“Our horse barn is nicer than our house,” a horseowner sighs. “I can get wireless Internet in my horse’s stall but not in my bedroom.”
That didn’t surprise Rocky Gilreath of Rockin J Horse Stalls in Mannford, Okla.
“A lot of things are put into horse barns for the owner’s comfort,” he says. As for the horse, Gilreath adds, it’s happy as long as its basic needs are met.
The amenities of a horse stall are as varied as the horses and owners. If you think of horse stalls as hotels, they will range from a basic no-frills roadside motel — you’ve got the bare necessities but not much more — to the five-star spa and resort that caters your every need.
When designing your horse stall, it’s best to try and do it from the horse’s perspective. After all, this is where the average horse will spend the bulk of his day. At the very least, the stall should be structurally sound, with adequate ventilation and soft, rounded edges.
“Bare minimum, the horse will be happy if he knows he’s safe and protected from a driving wind,” says Tami Newman, owner of two horses and an employee with Wick Buildings in Mazomanie, Wis. “It could be a three-sided shed or a rough stall, but it would do the job.” Then she laughs. “I guess that would be bare minimum roadside motel horse stall.”
Also, she adds, horses can be clumsy, so there should be nothing sharp in the stall.
“If there is something sharp, the horse will find it,” she says.
Even if it is a three-sided shed, the most important basic feature to any stall needs to be safety, says Jeff Royer of Classic Equine. “Safety isn’t important just for the horse, but for the horse owner, as well,” he says.
Bar spacing is also vital to the safe horse stall. “You want a one-inch bar with three-inch center so there is only a two-inch gap,” Royer says. “That way the horse can kick the grill, but can’t get its foot through. You don’t want the horse to kick through the bar and get its foot stuck.”
Also, he adds, the any metal needs to be strong enough to take frequent kicks without weakening. A weakened metal bar will eventually break through, causing injury to the horse.
And speaking of kicking, make sure the stall has a strong bottom, says Gilreath, again to prevent the horse from kicking through.
Once those basics are met, then the horse owner can start thinking about upgrading the stall and barn.
How about an upgrade?
Whereas the basics focus on the horse’s safety, the upgrade —or mid-range accommodations — center on the horse’s comfort.
The next step up, says Newman, is a stall that keeps the horse at its optimum temperature and one that has a view.
“Horses are social animals,” she says. “They like to see outside or see a neighboring horse. They don’t like being confined.”
Also, the stall should be kept cool. “Horses get hot at 60 degrees,” Newman adds. “As long as the horse is kept dry, it can withstand cold temperatures well.”
The mid-range stall accommodations would also put more emphasis on cleanliness, making it a more pleasant stall to visit (or live in, if you’re a horse) than a basic stall.
After the horse’s basic comforts are met, the stalls begin to upgrade, first to amenities a horse would truly enjoy, then to features that really are more for the humans who spend time in the stall.
For the horse, think of building a stall that is built for the size of the horse, giving it more room to move around. Taller stalls are better for stallions, says Royer.
Rubber flooring is a definite luxury for the horse. Who wants to stand all day on a hard floor when a rubber floor or rubber matting would help alleviate some of the stress on the legs and body?
Because horses are such social creatures, besides giving them a view, Newman suggests giving them access to an exercise area. Some stalls allow access to a fenced in pasture, she says, allowing the horses to go outside for some social time or a walk to stretch their legs.
“My idea of horse heaven,” says Newman, “is forty acres of belly high grass, fifty-five degree temperatures, and no wind.”
But since that’s impossible to do in a horse stall, owners have to do what they can to create a bit of paradise in the barn.
The high-end stall, says Royer, goes for a certain look or style. Popular right now is a European design that brings out a certain flair in the barn and also has a lower rise front so the horse doesn’t feel caged in.
“The horse is more relaxed in this design, which is why it is so popular,” he says.
Royer says prime galvanized steel and a three-inch weld on everything is popular in high-end stalls, and Brazilian hardwood is very popular right now.
“Resilient hardwoods can take a kick, are termite proof, and the horse won’t chew it,” says Royer.
Many of the Equine Classic stalls use brass accents, as well.
Now that’s top of the line.
However, Royer adds that horse owners shouldn’t be fooled by beauty.
The rule: Safety first
“Safety still needs to come first,” he says. “Beauty can be unsafe. Don’t ever give up one feature for the other.”
Every five-star hotel prides itself on its room service and meals, and a five-star horse stall shouldn’t be any different.
“A top horse stall will not only provide fresh water to the horse all day, but has a set up that gives the horse access to food all the time,” Newman says. “Their bodies work best if they eat a little food frequently through the day.”
And make sure their food is at a level where they have to put their head down. “That’s the way their digestive system works,” Newman adds.
Of course, like a five-star hotel, five-star horse stalls are expensive. But then, as Newman says, “The cheapest thing about owning a horse is buying it.”
“If you want do arches, or Dutch doors, or anything to make the stall pretty, and you can afford it, do it,” says Gilreath. “The horse doesn’t care.”