Even horses and ponies that live out 24/7 should have access to a stable if the need arises. After all, whilst we all hope that our equine friends will not become lame or sick whilst in our care, it would be irresponsible to take that gamble by not having anywhere warm and dry to put them should health problems occur. What is more, the erratic nature of our climate means that very few horses can be worked completely from grass, and even the toughest of native ponies can struggle through the worst parts of winter. This doesn't mean that you will need to remortgage the house in order to move your furry beast to the top class livery yard down the road; a field shelter can easily be adapted to form temporary stabling if needs be.For those looking to buy a horse that is to be ridden on a regular basis, however, good stabling is essential. Whether this means hunting down the right livery yard or seeking planning permission to erect stables at home, knowing what makes good stabling is the first step towards being a good owner.
Any stable that is intended to accommodate a pony will need to be a minimum of 12ft x 10ft. At the other end of the scale, a box that measures at least 12ft x 14ft is required for a big hunter type. Attempts to house a horse in a stable that does not meet these minimum measurements could lead to the animal getting cast or injured, and many will also suffer psychologically when confined in too small a space. Remember, horses and ponies are both physically and mentally designed to be roaming free, and whilst issues of practicality often make it a necessity for us to stable our domestic horses for some of the time, it is our responsibility to make this experience as pleasant as possible.An increasing number of yards are using American barns and other forms of indoor stabling to accommodate horses. Whilst this modern trend makes management much easier for grooms and owners, care must be taken with the design if we are to keep our horses' best interests to the fore. Admittedly, indoor stabling allows a somewhat more of a 'herd' atmosphere for its residents - the majority of these barns feature grilled divides, enabling each horse to have a better view of (and thus feel closer to) his neighbours. Indoor stabling also provides better protection from the elements, and keeps its residents warm and toasty whatever the weather is doing outside. However, such buildings can be a harbour for dust and so it is essential that this type of setup is well ventilated, ideally by windows that run the full length of the building and large doors at each end.The doorway to any stable or loose box should be a minimum of 4ft wide. A large number of outdoor boxes feature the traditional stable door that is split into two halves. With this design, the top section should always be left open and hooked back for safety. This not only allows for better ventilation, but also enables the horse to survey his kingdom! A window is another good addition to this type of stable, but it will need to be protected by safety bars, and should be fitted on the front wall to prevent too much draught.
All light switches should be on the outside of the stable, and in a position that is unreachable by the horse. Light bulbs must be surrounded by mesh casing or similar, and be at a height where the horse cannot possibly make contact, accidently or otherwise. A haynet ring should be fixed approximately 5ft from the ground and reasonably close to the door, enabling the horse to see out as he munches if he so desires. It may also be used for tying up, or a separate ring can be fitted at the same height for this purpose. However, any ring that is designated for tying up a horse must have a loop of string attached, to which the pony rope should be fastened with a quick release knot. This is paramount for safety: should the horse suddenly pull back, the string will snap and release him. Tying a horse directly to a metal ring or other fixed object can lead to all sorts of injuries should the animal panic, and it has not been unknown for some to go over backwards in such scenarios.Hay racks are steadily becoming a thing of the past, and for good reason. In order for these accessories not to project into the horse's space they have to be fitted above head level, and this positioning is detrimental to the horse as he will have to feed with his head and neck at an unnatural height, with seeds and dust falling into his eyes on a regular basis.Plenty of big yards now have automatic water drinkers in every stable. These popular devices have been the cause of much debate, as whilst they save huge amounts of time and labour, they make it impossible to monitor how much the horse is drinking, require cleaning every day, and tend to freeze up in the winter. Water drinkers should never be fitted within close proximity of a haynet as they will become clogged very easily.
The popularity of rubber matting has been ever-increasing over the course of the last ten years, and this type of bedding can now be found in the majority of yards across the country. Not only does it save on labour but it also reduces costs and helps to prevent injuries such as capped hocks.
However, whilst some people do use rubber matting on its own, it is better management to put some form of bedding material (such as shavings) on its surface, using the mats as just a base. This method ensures higher levels of comfort and warmth, is better for the horse's joints, and minimises 'splash-back' when the horse urinates - a problem so disliked by our equine friends that many refuse to wee on a bare surface at all!
Wood shavings are an excellent form of bedding. They offer good levels of warmth and absorption, can be bought in dust-extracted bales, are reasonably economical, and make a lovely, clean bed that can be easily managed. On the downside, they are harder to dispose of than straw as they do not rot down, and over recent years there have been periods of short supply, causing prices to soar temporarily.
A deep, straw bed is a fundamental part of the traditional equestrian oil painting, and, alongside shavings, straw is still the most popular choice of horse bedding today. As well as being pleasing on the eye, it is warm, comfortable, cheap, easy to muck out and dispose of, and usually readily available. However, no matter how good its quality, all straw contains dust, thereby making it unsuitable for horses with allergies and respiratory problems (and not ideal for indoor stabling arrangements either).Wheat straw should always be the first choice when it comes to using this type of bedding, as horses find both oat and barley straw very tasty, and most will stand happily munching on their lovingly-made bed for hours! Oat straw also becomes wet very quickly, whereas wheat straw allows free drainage, providing that the floor of the stable is designed in a way to allow this.
There are several products on the market that are manufactured using recycled wood fibres, and these have proved to be extremely cost effective and easy to muck out. Several varieties have been treated with ingredients that aid the respiratory system, but care has to be taken when handling some of these fibres as they can be rather sharp.
Paper is a type of equine bedding that is attractive to those owners who wish to keep costs to a minimum, and is ideal for horses with COPD and other respiratory problems as it is completely dust free. Other benefits include its high levels of absorption and warmth. However, it is best avoided by people who like their yard to look spick and span at all times, as it is easily blown around! Paper bedding can also congeal when soggy, causing it to separate and leave bare patches on the stable floor.
Chopped, treated straw can now be bought in wrapped bales, allowing for easy storage and a dust-free, non-palatable bed. There are several different brands on the market today, some of which have been treated with eucalyptus, and whilst prices vary they still tend to be greater than those for traditional straw bales.