Sheds And Condo Stalls

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The ability for a horse to live outside is accomplished on many farms by providing structures that allow for free entrance and exit at any time for the horses.  These structures protect from the weather, including rain, snow and wind.  Some incorporate doors that usually remain open but can be closed for containment when needed.

The advantage to keeping horses outdoors are many, but all relate to the idea that horses do better outside.  Free movement keeps sore joints less painful.  Open-air prevents respiratory problems. The footing of grass is what hooves were created for. 

The disadvantages include catching horses that don’t want to be caught, lack of the ability to observe horses (delivery of foal, injured) and exposure to weather and flies.  This last one is important because I have seen horses run through fences to get away from large biting flies.  But on the other hand, I also have seen horses prefer to stand in the sunlight at minus 14 F (-25C) when there is no wind rather than inside their shed.

Cleaning turnout sheds is essential and is usually not done daily but at longer intervals.  Most keep laying down new bedding if bedding is used.  There are a few problems with this.  The first is that the ground and old manure retain moisture.  Even though there is no direct rainfall under the shed roof, the water in the waste is not fully evaporated because there is no direct sunlight.  This can lead to mud formation, poor smelling air, and make it uncomfortable to lay down.  In winter, it can become rock hard.  Worse, if a “manure pack” is allowed to form (a thick layer of bedding and manure), heat will be rapidly conducted away from the horse.

Contrary to popular belief, a manure pack does not add warmth to the horse from the generation of heat caused by decay.  While it may prevent the manure pack from freezing, the moisture is also a wick for heat conduction.  Just grab something wet with a wet potholder, and you will quickly discover this principle (be careful doing this as you will be burned).

Keeping horses outside in a shed with freedom from confinement is not an excuse for laziness.  Maintaining the fenceline is continuous for breaks or safety issues.  Cleaning the shed frequently is a must.  Both require the humans to be responsible for going outside themselves no matter what the weather is doing.  It is just part of owning and caring for horses.

Some farms build individual stalls with their floor, roof and walls separated from other stalls.  These are placed anywhere on the farm and are not attached to a turnout, paddock or field.  They are found on driveways and outside along the wall of arenas.  I call them condo stalls (condominiums).

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