Shelters, Stalls And Horse Facilities

The purpose of this section is to provide information on the basic principles of shelter for horses at retirement/rescue facilities. Many different types of housing and shelters are used at these facilities, and in this section it will be difficult to examine all possibilities.

Many factors should be taken into account when designing shelters, including the diverse climatic and geographic conditions that can be found in the United States. Individuals requiring further information should refer to local sources, such as veterinarians and extension agencies.


A shelter is a natural or man-made structure that provides relief to each individual animal from direct sunlight, wind, precipitation and other inclement weather. The design and use of shelters should promote the health, well-being and good performance of horses throughout all stages of their lives.

All constructed shelters should be structurally safe for horses and personnel. Shelters where horses are located should be constructed with no exposed surfaces or projections likely to cause injury. Shelter design should promote easy and safe handling of horses, as well as ease of cleaning and care. Horses should be provided with a clean area on which to lie.

Ceilings and support beams in horse-housing facilities should be high enough to permit the horse to stand naturally with a full range of motion in the head and  neck without touching the ceiling. Floors in horse stables should be constructed and maintained to provide traction and drainage and prevent injury. Ventilation should be designed to provide adequate air circulation for enclosed shelters.

Electrical wiring and panels should not be accessible to horses and should be installed in accordance with applicable electrical codes. Lighting should be provided in a manner to permit effective observation of stabled horses. Alleyways and work areas should be uniformly illuminated. Natural lighting should be provided wherever possible.

Manure and disposed bedding should be handled and stored in a manner that has as little negative impact on the surrounding area and the environment as is reasonably possible.

Rescue/retirement facilities should have a designated area for quarantine or isolation purposes. This area should be separated from other holding areas.


Stalls or portable corrals should be available to contain horses that may be sick or injured. The stalls should be of sufficient size for a horse to get up and down. Bedding should be provided and kept clean, with stalls being cleaned at least once every 24 hours. Good ventilation is very important.


Pastures are an important aspect of rescue/retirement facilities. Pastures allow horses to have access to grass as needed. The number of horses intended to be pastured should determine the size and number of pastures and/or paddocks at a facility. Conversely, size and number of paddocks available will determine how many horses can be safely accommodated without compromising their physical and emotional health. Keep in mind safety and injury prevention while allowing plenty of exercise.

Stocking requirements of pastures will vary, depending on feed and quality of the pastures. But generally, one or two acres per horse are required. Horses have a natural herd instinct, and as such, will prefer to be with other horses. In addition, pasture containment with proper shelter will serve a facility better than stalls only.

Pastures and Range Management:

Horses on pasture or range should have an adequate quantity and quality of feed and water. Properly maintained pastures may provide all or most of the nutrient requirements of grazing horses. Nutrient content of pastures should be closely monitored and supplemental feed provided when necessary. Salt and mineral supplements should be provided when necessary to supplement specific nutrient deficits in grasses and forage.

To prevent digestive and health problems, horses should be introduced to pasture gradually or cautiously, especially in heavy growing periods such as spring in some areas. Horses on pasture should be inspected regularly, paying close attention during high-risk periods (seasonal changes, introduction of new horses, foaling, etc.).

Application of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and manure to pastures should be planned and conducted to minimize risk to grazing horses and the environment. In addition, pastures and range land should be inspected regularly for poisonous plants.

Pasture and Paddock Fencing Safety:

Pastures and paddocks should be properly fenced to safely confine horses. The suitability of type of fence varies according to the disposition of the horses, as well as stocking density and pasture/paddock size. Horses should be introduced to unfamiliar fenced areas during daylight hours and be monitored to reduce the risk of injury.

Fences and gates should be maintained in good repair to minimize the risk of horses gaining access to public roadways. Barbed wire and narrow gauge high tensile wire, because of their cutting properties, can cause severe injury to horses.

These materials are sometimes used for fencing extensive pasture areas, but should be avoided in closely confined paddocks or small pastures. Pastures, paddocks and range should be free from equipment, machinery, debris and refuse that have the potential to cause serious injury to occupants.

Paddock and Small Pasture Management:

Every property in which horses are kept should have a sufficient number of paddocks or pastures to permit separation of incompatible animals. The risk of injury increases when horses are overcrowded. Competition for food, water and space often leads to fighting and subsequent injury.

The number of horses and their grouping in each paddock or small pasture should be appropriate for their compatibility and for the ground conditions, taking into account the climatic conditions at the time. Paddocks and small pastures should be cleaned regularly. Horses will not eat  pasture grass or forage that is contaminated with manure. Without regular cleaning the effective grazing area is decreased.

Effective parasite control is more difficult in paddock or small pasture environments. Pasture rotation, manure removal and internal parasite control with effective deworming programs are a part of an integrated program of management.

Sources such as your local veterinarian can help in the development of a specific program to it individual conditions.

The Bottom Line – Protecting the Health and Welfare of the Horse:

Ultimately, the best indicators of proper management of an equine rescue/ retirement facility are the physical and emotional health of the horses and the overall improvement in horses previously suffering from disease, trauma or neglect. Unless there is a medical explanation, all horses should regain and maintain an acceptable state of health and well-being with proper care.

Allowing rescued horses to deteriorate due to inadequate care, resources or space is no favor to them and can progress to the point of cruelty. Those who take in every animal, regardless of their ability to provide care or refusal to recognize when an animal is suffering, are hoarders, not rescuers. All rescue and retirement organizations should periodically reevaluate their principles, practices, capabilities and goals with the help of objective, knowledgeable outsiders, such as their equine veterinarian.

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