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Build Your Horse A Run-In Shed With Good Planning

run-in shed with a horse

Your horse's run-in shed should be convenient and inviting. | Photos courtesy of Horse Journal

You don’t like being in cramped spaces, and neither does your horse.

Morgan sport-horse breeder Beth Benard, a contributing writer to Horse Journal, has suggestions to get you started  with run-in shed plans that have the horse in mind:

The horse is by choice one of the most free-ranging mammals, yet we seem insistent on forcing him to live in little boxes. Evolution has allowed the horse to maintain his well-being by always moving, away from parasite-teeming manure piles and in search of fresh water and better forage.  Access to a run-in shed is closer to natural for a horse than a 24-hour stay in a stall.

Studies in both humans and horses confirm movement is the most important contributor to long-term joint health.  Every complete weight-bearing forward stride bathes the joint cartilage in fresh-lubricating fluid. This propulsive effort is totally lacking in a box stall, where it’s replaced by hours of repetitive pivoting on the hindquarters.  Is it any wonder hock degeneration is rampant in the pleasure and performance horse industry or the nutraceutical industry is booming?

We’d bet you’ll love the idea of housing your horse on pasture with an adequate shelter.  We have no doubt your horse will. Just think, no more racing home on your lunch hour to bring in your herd because the weather has changed. No more unloading those horridly expensive bags of bedding.  Still need convincing?  Ask your vet how often he treats horses on 24/7 turnout for lameness or colic.

Three-Sided Shed.  Run-in sheds are usually three-sided, roofed structures.  They can be as fancy or as simple as you prefer.  In order to actually protect your horse from the elements, however, an effective run-in shed must have some essential characteristics:

High and Dry. Horses have their preferred “snoozing in the sun” locations and that’s were you want to locate your run-in.  It may seem like an awkward location aesthetically, but it’s a waste of resources to build a shed that won’t be used.

run-in-shed-with-sun

This closeup of the shed in the photo above shows that when the sun is at the right angle, light can fill the entire shed (therefore its placement might not be optimal).

With luck, this spot is not low-lying or at the bottom of a hill, but even if it is, you can counter the terrain by elevating the floor of the shed with well-draining fill, topped with sand and/or stone dust (also known as blue stone). Dry footing is a must.  Yes, it will be tracked out and require some yearly replacement, but compared to stall bedding, it’s an enormous time and money-saver.

Facing the Right Direction. Only you can determine this.  From which direction do your major storms arrive?  Does your horse seem more uncomfortable in the summer (flies), but rides out winter storms without complaint?  Still can’t decide?  Read on for more things to consider.

Length and Depth.  Even if you guessed wrong and the open side is not exactly where it should have been, if your shed is deep enough, it will still serve as a haven against wind, rain, bugs and other assaults.  And by deep, we mean deep, like 16 feet, if possible.

Length?  A one-horse shed can be cozy, but add a second horse and the shed needs to be much more than twice as long.  Every horse’s “personal” space is different.  The large shed pictured on page 14 houses eight geldings who like each other, but only four crabby mares that don’t.  Always err on the side of too big. Nothing is more frustrating than watching one horse monopolize a shed, while the rest of the herd huddles outside.

No Negative Nellies. We’re willing to admit there are some negatives to this concept, but we’re ready to counter your arguments.

We’ve heard people complain, “The weather where I live is ______(fill in the blank).”  Horses are cold-weather adapted and metabolically neutral between 15° and 85° F.

Of course, no horse is comfortable in a freezing, wind-driven rain, which is why some genius invented Gore-Tex and we plop down big bucks for it.  With the tremendous array of high-tech sheets and blankets now available to horse owners, you can protect your horse from almost anything nature throws at us. With tail covers, neck quilts and layers of breathable insulation, your horse is essentially carrying a barn on his back anyway.

You still always have the option of allowing your horse to go au natural, if you’re willing to bring him back into the barn on the few occasions when the run-in shed is not enough.  But remember, they’re horses, not orchids.

run-in-shed -showing downspout

Downspouts can catch rainwater, which helps keep the footing drier and assists in filling the water tank, especially useful with well water. | Horse Journal Photo

And of course there’s always, “ I want to ride, but my horse is filthy.” True, especially in mud season, your horse will not be immaculately clean when you decide to work him as he might be when closed up in a stall.  But are you just being lazy? A thorough grooming is good for the horse’s coat and skin, too.

Otherwise, a dirty horse rides just as well as a clean one. Sponge/brush off the tack areas, invest in a swimmer’s towel or a big chamois, place it under your regular saddle pad and you can even ride a soaking-wet horse, if necessary.

DIY Project. Building a run-in shed can be a simple weekend do-it-yourself project, and there are free plans and tips everywhere. If you’re not that handy, the current recession has also made this the perfect time to hire a professional pole-barn builder, who might provide a crew at a reduced price rather than lay them off.

Bottom Line. Not all horses live on a property where they have plenty of turnout. If yours does, make that field even more useful by putting up an inexpensive run-in shed. We’ll bet that when you turn your horse out again after a nice ride—and probably before you get the gate latched—he’ll drop down for a good spine-itching roll.  See those feet in the air?  That’s your best friend giving you the thumbs-up sign, and saying, “Thank you for treating me like a horse.”

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