft is a practical consideration.

"We've got one barn here that was set up just for the aesthetic value and it doesn't work real well in trying to put hay into the lofts," Walker says. "A barn needs to be set up with that in mind, too. If it's a fairly large operation, you're going to be bringing in quite a bit of hay and straw, and it needs to be convenient for the people bringing it in."

Hay and straw in a loft also present a fire and ventilation challenge, so carefully consider this option. Keeping these materials overhead can also add a lot of dust to horses' air and might not be advised for horses with respiratory problems.

Fire sprinkler system--Overhead sprinkler systems can be installed fairly easily, and most KHP barns have them. Walker says there should be ample room overhead in stalls, regardless of whether sprinkler systems are present.

"I think you should have at least 10 feet of head room for a horse," says Walker. Tall breeds such as draft horses and warmbloods need more, as do playful younger horses that are prone to rear.

Most KHP barns have asphalt shingle roofs. "That seems to help with the heat, some, over metal," Walker says. "However, I think metal seems to last a little longer."


David Stuart wants 12 horses--four Standardbred broodmares with foals and four yearlings--on his 50-acre farm in Glencoe, Ontario, Canada. When he bought his property in October 2004, it had a wood frame barn that was more than 50 years old.

"Three factors contributed to my decision to renovate the old barn," Stuart says. "First, it costs less to renovate than to build anew. I'm probably saving about 30% of what I would if I were to build a building from the ground up."

Second was the barn's built-in ventilation. The third factor was that it fit the site.

"The big problem I had was the height of the ceiling," he added. The ceiling was raised 20 1/2 inches, to a height of eight feet, 10 1/2 inches. Above the stalls there is a loft for hay and straw storage.

"I'm going to put in a Tyvek product on the inner side of the outside wall, which will keep wind and weather out," Stuart says. "I'm insulating from the ground up on the outer walls only."

Insulating a barn is a practical measure whether building new or renovating an existing structure. For the foals in Stuart's barn, it will eliminate drafts. And in any barn, it can help keep pipes from freezing.

Also, Stuart is taking out the existing concrete floor in the old barn. He will dig down a foot and fill back to the original grade with pond sand.

He is also installing wireless communication systems between his barn and home office for better equine recordkeeping. He'll also include a barn camera system that will send its signal to a television in his home, 175 feet from the barn.

Take-Home Message

Whether building anew or renovating an old barn, do your homework, consult experts, ask questions, and expect to do a certain amount of fine-tuning.

About the Author

Bettina Cohen

Bettina Cohen is a past contributing writer to The Blood-Horse magazine.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners