Building Horse Stalls for Your Barn

December 1, 2021

Hi, I'm Paige, half of the duo behind Fairway Stables™

This website is the one I've been searching for, for years; a compilation of knowledge on all things horsemanship, including practical advice on how to start an equestrian business.

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When it comes to planning out horse stalls for your horse barn, strategy is king. Owning horses is a big responsibility and can require quite a bit of work. A little strategizing at the outset can save you some trouble down the line.

When you are making building plans for your horse stalls, there are a few factors to consider:

Today, we are breaking down each of these elements and including the plans for our own barn at Fairway Stables TM, starting with the size of our horse stalls.

Size of Your Horse Stalls

When deciding horse stall sizing, the general rule of thumb is that the horse should be able to lie down and roll easily without getting stuck against a wall. (This is known as “getting cast”, which can be dangerous.) Below are some more specific dimensions to guide your planning.

A standard horse stall is 12’x12’ (“standard” being defined as for a horse around 1000lbs). Larger horses, such as Warmbloods or Drafts may require 14’x14’ or 16’x16’. A broodmare, of course, would need a larger stall for birthing a foal. Ponies don’t necessarily need smaller stalls (though generally housed in a 10’x10’ stall). They will just need shorter amenities (i.e., a lower feed rack). Minis can go as small as 8’x8’. 

What we’re doing in our barn:

We’re creating larger stalls, 16’x16’. Our thinking for this is that while 12’x12’ is standard, horses will almost always end up using one corner as a “repository” (ie, where they go to the bathroom.) A 12’x12’ leaves little room for the horse to lay down in the stall without hitting that area. Not to mention, it’s harder to keep a standard stall clean because the horse will grind their manure into the shavings when walking tight circles in the stall. 

Another thing to consider when planning stall dimensions is the possibility of injuries and what’s needed in the healing process. As we learned this summer with Elvis’ flexor tendon injury, horses with severe leg injuries might need something around 12×10. This keeps them from walking around too much.

On the other end of the spectrum, we are also including a sliding partition in one stall. This will basically allow us to combine two 16’x16’ stalls into one large 32’x32’. Why? When dealing with an injured horse on stall rest, this can be critical to the success of their healing. At our horses’ last residence, we did not have a completely constructed barn for them (rather, run-ins with attached paddocks.) When Elvis was injured, we had to quickly build said stall in the blistering heat of an Oklahoma July. 

For more on protecting your horse and your wallet when injuries happen, check out our post on equine insurance.

Kickboards and Partitions 

I learned more about kickboards than I ever thought I would when my very high-spirited quarter horse suddenly found himself on stall rest this summer. According to most experts, an 8-foot-high stall partition is a standard size. The reason being that most horses can kick as high as 7 feet. Again, we learned this this summer, when Elvis kicked a hole through cement siding approximately 6 feet high. 

A partition anywhere from 7.5-8 foot high is appropriate. The safety key is that you do not want anything that your horse can get his legs caught in. This is why most stalls are wooden on the bottom and sometimes have a metal partition on top. 

While you would hope that your horse would never rear in his stall, always plan for the unexpected. An 8 foot ceiling should be the minimum height, with 10-12 feet preferred. This is beneficial both to decrease the chance of your horse hitting his head, but also to increase air circulation throughout the stall. 

Horse Stall Doors 

The minute you begin planning your stall construction, you’ll probably realize there are more stall door options than you ever thought possible. From Dutch Doors to mesh coverings, swinging doors to sliding, the possibilities are endless. 

The safety element to keep in mind when choosing stall doors is to remember that any swinging door should swing out into the aisle, rather than into the stall. Sliding doors need a stop to prevent the door from falling all the way off the track. Any full-length door needs adequate room for clearance (typically around 3 inches) to prevent the horse from getting his hoof stuck under it. 

One suggestion from our vet: it’s wise to use a door that you can see through, so that as you’re walking down your barn aisle, you can easily see if a horse is laying down, injured, etc. This is a simple but effective way to increase safety measures around the barn. 

A word to the wise: horses are smarter than you think when it comes to learning how to unlatch a gate. Position any latches outside the horse’s reach, or use latches that require two hands to open. 

Feeding Areas in Horse Stalls

Horses are curious animals who have a knack for getting themselves into trouble. So when supplying the stall, it’s always best to choose durable materials that are smooth and that they can’t get a leg stuck in. 

The water bucket is best hung on the wall with a snap hook, just remember to keep it on the wall by the aisle for easy refilling. A bucket on the floor can be easily tipped over or tripped over. It’s also wise to keep the feed and water areas separate as horses are messy eaters and will drop grain and hay while eating it. You don’t want all that hay to fall into the water because horses are more inclined to drink from a clean bucket. Be sure to clean their water buckets regularly to encourage your horses to stay hydrated.

Hay and grain feeding is very environment-dependent, but eating hay off the ground is the most natural feeding position. Before having a barn, our horses ate their hay off the ground, which worked fine–except for the fact that our Great Pyrenees, for some unknown reason, had the most fun every morning, rolling around in the hay. 

If using a hay bag, net, or rack, there are two main safety concerns to keep in mind. First, if placed too low, these can easily become traps for your horse’s legs to get caught in. Too high, and hay will fall in their eyes. As a general rule, the bottom of whichever feeder you use should be at your horse’s wither height.

Flooring in Your Horse Stalls

Stall flooring is incredibly important to think about. As someone who has had to rely on run-in sheds with dirt flooring in the past, I know it can be very difficult to keep the floor clean, thereby making it hard to keep your horse’s hooves healthy. So, what is the ideal flooring for your horse barn stalls?

First and foremost, you don’t want a slippery footing, as this can quickly lead to injuries. Your horse is going to be hard on the flooring and will likely be pawing around the feeding area. You’ll want a flooring that can absorb some of that shock and reduce the natural stress on the horse’s hooves and legs. There is no “perfect” flooring, of course, and there are a wide variety of opinions when it comes to stall mats. 

In my personal experience, I have found concrete is too slippery and leads to falls. Plus, it is horrible on a horse’s legs who is angrily pawing the ground. When wet, rubber mats can be slippery. Dirt flooring has actually worked well for us, but erodes over time. What has worked best for us is a base layer of dirt or well-draining (mixed-aggregate), covered by rubber mats, and topped with shavings to reduce sores and abrasions.  Keeping the stall flooring clean is very important to your horse’s health, and using shavings is an easy way to muck out the stall on a daily basis. 

In Conclusion…

If planning the perfect horse stalls for your barn starts to feel overwhelming, remember to break it down into the five elements we discussed today, starting with stall size and working your way to flooring. Keep in mind that the ideal barn for your needs may differ from mine depending on how large your horses are, how many horses you have, and your personal preferences. 

As your horse stalls are coming together, make sure you have some flexibility in the unfortunate case of injuries. Bonus points if you can develop a routine ahead of time to stay consistent with stall cleaning and maintenance. Happy horse stall planning!

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