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5 Considerations for Designing Horse Shelters

We've had the great privilege for the last 20 years of visiting so many equestrian properties - high budget and low budget, on different sized properties and concentrated on different disciplines or approaches to husbandry. Here are 5 observations on horse shelters.

1. Horses want to be with other horses

This is a racing TB spelling place on our street. No expense has been spared setting up this place. Each paddock has one of these tin shelters smack bang in the middle of the paddock. I have yet to see a single horse standing under the shelter. Why? Because the horses gather in the corners of the paddocks to be with horses on the other side of the fence. There is nothing wrong with these shelters, they're just in the wrong place. A better use of resources would have been to put these shelters straddling two paddocks in the corners, where they congregate. 

2. Herd Dynamics Matter

If you decide to make the shelter enclosed, older, or lower-hierarchy horses will not want to be cornered inside the shelter with no escape from a more dominant horse. You could resolve this by splitting your herd into adjoining paddocks, and dividing your shelter into more than one space. By putting a divider in the middle, the horses can still be together, but are protected from bullies. 

3. Consider Ventilation & Sound

A very enclosed shelter like this will need to be cleaned of manure daily, as it will become hot, smelly and full of flies. There's no airflow in a space like this. Being completely metal, it would also be quite loud in heavy rain, which means horses may not choose to use it in bad weather. It also has very limited visibility for a horse standing inside. This shelter would be improved by having one or two of the walls as a half-wall, or an opening at the back.

4. Roofing and Drainage

Think about the pitch of your roof based on your rainfall patterns. Ideally you will collect that water for use, but adding tanks also improves drainage around the shelter. This is one of the shelters at our property. We collect the water from the roof. If the tanks overflow, the water flows out the front of the shelter, not inside. The ground is higher inside the shelter than out the front. 

There are truck tyres inside the shelter. We hang roundbales in nets from the rafters inside the shelter. The roundbale rests on the tyres keeping the bottom of the bale above the ground which prevents spoilage.

5. Safety and Security

A shelter like the one below would not withstand the weather we regularly endure here in the Hunter Valley, and our climate is very mild. In a storm, a shelter like this is more likely to pose a danger to your horse than protection. It does not appear to be sufficiently anchored. You can imagine the top blowing off and panels of metal collapsing. 

Make sure your shelter is constructed of sturdy materials. Ideally timber. Make it with the worst weather you have seen in mind.

Adequate shelter is an important part of maintaining overall health. Horses with no shelter will not maintain weight as well, may suffer heatstroke, sunburn, and skin conditions like rain-scald.

 While a man-made structure is ideal, in the absence of that, a mature stand of trees providing a windbreak and deep shade will be appreciated by your horses. The best time to plant trees is ten years ago. The second best time is today.

If you're interested in reading more about planning your equestrian property, read this blog post comparing tradition vs equicentral vs paddock paradise designs.


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