FAQ Horse Care Tips

Equine Shelter 101: Do all horses need a stable?

Horse Run In Shed
Written by Susie W.

Some of the best horse shelters aren’t fancy at all

To stable or not to stable your horse, that’s the (common) question. While there’s no “right” answer for all scenarios, we can provide some basic guidance on the subject.

Horses require shelter from wind, inclement weather, and if they are injured or sick. Generally, something as simple as a three-sided run-in shed will protect them from the weather, but an injured horse may need to be enclosed in a proper stable.

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the key considerations you should bear in mind when deciding how to house your horse.


As long as horses have time to adjust to a new climate, they should be able to maintain an appropriate hair coat for the season.

On the other hand, if you bought a horse in Florida and moved it to Minnesota in January, it would probably require a stable and blanketing appropriate for the conditions.

Speaking of cold weather, learn how to feed horse hay in the winter.

Field shelter

Source: Canva


Stables are popular because they make it easier for humans to care for a larger number of horses. They also mean you can support more horses per acre, as they require less pasture. 

Plus, permanent shelters are often believed to be safer and more comfortable for the horse, even though wild horses survive outdoors in all conditions.

Moving inside? Find out how big your horse’s stall needs to be.


The amount of pasture needed to sustain a horse depends on the size and nutritional needs of the horse. The quality of the pasture and the climate will also impact its capacity.

In general, it’s best to have 1-3 acres of pasture per horse.

Horses in a Field

Source: Canva

Stabling your horse can be a great option, as long as adequate turnout is provided1.

Turnout is essential for exercise, fresh air, and mental stimulation.

A Michigan State study evaluated the effect of bone density in young horses that were stalled compared with those kept on pasture 24/7 and found that the stabled horses displayed a rapid and dramatic mineral loss from the cannon bone2.

Allowing even short periods of turnout each day can prevent or reverse changes in bone strength.

Horses evolved to be constantly on the move—that’s why standing in a stall for 24 hours per day is not natural. Daily exercise and access to turnout also improve joint function and keep the body working properly.


When deciding on the best living arrangement for your horse, it’s important to consider socialization. Horses are herd animals and require interaction with other horses.

There are many stable designs, like those with Dutch doors on the stalls, that allow horses to hang their heads out and see and smell their neighbors.

Fancy Horse Stable

Source: Canva

Turnout options may also allow for socialization over the fence or interaction within more of a herd setting.

Horses are generally segregated by gender, with mares being turned out in one group, and geldings in another.

Within a herd environment, it’s important to introduce new horses and keep the group as consistent as possible. Horses need time to develop a pecking order, so changing things up frequently can cause anxiety and aggression.

Stabling Pros

Before you make your final decision, remember some of the most popular reasons people keep their horses stabled: 

  • Easy access to your horse. If you’ve ever had to chase your horse around a paddock or pasture for hours, you can appreciate this!
  • Control over the nutritional requirements. The quality of pasture can vary drastically, and feeding in a group can be challenging, especially if you have a particularly greedy dominant horse. If your horse is stabled, you have total control over what he eats – and what he doesn’t!
  • Maintaining a show horse. Stabling is typically a “safer” option and keeps your horse cleaner, drier, and less fuzzy. Some show horses are even kept under lights to mimic summertime hours. This minimizes hair growth during the winter, making sure they look show-ready all year round. The downside is that you’ll need to blanket them when turning them out in colder weather.

Tired of chasing your horse? Teach him to come when called using clicker training.

Pros of stabling

Source: Canva

Stabling Cons

Not convinced? Many people choose to keep their horses outside, not only because it’s how horses evolved naturally, but also because stabling can lead to:

  • Less mobility. This can cause health issues such as bone density loss or joint problems.
  • More vices. Stabled horses can develop vices from boredom, such as cribbing or weaving.
  • Health issues. Horses kept in stables are significantly more likely to develop respiratory issues or illnesses.

The decision to keep your horse in a stable, in a pasture, or a combination of the two ultimately depends on your individual circumstances and what is best for the long-term health and happiness of your horse.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How to make a horse stall drain well?

A dry stall is critical to your horse’s health. If the surface is too compact, moisture has nowhere to go. Too loose, and your horse won’t be comfortable.

Remove any mats and dig down about 10 to 12 inches. Install rocks across the entire floor. Next, add a few inches of rock dust or sand on top (to create an even top layer), then add a generous layer of gravel, four to five inches deep, on top.

If done correctly, it will be compact yet able to drain excess fluids. Replace the stall mats. The floor should be the same height as it was before.

Horse stall

Source: Canva

Q: What do you put on the ground of a horse stall?

While most people are used to seeing rubber mats in a stall, few know what should go beneath them. Solid materials like concrete aren’t good for drainage (or your horse’s feet).

Instead, you want something with some give and flexibility that water (and other liquids) can drain through. A combination of rocks, gravel, and sand is common.

Once your drainage-friendly base is set, add mats. They increase comfort and reduce the amount of bedding you need. Whether you choose straw, shavings, or expandable pellets, you will have a clean, dry stall for your horse.

Q: Can horses stay out in the rain?

Some horses prefer to be outside, regardless of the weather, while others will seek shelter the instant the clouds start to gather. All horses should be given the option of shelter when the weather turns, especially if hailstones or strong winds make conditions dangerous.

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Further Reading:
  1. To Stall or Not To Stall
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About the author


Susie W.

Horses are my first love, but travel is a close second! I grew up riding in 4-H and went on to ride on my college equestrian team. As an adult, I've ridden and shown Quarter Horses for 20+ years, including several wins at Quarter Horse Congress. I also worked for 7 years at a leading horse feed company, and I'm passionate about equine health and nutrition. Lastly, I have a big soft spot in my heart for senior horses!