Horse Stable

The horse is perfectly well suited to live in his natural environment on a grassy plain. He needs shelter from the wind and rain, grass, and clean water. Living under these conditions, however, he will be able to do only a little light work.

If he is to be employed as a riding horse, with perhaps the demands of competition work being put upon him, he then needs to be kept in a controlled environment, ie in a stable where he can be kept warm and dry and his diet can be regulated. Whilst living out he will grow fat and a long coat to protect him from the elements. Neither of these will allow him to be used seriously in hard work.

The competition horse, or hunter, if he is to do well, must therefore be kept in. A loose box is the most suitable form of stabling and this must provide:

  • 1. Warmth and protection from the elements.
  • 2. Fresh air but no draughts.
  • 3. Good drainage and dry standing.
  • 4. Good light, by day and night.
  • 5. A constant water supply.
  • 6. feeding facilities.
  • 7. Sufficient room to move around, lie down, and stand up easily.
  • 8. Security from thieves and vandals.

Careful selection of the site on which stables are to be built is essential. Whilst other planning considerations will affect the choice some fundamental factors should be seriously considered.

A south-facing site with protection from the prevailing winds is ideal. the top of a windy hill or the bottom of a damp frost hollow should be avoided. Ease of maintenance must be taken into account. If the stables are near the owner’s dwelling disadvantages are obvious: ease of access and observation, main economical provision of access roads, water mains, and electricity. The layout of the site must allow for the daily running of the stable yard to be carried out quickly and efficiently. The tack room, feed room, and stable should be close together to avoid carrying saddles and feeds over long distances. A well-lit, covered way between these buildings is an advantage in wet weather or on dark winter evenings.

A hay and bedding store is required, large enough to allow stocks to be purchased economically. This will depend on the number of horses being fed but it is helpful to be able to buy and store as much as possible at the time of year when hay and straw are at their cheapest — hay in June or July, straight off the field, and straw at harvest time. Again, the barn or store for bulk stocks should be close enough to avoid carrying heavy loads over long distances.

Should space permit, the following facilities will assist in the smooth running of a stable yard:

  • 1. A well-lit area with hard standing in which the blacksmith can work.
  • 2. Adequate car and box or trailer parking area.
  • 3. A place for drying wet rugs, tack, bandages, etc.
  • 4. Lavatory and washing facilities.

The access road should be suitable for lorries to carry heavy loads of forage and bedding as near as possible to the store in which they are to be kept. The whole yard area should be as secure as possible to deter thieves and prevent horses from getting out on the roads.

The loose box

Many stables are built of wood, often prefabricated by a contractor and assembled on a concrete base on site. They offer a wide choice of sizes and styles together with integrated ancillary buildings such as tack rooms, feed rooms, etc.

The advantages of wooden stables are that they are reasonably priced, quickly assembled, and pleasing to look at. The disadvantages are the fire risk, problems of maintenance, lack of warmth, and shorter lifespan than that of brick or stone. Also, horses tend to chew woodwork. Stables made of brick, stone, or concrete blocks are more permanent constructions. They are less of a fire risk and provide greater warmth. The cost will almost certainly be greater than building on wood.

To accommodate a horse of 16 hands high or over, a loose box measuring 3.65 x 3.65m (12 x 12ft) is required. For horses under 16 hands, 3.65 x 3m (12 x l oft) may be acceptable, depending on the type of horse and the design of the box. Boxes that measure 3 x 3m ( I() x 10ft) are only suitable, as a permanent accommodation, for ponies. Loose boxes measuring 3.65 x 4.3m(12 x 14ft) or even 4.3 x 4.3m (14 x 14ft) are sometimes found. These are suitable for foaling boxes or very large horses. They require more bedding which results in greater expenditure and more work mucking out.

The stable door is best if it is divided so that the top half can be left open. Its overall height should not be less than 2.15m (7ft). The bottom half of the door should be about 1.4-1.5m (41/2-5ft)in height. The width of the door should not be less than 1.2m(4ft). Both halves of the door must be fitted with bolts, top and bottom, on the outside. A kick bolt can be used for the bottom of the door to avoid constant bending down.

The window should be on the same side of the box as the door to avoid draughts. Stable windows are best hinged at the bottom and opening inwards. They should be sited as high as possible in the box and protected by a metal grille so that the horse can not come into contact with the glass.

To enable the horse to be tied up, a metal ring must be securely fitted to the wall. This should be about 1.7m (51/2ft) from the ground. Another ring at a similar height is useful for hanging ah a net.

Both internal and external lights are needed. The external light must be of the approved weatherproof variety. The internal light is best sited in the middle of the ceiling; it must be fireproof and inaccessible to the horse. A 150-watt bulb is a suitable size in the average loose box. The switches for both lights must be of a weatherproof design and fitted to the outside of the loose box out of reach of the horse.

The floor of the box must provide a dry, non-slip, hard standing. Many old stable floors are built from blue or huff stable bricks or tiles. These are excellent but expensive and require a lot of work to keep them free from compacted stable manure. Modern stable floors are usually made of concrete, which must be durable, non-absorbent, and waterproof. Contractors laying these floors should be conversant with the various reports prepared on the subject by the Cement Marketing Company Ltd.To save work and bedding, good drainage is essential. The stable floor should be well-sloped; a drop of 4.5cm (11/2-2in) in 3m (10ft)provides adequate drainage and will not cause discomfort to the horse.

The overall drainage must also be carefully considered. Besides the foul water drainage from inside the box, the evacuation of rainwater from the roofs of the stables and other buildings is very important if the stable yard is to remain serviceable throughout the year.

The ceiling of a loose box should be at least 3m (loft) high. Adequate thermal insulation should be laid between the ceiling and the roof. The material from which the ceiling is made should be capable of withstanding acid and humid conditions, easy to clean, and finished in a light color. A glossy surface should be avoided as it encourages condensation and the eventual dripping of water into the box.

Facilities for feeding and watering must be provided in each box. Short feed is usually given in a manner that is a large bowl made of either galvanized iron or strong plastic. The manager should be fitted into a strong permanent stand preferably made of brick or stone; the top should be about 1 am (3ft) above the ground. Mangers made of glazed pottery are sometimes found in older stables; these are satisfactory apart from the fact that they are permanent fixtures and cannot be removed for cleaning.

Hay is fed either from a hay net fastened to a ring in the wall Morin a hay rack. The fitting of the rack is a matter of choice. It can beat a height of about 1.5m (5ft), where it is safe and easy to fill, orate about I am (3ft) high, where it is less safe but enables the horse to eat at a more natural height.

Water can be supplied in buckets, which should be properly secure, or in an automatic drinker which the horse learns to operate by pressing with his nose. Whichever system is used must ensure a regular supply of fresh, cold water. All pipes and equipment must be adequately lagged to prevent the water from freezing.

The tack room

This must be large enough to enable all the saddles, bridles and another tack to be hung up tidily. The room must be well and dry. To ensure that the tack is kept in good condition a constant room temperature must be maintained. A V2Kw tube heater is ideal, as it is both adequate and safe. Heaters that burn gas or oil are unsuitable as they are a potential fire hazard and create condensation.

A sink with hot and cold running water is required for washing and cleaning. A wooden saddle horse is needed for cleaning saddles, together with a large hook hung from the ceiling for cleaning bridles. Adequate storage cupboards for rugs, spare tack, traveling equipment, etc are an advantage. An electric power point will also be found useful. The tack room is usually the convenient place to keep the veterinary first-aid cabinet.

Saddler is expensive equipment for which there is usually a flourishing second-hand market. This makes saddler theft very rewarding, so a major aspect of the tack room should be that it is burglar-proof.

The feed room

This room must be large enough to enable economical stocks of food to be stored. Cereals such as oats, barley, and maize must be kept in vermin-proof, preferably galvanized iron, containers. If they are kept in bags they deteriorate quickly and attract rats and mice. Sufficient space should be available for the preparation of feeds, equipment including a sink with running water, and a boiler of some sort, preferably electric, for heating water and boiling barley, linseed, and other feeds. A storage cupboard is required for items such as oil, salts, other additives, and cooking utensils.

The muck heap

Manure is a valuable bi-product of the stable’s activities and is much sought after by mushroom growers and market gardeners. Whilst it is an excellent fertilizer under most conditions it must never be spread on horse pastures for fear of spreading the eggs of internal parasites.

The muck heap must be close at hand to avoid carrying soiled bedding over long distances. It should be sited downwind of the stables and dwellings. Easy access must be given to enable heavy vehicles to remove their contents from time to time.

The most convenient design for a muck heap is a concrete base with three retaining walls of concrete blocks forming hollows The size of the muck heap depends entirely on the number of horses being kept and the frequency with which it is emptied.

Stable Bedding

Horses like to rest lying down and should be encouraged to do so. It is a sign of a relaxed, contented horse if he lies down in his stable for part of the day.

Stable bedding must fulfill several requirements: it must provide a warm comfortable bed and protect the horse from injury; it must not be injurious if eaten; it must be absorbent; it must be easily and regularly obtainable and economical to use; and it is an advantage if it can be disposed of easily and profitably after use.

Various materials can be used to make a stable bed, each with its advantages and disadvantages.


This is the most widely used and easily obtainable type of bedding and is most economical if it is purchased off the field at harvest time. It is best to store it for six months before it is disused. During this time it should be kept dry, aired, and free from vermin.

Straw provides a warm, comfortable, easily maintained, and handled bed. It is light in color and drains well, has a pleasing appearance when laid as a bed, and has the added advantage that, when rotted down on the muck heap, it is readily purchased by market gardeners as fertilizer.

Straw is available in three types:

  • 1 Wheat straw, which is the most popular as it provides a good bed that horses are unlikely to eat.
  • 2 Oat straw, which makes a satisfactory bed though horses are inclined to eat it.
  • 3 Barley straw which makes a less satisfactory bed as it has less spring and gets rather soggy. It also contains barley awns which may irritate the horse and cause a hint to rub.

As all straw is now combined and harvested it tends to be short, which makes it rather more difficult to handle but does make it easier for the horse to move around in his box.

Wood shavings and sawdust

These both make a good bed, being light, soft, easy to handle, and often inexpensive to those who live near a sawmill or timber works from which they can be collected. They are particularly by the veterinary profession because they do not contain the spores found in the straw that can cause respiratory problems in some horses. Horses that suffer from emphysematous conditions are best kept on wood shavings or sawdust.

The disadvantages of using wood shavings are that when soiled they are difficult to dispose of, they are unwanted as fertilizer, and difficult to burn. They can be spread on the land, which requires specialist machinery, but never on horse pastures as this may well spread the eggs of internal parasites.

Peat moss

This makes a good bed but it is dark, heavy, and expensive. It is however easy to dispose of for gardeners.


Sand is used as bedding in some countries but it is not entirely satisfactory. It compacts down hard and provides little or no warmth. Sand colic can ensue if horses eat it. It is usually cheap and easy to obtain but seashore sand should not be used as horses tend to lick it for its salty taste.

There are three other materials shredded paper, bracken, and bark stripping that can be used to make stable beds, but they are not recommended except in extreme cases where more conventional forms of bedding cannot be obtained.

All stable beds should be thoroughly mucked out once a day. In this process, normally done first thing in the morning, all the droppings and wet bedding are removed and the dry bedding is either piled in one corner of the box or put back down as a daybed. Fresh bedding is added as required, usually at the end of the afternoon when the bed is put down for the night. It helps to keep the stable fresh and to conserve bedding if the droppings are picked up regularly thorough out the day.

As an alternative to this form of stable bedding, horses are often kept on deep litter. This consists of a permanent bed of about six inches of wood shavings, sawdust, or peat moss with a thick straw bed on top of it. The droppings are picked up regularly and thoroughly but the bed is not mucked out daily. resh straw is added to the bed as required to keep it soft and comfortable. This system provides a warm, comfortable, and economical bed.

The entire bed is removed two or three times by ear and replaced. Great care must be taken of horses‘ feet when they are kept on deep litter. Regular picking out and disinfecting of the foot, particularly in the area of the frog, will discourage thrush from forming.

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