Maximizing the Design of Your New Horse Barn

Maximizing the Design of Your New Horse Barn

Proper planning is the key to a safe, functional, and durable new stall barn.

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By Dennis Lee, Equestrian Product Line Manager at Morton Buildings

Equestrian safety, functionality and style are among the key objectives when planning a new horse barn. Following are design recommendations to help ensure the building will meet the needs of the animals and the people who care for them, now and for years to come.

Be realistic about future needs. In determining barn size, don’t limit the building dimensions based on how many horses you have now. That number may increase as your family or equestrian activities expand in future years. For example, build a six-stall barn and finish only two stalls now, and use the remaining space for storage. It will be far more cost-effective to build in additional stalls later rather than having to expand the barn. 

Think about utilities. New barn owners often underestimate their lighting, electrical and water needs. Wash stalls should include two lights to minimize shadows under the horse. Switched outlets for stall fans, weatherproof outlets to run a set of clippers or possible veterinary equipment, and electric baseboard heat in the feed room to keep feed warm and dry are all popular features. Don’t forget the exterior lights. In the wintertime, when daylight hours are short, you will appreciate having ample outdoor lighting. Be sure to include a frost-free hydrant in the aisleway to easily access each stall with a watering hose. Wash stalls often include hot and cold water. Be sure all fixtures are frost-free. Frost-free automatic stall waterers are also popular.  

Consider your horse management style. An important factor in the planning process is how you manage your horses. Some owners like to leave their animals in the pasture during the daytime; others prefer the convenience of having Dutch doors that give horses access to outdoor paddocks from their stalls. How you intend to manage your horses will have a direct bearing on the barn design. If you intend to utilize Dutch doors to allow your horses free access from paddocks to their stalls, each stall should access its own individual paddock or run. Allowing multiple horses to have access to open stalls is dangerous.

Factor in feed management. Will you store hay within the barn or in a separate structure? If inside, a 12-by-12-foot stall can hold about 200 small square bales. Also, consider how you plan to purchase feed. Will it be delivered by a supplier or do you plan to pick up hay directly from the field? And will you be purchasing a full-year supply or smaller quantities on a regular basis? All of these factors will impact the square footage requirements of your facility. It is recommended that feed be stored separately from tack and other supplies when possible. Feed should also be stored in a secured area, where an accidental loose horse cannot access it.

Plan for the right stall sizes. Consider not only the type of horses you own today, but also those you may have in the future. A 10-by-10-foot stall may be fine now for a child’s pony, but perhaps not for the larger horse they want when they’re older. It’s far better to have a smaller horse in a large stall than trying to cram a large animal into a stall that’s too small. Small stalls are not only unsafe and uncomfortable — they can also drastically affect the future resale value of your property. 

Ensure good ventilation. Windows and doors alone may not be sufficient ventilation to address the ammonia formed as urine breaks down. Installing stall fans can be more effective in moving air down into the stalls and creating airflow through the center of the barn compared to just opening windows and doors. Ventilated cupolas or ridge caps in conjunction with ventilated overhangs are also recommended. 

Take advantage of natural lighting. Ceiling skylights or translucent sidelights installed at the top of barn walls will allow more light into the barn, creating a more enjoyable environment. The horses may or may not be happier, but most owners don’t want their animals to stand in the dark.

Plan for floor comfort and safety. Equipping stalls with dense rubber mats, 1.5 inches thick, on top of well-compacted stone screenings or an ag-lime base will provide comfort while also helping to prevent slips and falls for people and animals. Stall mats make the stalls much easier to clean and will help prevent hollowing out over time. In other areas of the barn with a concrete surface, use a textured instead of a trowel finish, which can be slippery when wet. Rubber mats in the wash stall are also a great idea. 

Consider functional aesthetics. Design features such as cupolas and wainscots can add visual appeal to a new barn. Other aesthetics can also provide functional benefits. For example, a Diamond M door with a fixed window for the top half enables you to work in the barn and still be able to keep an eye on what’s going on outside.

Keeping horses safe and comfortable is the No. 1 priority when constructing a new equestrian barn. But you also want a stylish and functional building that is durable and can withstand the demands of housing your equine companions. Proper planning can help achieve both goals.

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