If you are to get the best from your horse, it is vital that you provide him with a happy, comfortable and safe home environment. This applies whether he is kept in a horse barn or in a field.
As a general rule, a particularly fine-coated horse, or one that is in hard work, needs to be stabled during cold periods. Hardier horses can live outside all year, provided that they are supplied with adequate shelter. Many owners favor the combined system, where a horse lives out during the winter days, but comes into the stable on the cold nights. Similarly, during the summer, many horses can benefit from coming into the stable during the day time if they have a tendency to put on too much weight because of the long grass, or are particularly aggravated by flies and insects.
A horse in hard work may be better kept in a stable where he can be easily accessed for work and where owners can ensure that feed and care is being administered correctly, under the close supervision of the caregiver. Often times horses in training are heavily blanketed during the winter months and do not develop a hair coat that is heavy enough to keep them warm outside.
Whichever method you choose, your horse’s comfort and safety should be of paramount importance.
It is generally considered that the best form of stabling is a loose box where the horse has the freedom to move, turn around and lie down. The absolute minimum sizes should be 3 x 3.5 m (10 x 12 ft) for a pony and 3.5 x 4.25 m (12 x 14 ft) for a horse. Never compromise on space! Although many of today’s modern stables are made of wood, as they are cheaper, brick is warmer and not a fire hazard.
Non-slip flooring is essential. Ideally, opt for a floor made of concrete or rubber. Bedding is very much a matter of personal preference. Most owners use either straw or wood shavings, depending on availability. If a horse has a dust allergy, it is best to use paper.
A useful added extra is a kicking board where a horse that kicks out can be prevented from damaging either himself or the structure of the stable.
Fixed lighting in a stable is useful (although not essential) if you intend to do any stable work in the evening. Switches should always be out of the horse’s reach with lights well out of reach or covered with metal mesh.
Bolts on doors should, ideally, be horse-proof, although as an extra precaution a kick-over bolt can be installed that is sufficient to deter any budding Houdini!
Fittings should include two tie rings, one at eye level for the hay-net and one at chest level, to tie the horse up. Mangers are sometimes built into the structure of the stable. However, buckets that hang over the door can be purchased if no suitable structure is available. Some stables have automatic water dispensers, which are convenient, but they also make it difficult to monitor the horse’s drinking patterns.
There should be approximately 1.5 acre for every horse or pony that is living in the field, although this can be slightly smaller if horses are turned out for a shorter period. Fencing should be made of a safe material such as post and rails and should be at least 1.3 m (4 ft 6 in) high. Hedges are generally safe, although they should be regularly checked for holes that would look appealing to a mischievous pony.
Fresh water should always be available, either in the form of a running stream or in a suitable container.
A shelter is also a useful addition to a field; it provides a windbreak in the winter and a fly shelter in the summer.
All fields should be checked regularly for gaps in fences, poisonous plants and any litter that may be eaten by your horse. It is vital to remember to check your horse or pony at least once a day to ensure that he has not injured himself in the field.
The key to success, when deciding upon the type of accommodation that’s right for your horse, is to ensure that he is happy, safe and warm. A horse that needs to be stabled permanently will almost certainly enjoy an hour or so in an appropriate field to let off steam. Similarly, a horse that always lives out may appreciate having the warmth of a stable in times of extreme cold.
Be adaptable and listen to your horse!