Planning Your Horse Facility
What's necessary and what's a luxury?
First you must realize horses don't care much about how fancy their living arrangements appear but there are a few things needed in a facility that can make their life healthier and happier. You may want to glance down the list to see if there's anything you've forgotten to plan for.
1. Horse's need space. There are many components to a successful living enviroment for a horse and space is definitely at the top of the list. Please keep in mindâ€¦ horses are "herd" animals meaning they move! They were built to move, their well being not just physically but mentally depends on it! If you are to "pen" up a horse within the confines of a stall by all means keep their time in to a minimum (ideally only at night and feeding time). His day time hours need to be out in the sun (with a shelter) and lots of fresh air with room to run.
2. Horse's need ample access to fresh water at ALL times. I can't stress this enough. Do you know what a Vet checks first when he's out on a "colic" call? He walks over to see if the horse has water! Seems simple enough in this day and age of plumbing and automatic waterers but hold on. I believe they have yet to invent an automatic waterer that doesn't break usually at a time when it's needed most, say at around 2pm when it's 108 degrees. The ideal situation is for your horse to not only have the automatic but a large bucket of some type (that he can't overturn) filled with fresh water. I can guarantee that you'll have far fewer incidents of colic along with other digestion problems as well as a shinier coat and healthier hoofs. Yes, water is that important.
3. Don't underestimate the importance of shelter. You can argue that in the wild horses stand out in the full sun but the truth is that a horse seeks shelter under a tree or bush any time it begins to get heated and should have the same advantage under your care. A proper shelter also shields the horse from flies and protects his skin from the harmful effects of the sun just as in humans. It is so important that counties such as Los Angeles will issue a citation if a shelter is not provided for each and every horse.
4. Fresh air is a necessity. If you're planning to build a structural barn then you must be sure that its design offers a flow of fresh air adequate enough to divert smells and effects of ammonia from urine soaked stalls. I assure you; try as you might and no matter how well you clean there will be some smells from the urine at best not to mention those who only clean the stalls once per day. In no time a closed up box stall's air can be stifling and to think we cage such marvelous beasts up in such conditions.
5. Is your feed protected from the elements? This problem can be a nightmare and you can loose a fortune from moldy hay not to mention Vet bills from visits because of colic caused by bad hay. You need a weather protected shelter of some sort that still has lots of ventilation to house your feed because hay MUST be kept dry. The slightest bit of moisture and your horses are at terrible risk if they're hungry enough to eat the toxic hay.
6. Is your fencing and stalls or corrals safe and secure? If there's any possible way a horse can get hurt where they're housed they'll find it. I have known horses to be found in the morning with severe injuries and never was the reason found. You must go over and over again through their living area with a fine tooth comb to at least minimize the risk. Also your gates must be securely latched but even then I have known horses to be the reincarnation of Houdini and be able to actually open a latch (it's amazing what their lips are capable of, I have seen it for myself). Be sure to assess if a horse does get out (believe me it will at happen at some point), that he cannot get hurt on what's out in the surrounding area.
7. Do you ride on proper footing? If you plan to have an arena and round pen you need to pay careful attention to the footing. There are experts out there that specialize in providing the best possible ingredients for a recipe of success for whatever type of work with your horse you plan on doing. Different disciplines require different types of footing whether it's washed plaster sand, D & G or one of the higher tech mixtures. I would recommend you talk with someone who seems to have figured out what works best for their style of riding and then get a referral for who to go to for the job. The wrong footing, bad footing or no footing can result in a cavalcade of injuries ranging anywhere from tendons and suspensories to founder and even back problems. I can't emphasize enough the importance of proper footing. It can make or break your program.
8. In your layout have you provided for plenty of room in which to work? Before you cast your design in stone (or wood, brick, metal) you want to be sure you've taken into consideration what your daily routine will be. Have you planned for an arena? Whether it be a regulation size Dressage court or a roping arena you'll want to know what adequate or required dimensions are required. If you feel like you don't need a specified area to ride because you only ride trails I must caution you by letting you know there will always come a time that your horses may need to work out too many days off or those extra lunches the new guy keeps feeding. Cowboying up in not what it's cracked up to be and the last place you want your horse to decide to exercise its energy by exhibiting "airs above the ground" is somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. Allowing your horse to have a little go in the roundpen before your ride could possible save you from a disaster.
9. Always keep safety in mind. From everything such as securing gates to designating traffic flow to parking always keep safety foremost in mind not only for the horses but for people as well. Play out in your mind every possible scenario to bring to light what steps can be taken now to insure the lowest risk or hazard. Spending a little time and great thought now will yield far greater benefit later.
Building your own facility is an enormous but very satisfying undertaking. Who better than you know what it is that will serve your horses and their comfort best? It is a wonderful thing to create a working environment to be exactly as you would have it just be sure you are well aware of what it is you want and need and don't forget to enjoy!