The need for a suitable environment for horses
Our equine friends enjoy a life of luxury. They no longer need to roam miles to find food and shelter, their turnout and exercise routines are carefully managed, and we’ve welcomed horses as part of our families.
It’s important to remember that every equine is an individual with their own, unique needs and that includes their environment. Here, we talk about where your horse can be housed and what they need for a comfortable life.
Horses and ponies who are stabled should have plenty of space to move around comfortably; plus, they should be able to lie down and turn without brushing against stable walls. There should also be space for forage and water buckets in your horse or pony’s stable.
Here are some minimum stable sizes:
- For horses up to 17hh, the minimum stable size should be around 12ft x 14ft.
- Stables for ponies up to 14.1hh should be a minimum size of 10ft x 12ft.
- Foaling boxes (for mares with foals) should be at least 14ft x 14ft.
Doorways of stables should be wide enough to allow your horse or pony to enter without knocking their hip bones or hitting their heads on the doorframe!
Essential safety features for every stable:
- Electrical wires and light fittings should be safety-checked by a qualified electrician.
- All electrical wires and light fittings must be out of reach of your horse or pony.
- There should be fire alarms and fire extinguishers within reach of every stable.
- Each stable requires a top bolt and kick bolt, to prevent your horse or pony from escaping.
- Smoking shouldn’t be allowed in or around stables.
- The muck heap should be located a significant distance from the stables.
Stabling can be found in different styles, though there are ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ for each…
These are the traditional stables you’ll see at most livery yards.
Individual stables are a popular choice with many livery yard owners because it’s easier to get planning permission to add extra stables to existing stable blocks than it is to build a barn with stables.
Pros of loose boxes:
- Plenty of natural ventilation.
- Lots to look at, since your horse can see what’s happening around them!
- Easier to isolate horses with infectious diseases, like strangles or equine flu.
Cons of loose boxes:
- There’s no escape from mucking out in bad weather, since the stables are outside!
- Wooden loose boxes are easily damaged by horses/years of bad weather.
Inspired by an American-style barn layout, some stables can be set up within a barn.
Thanks to the option of storing feed, bedding, and tack in the same building, American barns are becoming more popular with larger livery yards.
Pros of American barns:
- No need to muck out in bad weather because you’re working indoors!
- Lots of opportunity for social interaction, as horses can see each other.
- Some American barns offer the option to adjust stall size, which can be great for horses on box rest who need extra space to move around.
Cons of American barns:
- Limited ventilation, which can cause an issue if you need to isolate horses with infectious diseases, like strangles or equine flu.
- Horses spend all the time they’re stabled with other horses, so are more likely to copy the stereotypical behaviours of their neigh-bours (see what we did, there?), e.g. door-kicking at feeding time.
All equines need a constant supply of fresh, clean water.
In a stable, your horse should have access to either a food-safe, non-toxic water bucket or a well-maintained water drinker. While water buckets will allow you to monitor your horse’s water intake more easily than a drinker, they are easier to tip over!
Your horse should have constant access to suitable forage, such as hay or haylage.
It’s worth weighing up the safety aspects of each option before deciding how to provide your horse with forage. It’s also important to consider your horse’s needs and stable layout before choosing to provide forage via any of the following options:
- Hay bar.
- Hay bag.
- Hay rack.
Many horse owners use rubber matting on the cold, concrete floor of their horse’s stables. Rubber matting doesn’t only save the amount of bedding your horse will need, but it also provides an extra layer of insulation!
Bedding used in a stable should be non-toxic and, preferably, dust-free.
Factors to consider when choosing bedding for your horse:
- Respiratory health – if they have a respiratory condition, your equine friend may need dust-free bedding.
- Messiness – owners of horses who make a massive mess every night might prefer bedding that’s cheap to replace!
- Storage – some livery yards offer limited storage for bedding.
- Yard rules – occasionally, livery yard owners prefer horse owners to use a specific type of bedding.
- Availability – certain types of bedding may be only available seasonally.
Although the amount of bedding you use will depend on your preference and your horse’s needs, it’s essential there’s enough bedding to soak up wetness and allow your horse to lie down comfortably.
Types of bedding used for horses:
- Wood shavings.
- Wood pellets (soak before use!).
- Shredded wood fibre.
Whichever type of bedding you choose, it must be kept as clean as possible. Mucking out twice a day will help your horse stay happy and healthy!
For horses who spend a lot of time in their stables, there are ways to keep them entertained:
- Spread their forage into separate portions around the stable, e.g. tie up haynets in two different places, which encourages them to move more.
- Stable toys.
- Mineral licks.
Always secure fixtures and fittings safely. Also, ensure there are no sharp edges in your horse’s stable.
If you’d like more ideas, ask your vet for advice about keeping your horse entertained while they’re stabled.
Storing your horse’s rugs in their stable isn’t ideal, but sometimes we have no choice when keeping our horses on livery yards with limited storage. If you do have to store your horse’s rugs in their stable, fold the rugs over safety string (that will break easily if your horse gets tangled in it) and keep any belly straps, leg straps, and fillet strings safely tucked away, so your horse can’t get their legs caught.
All feed, forage, tack, and bedding should be stored safely away from your horse’s stable in purpose-built storage facilities.
Our equine friends’ fields must be safe environments for them.
Fresh, clean water should be available for your horse all day, every day.
Natural water supplies should be:
- Checked every day.
- Stony instead of sandy (ingesting sand can cause colic!).
- Free from pollution.
- Easy to access.
Stagnant (still) water sources, such as ponds and lakes, don’t usually provide suitable drinking water for horses. Also, rivers with a powerful current are dangerous to horses! Any water source that isn’t safe for your horse should be fenced off to prevent them from accessing it.
Water buckets should be:
- Made with non-toxic, food-safe materials.
- Cleaned and refilled every day.
- Free from sharp edges.
- Able to provide enough water for all horses in the field.
Remember: Bathtubs are not safe water containers for horses!
Automatic drinkers should be:
- Checked daily.
- Cleaned regularly.
- Sturdy and weatherproof.
- Located away from the corners (to prevent aggressive behaviour!).
All field fences should be checked daily. Whether or not your field has a horse-friendly hedgerow, there should still be sturdy, safe, post-and-rail fencing around the perimeter of the field.
Field fencing should be high enough to prevent your horse from escaping.
Electric fencing is often used to strip graze fields or separate one herd of horses from another in a vast field. If you choose to use electric fencing, discuss all safety concerns with the livery yard owner and a vet.
Gateways should be securely fastened, and a padlock should be used for gates that open onto or near a road.
Remember: Materials like barbed wire and sheep wire aren’t safe to use for fencing!
Managing your horse’s grazing is a year-round responsibility.
Ways to maintain good quality grazing:
- Clear droppings daily.
- Safely remove poisonous plants.
- Ensure there’s at least 1–1.5 acres per horse.
The British Horse Society (BHS) pasture management guide is a fantastic resource for horse owners!
The shelter in your horse’s field can be natural or man-made.
Natural shelter, such as hedges and trees, should be free from poisonous plants and must be checked regularly for any damage or fallen branches that could harm horses.
Most man-made field shelters require planning permission – unless they are temporary, moveable shelters. Field shelters should be large enough to allow your horse’s entire herd to use safely, and shelters should be cleaned daily.
Speak to your vet for advice about your horse’s environment if you’re unsure.