Does Your Barn Need a Facelift?

You peer inside the ancient cavernous barn on your property. A long time ago, it was in good repair, but now it's a different story. The exterior is fine, but the inside has seen better days. Dilapidated stalls, victims of hard kicks, wood chewers and pests, are no longer safe for your equine charges. It's time to rebuild from the inside.

Story originally posted by: Moira C. Harris

Take heart. You can upgrade your older barn relatively painlessly using prefabricated stalls. Interior walls can be removed and replaced with dividers of larger dimension. A distributor of the prefab stalls can do this, or you can do it yourself-depending on how comfortable you are wielding hand tools.

Unless your horse is turned out for the day, he’ll be spending a good deal of time in his stall. Select a size that gives him sufficient space (12′ x 12′ is standard for most horses). Supports for the walls and beams will have to be considered in your design, since you won’t be able to put them in the middle of a stall. Some stalls may, as a result, be rectangular instead of square.

Your materials are important. In tropical climates, concrete block may be a good choice, because it is fairly indestructible and keeps a barn cool. However, if you already live in a chilly climate, you wouldn’t benefit from this material. Wood is a good choice to build with, but horses can kick through or chew apart wood. Galvanized steel is durable, but you must be careful that ammonia doesn’t create rust–weakening this material in a very short time.

Ventilation is an important factor. Ammonia from urine, dust, and even mold can build up in a stuffy barn. Obviously, if you’re working with an existing structure, the ceiling height is already determined for you-but not only are low ceilings bad for ventilation, a horse can injure his head if the floor plan doesn’t take this into account. Putting in new windows allows for good cross-breeze, and airy aisleways can prevent clutter as well as respiratory disorders.

Many people unwittingly build stalls that isolate their horses, with high walls or bars to the ceiling, but this is very unnatural for a social herd species. Manufacturers and savvy barn managers try to instead give horses the opportunity to not only observe the barn activity, but to even have contact with their fellow barn mates. New prefab stalls often have partitions that only go up halfway, with window grilles that allow horses to touch their neighbors. This design not only is good for your horse’s mentality; it also increases airflow.

Your doorway should be wide enough for you and your horse to walk through. Many horsemen like doors that slide open, instead of swing. A sliding door opened all the way doesn’t have the chance to come back and hit the horse, whereas a swinging door does. The Dutch door style, where the bottom half stays closed, leaving the horse to peer over the top half, should always open out into the aisle for equine safety. Hardware should always be horse-proof, so latches should resist any horsey Houdini.

Prefab stall kits can offer several different door, window and accessory options to make the best use out of your existing space. Many different companies will customize a floor plan that suits your barn. They’ll be able to help you select and set up your walls, door frames, fittings, feeders, as well as your extra feed and equipment rooms.

You shouldn’t neglect the barn’s footing. Although most old barns have dirt floors, they are not the most efficient, because a horse can destroy them through pawing, pacing and urination. Concrete or cement floors can be hard on your horse’s joints (just picture a day spent walking a trade show floor and you’ll understand). Stall mats over the floor provide relief to your horse’s legs and also help keep a stall tidy. Permeable stall mats, which are like tarps for the floor, and grid floors also are great draining options for dirt-only floors.

You can help with your dirt floor’s drainage by building a sub-base underneath the dirt. This involves digging down and placing a layer of gravel under the dirt, then compressing the surface until it is hard. Your horse’s bedding goes on top of this, and the gravel buried under the floor allows stall wetness to drain without pooling in a swampy mess.

The effort you put into creating a safe, comfortable home for your horse will pay off every time you open his stall door and find him healthy and content.