Horse Care Tips

How to Design a Safety-First Horse Facility

neat and clean barn aisle
mm
Written by Susanna Wright

Equine Safe Spaces: Barn Best Practices

Safety around the barn is critical! Barn safety includes everything from physical safety measures to barn rules. You’ll also want a customized safety plan that outlines exactly what to do in case of an emergency.

There are countless features to consider around barn design. We’ll focus on what to look for in existing structures, as opposed to building from the ground up.

If you’re evaluating boarding facilities, look at each property with a safety mindset. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about their approach to safety, closely examine the areas where your horse would be living, and ask about any history of safety issues.

safe barn for horses

Source: Canva

Principles of Safe Barn Design

Three basic principles of barn design provide the foundation of barn safety.

These areas include:

  1. Edges a horse could get hung up on, causing injury
  2. Fire hazards
  3. Spread of disease between horses

Edges and Obstacles:

Horses are masters at finding new ways to injure themselves, even on small and seemingly inconsequential things. Always be on the lookout for sharp edges in a stall, paddock, or pasture, as they can cause cuts and lacerations.

While edges are a good starting point, this awareness should expand to everything within reach of your horse.

For example: Do your stall water buckets clip to the wall with a double-sided clip? Make sure the clip-side faces towards the wall. Believe it or not, horses have gotten tails, lips, and nostrils caught in these clips, causing injury.

correct snap direction for buckets with horses

Source: Canva

What about the latch on your stall door?

Always make sure it’s retracted (i.e. flush with the door) before leading your horse in or out of the stall. Your horse could catch a shoulder or hip on it, causing an injury.

horse in stall with latch

Source: Canva

Fire Safety

Fire safety is an important component of barn safety. Most barns are made at least partially of wood and contain large quantities of sawdust and hay. All of these things are flammable—including dust!

Because of the fire danger, smoking should be prohibited in or around livestock barns.

barn aisle with fire hazards

Source: Canva

Your barn should be equipped with fire extinguishers in multiple, easily accessible locations, including next to each exit and electrical utility box, as well as at approximately 35’ intervals throughout the barn. ABC extinguishers are the best type of fire extinguisher for a barn.

Fun Fact: Did you know you should inspect fire extinguishers monthly, and have them recertified annually?

Barns should also have a water supply outside of the barn for firefighters.

Make sure all permanent wiring is encased in conduit and wiring (such as extension cords) are covered and out of reach.

Be extra cautious of temporary devices, such as stall fans. Horses have been known to chew electrical cords—they don’t know about the risks of electrical shock or the resulting fire danger.

Speaking of box fans…They are not recommended for use in barns. The motor isn’t enclosed, which can start a fire under the right conditions. If you want to give your horse a stall fan, be sure to purchase something with an enclosed (dust-proof) motor.

Always secure cords or wires well out of the reach of horses.

Cages enclosing light bulbs also are important to reduce the risk of fire inside barns.

Never use space heaters in or around a barn, as there are far too many fire hazards nearby.

Hay can contribute to barn dust and increase fire risk. Store your hay in a separate location (outside the horse barn).

barn fire hay on fire

Source: Canva

Communicable Disease

Every barn should be set up to keep horses healthy. This includes prevention from environmental illnesses and communicable diseases.

vet with gray horse

Source: Canva

Here are a few considerations.

Ventilation: One common issue in barns is airflow—improper ventilation can lead to respiratory problems. Without proper air flow, the air will be full of contaminants such as dust, mold spores, and ammonia. These can cause allergic reactions and respiratory illnesses.

Warm air rises and should be able to vent out of the roof of the barn. The highest levels of dust and ammonia are generally found in the lowest three feet of the stall, according to Heather Thomas of Equimed.com. (Source) Air moving from the floor upward is important for proper ventilation.

Quarantine: Both new horses and sick animals should be quarantined. This means the horse should be physically separate, preferably in a different building. Eliminate or minimize sharing airspace, as some diseases can be transmitted through the air.

Equipment: Along this line, generally speaking, horses should not share equipment. This includes everything from stalls to water buckets, feed pans, halters, grooming supplies, and tack. Having separate spaces and equipment helps reduce the risk of disease transmission between horses.

Additional Barn Design Considerations

Openings: Stall doors and barn doors need to be wide enough for both a horse and a human to walk through, side-by-side.

Windows should be placed high and large enough that a horse can’t get its head or leg stuck in them—a surprisingly common barn accident.

Also, be cautious about the walls between stalls. If they aren’t solid, make sure openings don’t allow for unwanted contact (e.g. biting, kicking) or horses to get caught (e.g. head, legs).

horse in stall

Source: Canva

Redundancies: Loose horses are dangerous.

Many barns will have a backup plan for containing horses.

  • If a stall door is left unlatched, the barn door may be kept closed as a backup.
  • If a horse escapes his paddock, a perimeter fence may keep him from getting into the road.

Be aware of redundancies and make sure you don’t accidentally leave a gate or barn door open which may be the backup method of containment.

Ceilings: They should be high enough that horses won’t hit their heads if they were to rear.

Stall Size: Stalls should be large enough to easily turn around; ideally, a 1,000 lb horse should have at least a 12X12’ stall. A draft horse would need a larger stall, while a mini horse could go in a smaller space. Learn more in our article about stall size.

Flooring: Non-slip flooring is an important consideration. Concrete covered with drainable rubber mats is a great choice, as it is durable, non-slip, and easier to clean.

Tack Storage: Tack should be stored in a clean, dry area with minimal natural lighting, as the sun will damage leather over time. Be aware of mice or critters that may chew leather, saddle pads, or blankets. Keeping shared tack spaces clean and tidy is just one way to be a good neighbor.

clean tack room

Source: Canva

Feed Storage: Feed should be stored in a clean, dry environment. Always store grain inside a solid container, such as galvanized cans.

Rodents can easily chew through paper or plastic feed bags and carry diseases. Barn cats are helpful in controlling rodent activity!

Be aware of scenarios that may lead to condensation inside your feed containers—water dripping on grain will cause mold, which can make your horse sick.

Turnout: Many barns will have multiple turnout areas. For example, usually, mares are kept separate from geldings, horses are turned out regularly in the same group, and new horses are introduced from the other side of a fence until everyone calms down.
At the end of the day, ask yourself: “If I were a horse, would I be safe and comfortable living here?”

Barn Rules

Barn rules typically address both safety and general etiquette. They apply to anyone at a horse stable. Rules can include, but are not limited to:

  • If you open it, close it. This is especially important with gates, doors, etc. You don’t want to be responsible for a loose horse!
  • If you make a mess, clean it up. Done brushing Fluffy, or picking out his feet? Sweep up your mess and dispose of it properly. A clean barn is a safe, happy barn! Did your horse poop outside of his stall or turnout area? Clean it up.
  • No yelling, running, or spooking the horses.
  • Ask before bringing a dog on the premises. Many barns do not allow outside dogs.
  • Don’t borrow anyone else’s stuff without asking. This includes halters, lead ropes, grooming equipment, etc.
  • No smoking!
  • Don’t feed other people’s horses.
  • No speeding—many barns will post 5 or 10 mph speed limits in the driveway.
  • Children must be supervised at all times.
  • Be kind to each other!
immaculate barn aisle

Source: Canva

In Case of Emergency

Barns should be equipped with both human and horse first aid kits. Horse first aid kits will be discussed more in Lesson 15.

While many people carry cell phones, it may still be helpful to have a barn landline available and accessible in the event of an emergency. If anything, this creates a central point where important contact information can be stored, such as veterinary or farrier information.

It is helpful for each horse’s stall to have unique information posted on it. This could include:

  • Horse’s name
  • Owner’s name
  • Owner’s phone number
  • Specific horse feeding instructions, including supplements
  • Veterinarian contact information

Each barn should also have its own Barn Safety Plan.

This document should detail exactly what to do in different disasters.

What would you do in case of fire? An evacuation?

You probably don’t need to plan for a hurricane in Colorado or a wildfire in Ohio, but you should include emergency planning for regional natural disasters, barn fires, and outbreaks of disease.

Click here for a sample barn safety plan.

neat and clean barn aisle

Source: Canva

Parting Thoughts

Facility design and management plays a big role in keeping your horse safe. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to: 

Sources:

Horse World: Design Guide

A Look at Barn Rules

Healthful Horse Barns

Develop a Barn Emergency Evacuation Plan

Horse Barn Disaster Planning

Barn Etiquette

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About the author

mm

Hey there, fellow horse lover and outdoor enthusiast! Horses have been my rock since day one. From my early days in 4-H to the college equestrian team, these majestic creatures have always been my passion. Riding Quarter Horses has been my gig for over two decades, snagging a few wins at the esteemed Quarter Horse Congress along the way.

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