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Health Care for Horses: Housing

Health Care for Horses

Thoughtful and planned care will allow your horse to live a longer and healthier life. Good equine husbandry is based upon the principle of preventive care — problem prevention rather than problem treatment. This requires embracing all aspects of horse care that affect its health and well-being. The purpose of this publication is to provide broad overview of health care for horses. More detailed information is available through your local extension agent and/or veterinarian.


There is a wide range of suitable methods to house horses. The most natural method is to keep horses on pasture. Pasture-based horses tend to have fewer disease and behavioral problems than horses housed in more confining circumstances. As a general rule, a stocking rate of one horse per two acres is recommended to maintain pasture quality. Additional acres may be needed depending on soil quality, topography and other animals present. Higher stocking rates will necessitate elevated levels of pasture management such as mowing, fertilizing and rotating pastures, and may require supplemental feeding. Pasture-kept horses must have access to fresh, clean water at all times and adequate shelter during weather extremes. Shelter may be natural, such as mature tree stands, or constructed open sheds. Constructed sheds must have 100 to 150 square feet per horse that will use the shelter. Constructed sheds should be positioned to optimize drainage and should face away from prevailing winds. The shed should be structurally sound, well ventilated and have safe interior and exterior surfaces. It is generally recommended that sheds be set back at least 50 feet from property lines and 100 feet from neighboring houses. Check with local authorities for specific requirements and zoning regulations. Pasture fencing should be durable and safe. Wood or diamond mesh make excellent perimeter fencing choices for horses. Electric tape is a good choice for fortifying existing fencing or for subdividing a pasture for grazing management. The best fencing material will not only depend on cost, but also the age and temperament of the horses to be contained. Gates should latch securely and not have openings in which the horse could get a head or limb caught.

Other suitable methods for housing horses include dry lots and stables. Dry lots have little or no vegetation and are usually used when suitable pasture is not available or as part of a rotational grazing program in order to limit damage to wet or overgrazed pasture. Fresh, clean water, appropriate fencing and adequate shelter must be provided (see above). Dry lots should be well-drained so that horses are not standing in mud. They are frequently constructed with a stone base and are covered with natural clay or crushed stone but may also use geotextile or filter fabric. Measures need to be in place to control erosion of stone, soil and manure into areas that will impact water quality. Manure should be removed regularly. Your local soil and water conservation district will have advice for preventing run-off and protecting water quality.

Management factors such as limited pasture, weather, injury, and the use of the horse may dictate that a horse is stabled for a significant portion of the day. Horse barns should be constructed with health and safety issues in mind. Barns should be located close to turnout areas and easily accessible for trailers and maintenance equipment. Site selection should optimize drainage, ventilation and light. Construction materials should be sturdy and have safe exterior and interior surfaces, including accessory equipment such as hooks, hangers, latches, feeders and waterers. The standard size horse stall is 12-feet-by-12-feet. This size allows enough room for safe movement of the horse and handler in the stall and for the horse to lie down and get up comfortably. Stall walls and doors should be strong and not have gaps that a hoof could get through. Since exercise is important to the physical and mental well-being of the horse, horses that are kept primarily in stalls should be afforded the opportunity to exercise each day. This might include limited turnout to the pasture or dry lot, work in hand, riding or driving.

A solid health-care program will help keep your horse free of disease and allow it to live a happier, longer life.

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