February 2, 2021

Your Guide to Planning the Perfect Stall Barn

Stable management is among the important activities of a good horseperson, and the buildings and facilities, plus their arrangement very much affect this activity. Carefully planned, well-designed facilities make equine care easier and add to personal satisfaction and riding enjoyment. In planning or acquiring a facility for horses, the essentials are knowing what is needed, how to bring this vision to life, and keeping within the budget.

Two of the foremost considerations in planning a horse barn are health and safety not only of the animals, but also of the people who either come in contact with the animals and facilities or who live nearby. Other important considerations include sound construction, labor-saving conveniences, a building style in harmony with the surroundings, and a planning procedure that lists needs and wants in order of importance.

The same kind of sound basic planning is required when selecting and equipping a horse barn to stable only one or two animals as for a larger number. Many styles and sizes of barns and other facilities are used to house and care for horses and to provide space for associated activities.

Whether you plan to build new or to use an existing facility, go through the planning procedures for your entire layout. These include general management and financial decisions, site selection, site development and building selection. Provide room for expansion and allow for specific details, such as water supply, manure disposal, feed storage, exercise space, loading and unloading access, and legal or other restrictions that may apply.

Before you move forward in the planning phase, it’s recommended to have a general idea of the following:

  • Building codes, zoning regulations and any other local restrictions that may affect development, construction or use of the facilities.
  • Ideas on horse facilities from publications, visits to existing layouts and from experienced horseperson, professional managers, etc. Keep in mind that your Morton sales consultant can help arrange tours of local Morton stall barns in your area as well.
  • Style of the barn or other buildings that fits the site and is in harmony with the surroundings.
  • The number of animals to be handled and on how they'll be housed and managed.
  • Total amount of barn space needed under the roof to stable and care for the animals. Basic space needs are for stalls, traffic lanes and storage of feed, tack and equipment, including also, special-purpose features such as wash rack, trailer storage, breeding area, show stable, riding arena, rest space and other areas needed under the same roof.
  • The amount of space needed under roof for separate but associated buildings; for example, open shelters, riding arena, sales barn, training barn, equipment storage, exercise area, hay and feed storage, office and lounge and other areas, including living quarters if needed.
  • Space needed for open and fenced areas: lanes and roads, outside lots and corrals, exercise areas, parking space for trailers and other vehicles and equipment, special events and distance between buildings for pleasing appearance, fire protection, and future expansion.
  • Methods and plan of inoffensive manure storage and disposal.
  • Your budget allocation, placing priorities on necessities, conveniences, and overall desires, in that order.

Overall Layout

Once you've done these things, it’s time to determine the size needed for the whole layout. Exclude family housing, large pastures and crop and other land not directly associated with the stabling and facilities' complex.

The size of the total layout is determined by the land area covered by the necessary buildings and the directly related open and fenced areas. This provides the basis for establishing the total land requirement. Large, new and expanding horse farms may require sizable acreages; but only a small acreage may be needed for the building site and an exercise area for a new, smaller operation.

Codes and Regulations

Early in the planning stage, it will be critical to find out what affects various zoning regulations, building codes, and sanitary regulations may have on the proposed project. Generally, building codes set construction standards. Zoning prohibits the use of property for specific purposes and sanitary regulations have to do with public health, related pollution and pest control. Other restrictions that may limit the use of property include deed restrictions, easements, and covenants between property owners.

Site Selection

The building site should be well-drained, accessible and have a slope of about 5'/100' away from the building in all directions to assure good surface drainage. Consider the grading and filling that will be needed for a well-drained site. Plan on using only clean soil, sand, gravel or crushed rock for fill.

Topography of the site, particularly, affects the cost of site development; and site preparation should be completed before building construction is started. A nearly level site usually involves the least cost. Sites on steep slopes or rocky terrain or sites requiring considerable fill, are costly to develop and may make compromises necessary.

Factors influencing selection of a building site are:

  • Size or operation -- In addition to room for the planned buildings, the site should provide space for other planned facilities and areas. It should also provide for future building and paddock expansion and for good traffic patterns for safe and convenient handling of animals, vehicles, equipment, materials and snow removal.
  • Restrictions—The zoning regulations, building codes, sanitary regulations, deed restrictions, easements and covenants mentioned earlier may affect or limit the development and use of property at a specific location.
  • Topography – Surface characteristics of the land (such as direction and steepness of slope, gulley, ravines, streams, swamps, knolls, hills and rocks) affect site selection, development, convenience and use. Boulders and rock outcrops or formations near the surface indicate that costly rock excavation may be required to develop the site and to install foundations and water and drainage lines.
  • Drainage -- Avoid sites that have serious drainage problems (such as steep slopes that concentrate surface runoff in the building area and wet areas caused by critical ground-water conditions) unless the problems can be completely eliminated. Avoid sites near streams that flood, and stay well above the highest flooding.
  • Water supply – An adequate, alI-year water supply must be available at the site, either from a public water system or from convenient ground-water and surface water developments.
  • Nuisances - Distracting noise, offensive odors, and heavy traffic may affect site selection. Consider existing nuisances that may affect you and your equine companions of the site and also ones that you may create that might affect neighbors.
  • Windbreaks - The natural protection from the elements provided by wooded areas, knolls, hills and ravines is a consideration in site selection.
  • Existing buildings - Existing buildings may be a determining factor in site selection, but only if their size location, physical condition and inside arrangement fit into the overall plan for housing facilities.
  • Services – The availability of electrical service is essential.
  • Building layout - Chances are that building layout will be a deciding factor in selecting the site, but the site chosen may affect both building layout and building style.

Housing Horses

The horse barn, large or small, for hobby or professional use, should be well-planned, durable, and attractive. Its basic purpose is to provide an environment that protects the horses from temperature extremes, keeps them dry and out of the wind, eliminates drafts through the stables, provides fresh air in both winter and summer, and protects them from injury.

In cold, uninsulated or insulated barns, fresh air usually is provided by natural air movement through wall openings and ridge ventilators. Wall openings may be small windows, wall panels or slots under the eaves. In tight, warm barns, insulation, fans, and spaced air inlets are necessary. In cold climates, supplemental heat may be needed.

Equestrian stables and other facilities have features particular to their functions. These features are incorporated in two basic building shells: open-front buildings for minimal shelter and completely enclosed buildings for optimum shelter. The usable space in open-front or enclosed basic shells may be confined only to the ground-floor level. Depending on wall height and roof design, however, additional space overhead for hay, bedding and feed storage may be provided in both.

Roof Styles

Select the roof style that best appeals to you and your site and one that provides the best use of barn space, whether it’s one-floor, column-rafter, or clear-span truss buildings. Morton offers the following roof styles:

  • Gable
  • Offset Gable
  • Monitor
  • Half-monitor
  • Gambrel

Stall Barn Size

Width:

  • Stall size and alley width are used to determine barn width. For riding horses, the minimum box stall is 10'x10'. More commonly, stalls are 12' x 12', although stalls 14' x 14' or larger are not uncommon. Stalls can also be rectangular in shape (12' x 18', 12' x 24', etc.).
  • Work alleys between stalls should be 10' or wider. The most often used width of 12' allows room for moving horses, a small truck or a tractor pulling a wagon or manure spreader. Doors at the end of alleys are usually sliding and should be sized for the kind of traffic using them.
  • Typical building widths are measured by the outside finished dimensions. With space taken up by walls and structural members, the usable stall area is less than nominal size.

Height:

  • The minimum distance from floor to the bottom of rafters or trusses in a one-story barn should be 9' for the horse only. Some lean-tos may be a minimum of 8' high when used for other storage. Barns with ceilings should be a minimum of 10' high. To mount or ride in the alley, the height must be 12'-14'.
  • Breeding areas in barns should be 12' minimum. Stall barns with lofts for hay storage may be 9' high.
  • Low buildings interfere with ventilation, make the barn dark and are a safety hazard for horse and rider.

Length:

  • Equestrian stable length is determined by stall layout, the number and size of tack and feed rooms, wash/groom stalls, office-lounge areas, bath/shower rooms, etc. Overall length should be in an increment of the structural spacing.

Box Stall Design

The most common stall size is 12' x 12'. Because stall size can vary with different breeds and barn usage can change, an ideal stall should not be less than 10' x 12' nominal. A “double” stall, 12' x 20" or 12' x 24' is often used for a mare with foal or as a stallion stall. A double stall can be obtained by removing the common partition between adjoining stalls.

To provide a convenient and safe stall arrangement, consider both the needs of the attendant and horse. For example, the stall walls must be flush with the floor so a horse cannot get its feet under the partition. Solid-stall, 8' high backwalls of 2” x 8”, tongue and groove, offer resistance to kicking and absorb shock; and solid-stall partitions between horses reduce fighting but do not allow ventilation. Vented partitions offer some air movement between stalls with limited visibility, while pipe-grill partitions offer added visibility and ventilation but could increase the potential of some horses fighting.

Stall fronts should be as open as possible for ventilation. Sliding stall doors 4'6" wide x 7'6’’ high with bottom guides are preferred. Doors having a pipe-grill in the top needed for added ventilation; however, some may prefer a solid door. Swinging doors are not recommended because of interference with alley-stall cleaning, and they are not as safe for horse and attendant.

A swing-out feeder with hay rack and grain tub is an option that offers safety and convenience for the attendant. However, some still prefer to go into the stall to feed so they can check on the horse.

Stall Floors

Stall floors are built out of a variety of materials and none are fool-proof selections. If a stall is used all day and/or all night, the floor of a stall takes quite a beating, especially considering that a healthy horse can pass 30 to 40 pounds of manure and 6 to 10 gallons of urine daily.

The most natural floor is hard porous earth, and many parts of the country have clay available for this purpose. Six to 12 inches of a mixture consisting of approximately one-third fine stone dust and two-thirds clay packed on a well-drained base of course gravel up to 18" deep makes one of the best floors for a stall. This type of floor should be refilled, leveled and repacked occasionally.

Tough, all-rubber stall mats placed over earth floors can offer added resiliency and comfort; and they usually have a textured surface for more sure-footing. Wood planking, concrete or asphalt floors are too hard and can lead to swollen hocks, leg and hoof problems or just plain fatigue. In addition, wood floors are very difficult to keep dry and odor free. Concrete stall floors require rubber mats and/or a considerable amount of bedding to provide a cushion and prevent stiffness.

Alley Floors

Concrete floors with a brushed broom finish are commonly used in the barn alleys and wash/groom areas. It is common for the alley floor to be a few inches higher than the stall floors. The alley floor should then slope about an inch from each side to the center. This will aid in clean-up operations by creating a very shallow drainage way that helps keep water out of the stalls.

Tack Rooms

This is simply a room for storing riding equipment; or it can be large enough to serve as an office or a service shop for cleaning and maintaining tack (bridles, saddles, blankets, etc.) as well. Build the tack room large enough for the activities associated with it. The tack room may contain all or some of the following: saddle, bridle and halter racks; tack or shoeing boxes; first-aid kit; clothes closet; storage cabinets; shelves; filing cabinets; desk; chairs; miscellaneous furniture; refrigerators; sink; working and loafing areas; heating equipment; hot and cold running water; and cooking facilities.

The tack room can provide a warm area in the barn when insulated and heated for winter use. A window or wall air-conditioner can also be used for summer comfort. The tack room should have hard surface walls and ceiling, a concrete floor, good lighting, and adequate ventilation.

Tack rooms are normally designed to be the same size as a stall for simplicity in construction and to allow for future expansion. Rule of thumb for number and size of tack rooms:

  • 10' x 10' to 12' x 12' per 4 to 12 box stalls
  • 10' x 20' to 12' x 24' per 8 to 20 box stalls

Boarding facilities may require one small tack room area for each boarder.

Utility, Laundry and Restrooms

Most larger barns will require restrooms for the convenience of owners, customers and employees. Some owners may even desire showers for their employees. Laundry facilities may be needed for washing blankets, bandages, towels, clothes, etc. The laundry room should have a large tub sink with hot and cold water. Size the room to allow for folding and storage. A utility area for electrical, water, water heater, furnace and air conditioner can be a separate room or a part of the laundry room.

Feed Rooms

Feed and storage rooms are also usually sized to match box-stall sizes. Organize the feed room for convenience and easy housekeeping. Plan storage for feed materials, equipment and tools, and provide an uncluttered traffic pattern to reach the stored materials without interference. Keep the storage area as dust free as possible. A concrete floor is a must. Hay may be stored in an overhead 10ft loft or on the ground floor. The entrance door to the room should be 3' to 4' wide and equipped with a latch so that a unattended horse cannot get into the feed.

Provide space for feed storage on a rule-of-thumb basis:

  • 1-1/4 pound of hay and 1 pound of grain per day, per 100 pounds of the horses' weight.
  • Baled hay will weigh approximately 10 lb. per cu. ft. and a ton will occupy approximately 200 cu. ft.
  • Whole oats weigh approximately 26 pounds per cu. ft. (77 cu. ft per ton)
  • Bulk feed about 40 pounds per cu. ft. (50 cu. ft. ton)

The amount of storage space needed will vary with the number of animals, their total weight, and how often the feed supply is to be replenished.

Wash and Grooming Stalls

As with tack and feed rooms, this type of stall should also be about the same size as a box stall. Basically, a grooming stall is a box stall without a front. Wash stalls are similar, except they usually include a painted hi-rib panel liner or other durable material such as FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic facing) on a wood backing. Wash and grooming stalls require a concrete floor sloped to a center drain and must have a brushed finish to prevent slipping. Rubber mats also provide good footing on concrete.

Office and Lounge Areas

Some larger operations may require separate office or lounge areas. These rooms should be located to provide a view of either the stall barn or the arena. The interior finish may be similar to a home interior, based on your preferences.

Hay Storage

Some stall barn designs allow space for overhead hay storage above the stalls or alley or both. Hay can be dropped from above through holes in the loft floor. While hay stored above can add insulation value, it does pose a potential fire hazard.

Bedding Storage

Small amounts of bedding can be kept in a separate area of the stall barn or in a detached building since daily demand is not as great. Some owners keep bedding in the feed room while others store bedding in the corners of an adjacent arena.

Stall Barn Ventilation

Horses, like other animals, produce heat and moisture; and the moisture must be removed from the barn to prevent condensation and odor build-up. Ventilation is required to remove the moisture and odors and to help control temperatures.

In unheated barns, roof cupolas, ridge vents, vented side overhangs, windows, and doors should be provided to assure good ventilation control without drafts.

Stall Barn Insulation

Insulation in the stall barn roof is desirable in all climatic areas to help control summer heat gain and reduce condensation throughout other seasons. Even with insulation, a ventilation system is still required. Warm, heated stall barns must be fully insulated and equipped with an effective power ventilating system.

Hay and Grain Feeders

Feeders should be placed where they are convenient and safe for the attendant to service. Salt and/or mineral blocks should be placed away from metal parts of a stall as they will corrode anything other than plastics. Swing-out, hay-grain feeders are quite popular among horse owners; however, some still prefer stationary devices.

Waterers

Horses may be watered in two ways:

  • Automatic waterers should be mounted in a front portion of the stall away from the feed area. The advantages of automatic waterers are low labor costs and the ability to prevent freezing with a heating device. The drawbacks might include a higher initial investment, more maintenance and flooding of the stall and barn if the system malfunctions.
  • Water buckets that are also placed in the front wall of the stall. (Filling would be done with a water hose.) The advantage is that the owner knows exactly how much water the horse consumes. The drawbacks are that the bucket needs to be cleaned at least twice a week, and the water could freeze.

Water Hydrants

Water hydrants are required for watering horses and/or alley wash down. They must be freeze-proof and heavy duty. Locate centrally to provide easy access.

Dutch Doors

Dutch doors are primarily used for outside access to a stall. This door allows light and ventilation to the stabled horse. Most Dutch doors are centered in the back of the stall for outside appearance. Half-Dutch doors (top panel only) are also used when outside exiting is not required. In addition, the half-Dutch door can be used for access to a loft on the gable end of a building.

Stall Bam Lighting

Alley lighting can be cold-start, fluorescent, mounted to the structure or ceiling. The wiring should be placed in conduit or concealed as required. Minimum suggested: One, eight-foot, two-tube strip every 20’ to 24' of alley length for 10' and 12' heights. Adjust spacing for higher placement per electrical contractor. Stall lighting should include an individual fixture with glass globe and metal guard and be individually switched. All exposed wiring in a stall should be in conduit and protected from the horse. Make sure all circuits are grounded properly.

Support Buildings/Spaces to Consider

  • Farrier
  • Veterinarian use
  • Separate breeding space or shed
  • Pasture shelters
  • Separate hay barn

Visit our stall barn project page for more design inspiration!

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