FAQ Horse Care Tips

Equine Shelter 101: Do all horses need a stable?

Horse Run In Shed
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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 suffice for shelter from the weather.

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

Climate

As long as horses have time to acclimate 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 require a stable and blankets if spending time outside.

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

Horse Run In Shed

A simple run-in shed often does the trick

Efficiency

Stables are popular because they make it easier for humans to care for a larger number of horses and can support more horses per acre than land where horses are maintained on pasture alone

Plus, permanent shelters are often believed to be safer and more comfortable for the horse.

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

Turnout

The amount pasture required to sustain a horse depends on the size and nutritional needs of the horse, the quality of the pasture, and the climate.

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

Horse Field

Adequate turnout is also part of your stabling equation

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 vs. kept in a pasture 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 helps improve joint function and keeps the body working properly.

Socialization

When deciding on the best living arrangement for your horse, it’s also 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 their neighbors.

Fancy Horse Stable

Horses should be able to see each other from their stalls

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

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

It’s important to slowly introduce new horses into a group setting and keep the group consistent. Horses need time to develop a pecking order, so changing things up frequently is not ideal.

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. Quality of pasture can vary drastically, and feeding in a group can be challenging. If your horse is stabled, you have total control.
  • 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. If turned out in colder weather, these horses will need a sheet or blanket.

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

online horse courses

Stabling Cons

Not convinced? Many people choose to keep their horses outside because stabling can also 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 or in a pasture (or a combination) ultimately depends on your individual circumstances and what is best for the long-term health and happiness of your horse.

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Further Reading:
  1. https://www.equinejournal.com/2008/08/29/stable-solutions-the-hows-and-whys-of-turnout/
  2. https://thehorse.com/126520/to-stall-or-not-to-stall/
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About the author

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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!