Horse Shelters Benefit Horse Health

Horse's need shelter from the elements, whether it's snow, hail, rain, or extreme heat, in order for optimum horse health, horse owners need to provide shelter. This article covers the necessity as well as the specifics of draining, materials, dimensions so you can provide great horse care for your equien partner.

For the best farm and ranch management and horse health care, horse owners should consider building a horse shelter. Keeping horses from the elements such as snow, rain, extreme heat and hail will benefit not only your horse’s health, but ultimately your ability to train, ride, compete on and enjoy your horse. Learn how to build your very own run-in shed for your horse to protect him while he’s in the pasture.

That shelter doesn’t have to be the equine version of a four-star hotel. In fact, some experts suggest that a nice, snug box stall, with its potential to trap dust, mold and ammonia fumes, might not be the best option. A better choice may be to turn your horse out, providing him with a run-in shed where he can catch a little shade, escape flies and get out of harsh wind or pounding rain.

The beauty of the run-in shed is its simplicity. Sure, you can go all-out and build a fancy structure that would be at home in the pages of Architectural Digest. But you can also install a basic, attractive shed that serves your horse’s needs, streamlines your horsekeeping chores and doesn’t cost a fortune to build.

You could purchase a pre-engineered structure or a kit that just requires assembly. We’ve included a few sources for those types of products, along with places to find building plans, if you’re interested. However, building a shed from scratch – either doing the work yourself or hiring someone to handle the job – is a pretty simple proposition and may be more cost-effective. If you opt for a basic design and forgo the bells and whistles, you can put up a sturdy, affordable structure in no time at all.

Budget Run-in Sheds

• Consider wind patterns, drainage, and accessibility in choosing the site for a run-in shed.
• A 12′ x 16′ shed will allow room for two horses to come and go, and an 8′ roof will leave space for them to rear and play.
• A pole design with sheet-metal siding and roofing will make an inexpensive, yet durable and safe, shed.
• Holes should allow the support posts to sit at least 6 inches below the frost line.

Building from Scratch
You have plenty of options when it comes to building a run-in shed, from construction style and size to materials. But we’re going to keep things simple and shoot for the thriftiest design and building strategies possible without skimping on durability and safety.

We’ll also assume that this shelter is for just a couple of horses, and that they get along reasonably well. It’s not uncommon for a highly dominant horse to lay claim to a shed and deny access to the number two horse altogether. If the dynamics between your horses prevent them from sharing space, a shed of this sort may not be feasible.

The design we’re going to look at will be a simple, three-sided, pole-barn construction, with a shed-style roof.

Checking the Regulations
Before you jump too far into your run-in shed project, make sure you investigate possible zoning regulations and building permit requirements. Because this is an agricultural structure, you may not need a permit at all. But restrictions vary from one community to another, and some have building codes you’ll need to follow. Your regional building department will be able to help you ensure that you’re in compliance with any local regulations.

Selecting a Site
The decision of where to place your shed will be governed by various commonsense considerations, including convenience and accessibility, the lay of the land and prevailing weather patterns.

Just as with the location of a barn or paddock, it’s important for your shed to be easy to get to, but perhaps not so close to your house that flies, dust and barnyard smells overwhelm you. (Some folks don’t have a problem with that, of course, but it’s something to keep in mind.) On the other hand, you don’t want the shed to be so far away that you lose track of what’s going on out there.

If you opt to feed in the shed, you’ll want to make it easy to get the food out to it. You’ll probably want to muck out the shed about once a week, so tractor access may be a plus. If your horse becomes sick or injured, you’ll want to be able to get a vet – or a trailer – out to the shed.

Soil and terrain play a big role in determining the optimum shed location, too. First, you should know the type of ground the shed will sit on. If the soil is on the gravelly side, it’s less likely to turn into a mud pit. If it’s too loamy or poorly drained, you may want to bring in some fine-crushed rock or gravel to serve as footing.

Since you’re not pouring a concrete foundation, your site doesn’t have to be precisely level. However, you do need a spot that’s flat enough to build on and free of obstacles such as holes and large rocks.

Pick a location that’s on high ground, if possible, so that water will drain away from the shed rather than into it. Avoid low spots, wetlands, springs and creeks. Many horse owners choose slightly sloping sites to take advantage of downhill drainage.

Finally, it’s important to position your shed so that it’s facing away from prevailing weather patterns. For instance, if you live where the harshest winds usually come howling down from the north, your shed should probably have its back to those winds, with the open side facing south.

Figuring out the best orientation for your shed can be tricky because weather patterns vary so much by region and are even governed by features on your property such as hills, buildings and tree cover. You may want to call on your local extension agent to help you figure out the direction your shed should face to protect against adverse conditions and take advantage of cooling breezes when it’s hot.

The Design
Your shed design can be extremely basic, although you can certainly modify various aspects to suit your needs. Here’s a quick look at a barebones plan for a 12′ x 16′ shed. We aren’t going to diagram it down to the placement of each roofing screw, but we will explain the design rationale so you can make your own decisions armed with a little building theory.

Dimensions. First, why 12′ x 16′? As a rule of thumb, experts advise at least 10′ x 12′ for one horse and 12′ x 16′ for two. With an open front, a shed this size will allow two horses to come and go peaceably and provide sufficient room for both to stand inside with no one getting trapped in the back. (If you build a partial wall across the front, the doorway should be extra wide – at least 8 feet.)

The roof height for our sample shed is 10 feet on the high side with a slope to 8 feet. Some designs slope from front to back and others from back to front. Some don’t slope at all, but if you live where there’s significant rain or snow, some angle is a good idea. The key here is to make sure your horses have a little extra headroom if they should rear, so 8 feet is about as low as you want to go.

Materials. From a cost-savings standpoint, the materials you choose for your shed can make or break your budget. On the lean end of the scale, you might be able to build entirely from salvaged materials – old telephone poles for support posts, recycled lumber and scrap metal, for example. Or you may supplement new materials with some used pieces and still save quite a bit of money.

If you build from salvaged components, be careful. Used telephone (or utility) poles, in particular, while costing little or nothing, can be risky to handle. The chemicals used to preserve the wood (creosote for older poles and, more recently, arsenicals and pentachlorophenol) represent serious health risks. The poles may also have been retired because they’re rotten in the middle, which could shorten their useful life. Used lumber and sheet metal may be clean, safe and durable – or it may be riddled with nails and staples, fractures and lethally sharp edges. The name of the game when using salvaged materials is to be picky and to exercise caution.

Our sample budget, while conservative, assumes the use of new materials. We opted for treated 4″ x 6″ posts for the supports and 2″ x 6″ boards for the nailers (what the siding attaches to), rafters and headers, with two-by-fours for roof nailers (what the roof attaches to). The inside of the shed is lined with three-quarter-inch exterior-grade plywood (to prevent injuries caused by kicking through the siding).

An alternative approach is to plank the interior to a height of 4 feet, with 2-inch boards. Rough-sawn lumber is often recommended for this, since it’s thicker and stronger than planed boards.

We chose sheet metal for both the siding and roofing. Sheet metal offers several advantages. It’s relatively inexpensive and extremely long-lasting (hence, the 30-year warranties offered by some manufacturers). It’s low maintenance. It’s easy to install. And it reduces the risk of your shed catching on fire from airborne sparks or cinders.

On the downside, sheet metal can be unsafe for horses unless you ensure that all edges are covered in trim and that the walls are properly backed by sturdy boards so that kicking and other shed-punishing behavior don’t lead to dangerous rips in the metal. Also make sure you use a thick metal – at least 26 gauge.

If you don’t like the appearance of sheet-metal siding, you can consider some alternatives that don’t cost too much more. Possibilities include native lumber, board and batten siding, and exterior plywood siding. In the latter category, Texture 1-11 (T 1-11) is a popular choice. It comes in grooved sheets and various textures, and can be painted, stained or left natural.

If you go with sheet metal, you’ll need the trim, as well as proper fasteners. Screws are generally preferred over nails because of their superior holding strength. Nails tend to pull out, and the occasional miss with a hammer can create fractures in the metal that eventually let water in. Specially designed roofing screws are available that include washers to prevent leaks. Some companies even offer screws that are painted to match the sheet metal.

The mechanics of building the shed are pretty straightforward. Anyone who’s familiar with pole-barn techniques should have no trouble putting your shed together. Here are a few points to keep in mind.

Holes for the support posts should allow the posts to sit at least 6 inches below the frost line in your area (if you’re in a location that freezes). This will keep the freeze-thaw action from pushing the posts up out of the ground. Frost lines vary considerably from one region to the next. For instance, in parts of Minnesota, the frost line is 5 or 6 feet; in Wyoming, it’s around 3 feet; in Kentucky, it’s 2 feet; and in northern Florida, it can be a matter of inches. Your local building authority can pin this down for you.

Depending on the required depth and soil composition, you may be able to dig the holes manually with a post-hole digger. However, it might be worthwhile to rent or borrow an auger. The posts should be set in ready-mix concrete for stability.

You’ll want to use treated posts that are quite stout – 4″ x 6″ or even 6″ x 6″. If you’re concerned about your horses jostling into them, you might want to go with rounded posts. You can also “soften” the sharp edges of support posts by covering them with padding, old tires or whatever chew-proof material you have available. Or consider enclosing them in a plywood “bumper” that attaches to the interior walls at a 45-degree angle and rounds them off.

And here’s a final tip: Paint the interior of the shed black. This will effectively discourage flies from following your horses inside.

Keeping Your Shed Safe
Using sturdy materials and making sure your run-in shed is built according to best practices will go a long way toward guaranteeing that you have a safe structure in your pasture rather than a hazardous, shed-shaped toy. But even if you start with a sound building, you have to be vigilant to make sure it stays that way.

Your horse will have access to nearly every inch of the shed, and because it’s free-standing, it’s fair game for all kinds of destructive behavior. Since a shed is likely to be “out there” rather than “right here,” it’s easy to overlook dangers-in-the-making, like nails that have begun to come out, metal that’s about to go from dented to torn or a muddy dip that’s a rainstorm away from becoming a slick pit.

To keep a watchful eye on your shed’s status, incorporate regular inspection into your horsekeeping routine. Every few days, wander out to the shed and check it out from all angles. Consider that your horse may be leaning against, rubbing and chewing on, rolling and rearing beside, and kicking, slamming into or being slammed into the posts, boards and siding. Watch for leaks, drainage problems and excessive wear and tear on the ground inside and at the entrance. You know how the shed is built, so you know what to look out for and you can head off any incipient problems before they get out of hand.

Optional Features
While our approach has been as basic as possible, you can add refinements to your shed without incurring a lot of extra cost. For instance, you might want to vary the dimensions, perhaps building a little larger and creating a walled-in area for storing feed, supplies or equipment. If you plan to feed in the shed, you can install hayracks and feeders (close to the door, so that nobody gets trapped trying to eat in the back). You might divide the shed with partitions to facilitate feeding, although not all horses respect them.

In addition to feeding, some owners water their horses in run-in sheds – but this is not necessarily a good idea. For one thing, water is likely to overflow at some point or get splashed around, creating a sloppy footing. For another, a dominant horse could commandeer the water trough and force his herd mates to do without – which would be a serious concern before long. And it might simply be inconvenient for you to get water out to your shed, to keep an eye on its level and to keep it drinkable during freezing weather.

You may want to amend the shed’s footing, putting down 6 inches or so of fine gravel and covering it with dirt. You could even install footing panels, such as Stable-Grid (, inside and at the entrance to control drainage and prevent mud problems.

Your design might include windows or vents to give you more control over air circulation. And if you’re not keen on the shed-style roof, a gable roof won’t set you back too much. You can buy roof trusses that are built to your specifications at a reasonable price.

As you weigh the options, you’ll probably find yourself juggling safety, aesthetics, building requirements, weather considerations, convenience – and, of course, cost. The good news is that in most cases, you’ll be able to devise a plan for a basic run-in shed that balances all these concerns and provides your horse with pleasing accommodations.