A grey pony peers over their stable door.

Stabling your horse

When choosing to stable your horse, it's essential to use safe, secure and appropriate housing.

Depending on the time of year, health conditions and your yard management routine, different horses spend varying amounts of time in a stable. If you’re planning on keeping your horse in a stable as part of their routine, you’ll need to consider several factors to keep them safe and comfortable.

Remember that a more natural environment for a horse is in a field, where they can move freely and have access to other horses. Always stable your horse for the least amount of time necessary.


Unsuitably designed or built stables can impact your horse’s health, wellbeing and safety. Always ensure housing is designed and built safely to reduce these risks.

What to look for in a suitable stable design

Stables can range from traditional stables (loose boxes) to communal systems such as crew barns. Horses can be kept individually within separate loose boxes, or housed with several others in larger barns. There are also variations in yard layout, from traditional stable yards to internal ‘American barn’ type systems.

While each system has pros and cons, all housing should consider the health and welfare of your horse.

American barns

An American barn consists of internal stables and other spaces (such as a tack room or feed storage room) usually arranged around a central passageway. This indoor system ensures that everything is protected from the elements.

Many horses enjoy being stabled in an American barn as it allows them to easily see other horses whenever they’re indoors. This is especially useful for horses with separation anxiety. But this busy atmosphere may be stressful for some, with horses coming and going frequently throughout the day. Horses with respiratory diseases may also find busy American barns too dusty. Because of the reduced fresh air flow, Infections can also spread much quicker in a large American barn.

Traditional stable yards

A traditional stable yard is usually built in an L or U shape, or as a straight run of stables depending on the number of loose boxes. horses can usually see each other without physical contact. The central yard space can also be enclosed, providing a good space for grooming, tacking up and other tasks, while still allowing horses to be the company of one another.

While a traditional stable yard usually has horses stabled side by side, the risk of cross-infection is lower as they usually have more access to fresh air flow.

Stable sizes

Most loose boxes measure more than three and a half metres square, although smaller ponies may be comfortable in smaller boxes. Large horses, however, require an above-average stable size.

As a guideline, all horses should have enough space to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably. The British Horse Society recommends the following stable sizes:

Large horses (17hh+) - 3.65m x 4.25m (12ft x 14ft)

Horses - 3.65m x 3.65m (12ft x 12ft)

Large ponies (13.2hh+) - 3.05m x 3.65m (10ft x 12ft)

Ponies - 3.05m x 3.05m (10ft x 10ft)

Foaling box for horses - 4.25m x 4.25m (14ft x 14ft)

In a shared communal barn, each horse should have a minimum space of at least twice the required area needed by a single horse in a single loose box. This is so that they can move around freely and to prevent bullying.

Building materials

Stables can be built using wood, brick or stone. Wood is a popular choice as it’s more affordable, easier to work with than other materials, and is naturally insulating in winter. But wood can be vulnerable to wet weather – you’ll need to use weather-proof coatings and clean, check for mould and ensure good ventilation.

Brick or stone stables are durable against bad weather and last longer with good maintenance. During the summer, brick and stone stables are also cooler. But they are more expensive to build, and if your horse is prone to kicking the stable walls, you’ll need to implement a shock-absorbing surface to prevent injury.


Good ventilation is essential to ensuring horses have fresh air, free from dust and spores. A stuffy stable environment can lead to respiratory infections and other health problems.

The design of the stable should allow for air to flow freely, with the opening ideally facing away from strong winds. Stable doors at the front and a window opposite at the back can allow plenty of air to flow through. Windows can be protected by a grill or mesh. You should avoid creating cross drafts as much as possible.

Rugs can minimise the risk of chills during colder seasons, so good ventilation can be maintained year round.


The top stable door should never be closed – you can leave it open for fresh air instead, and provide a rug during colder weather.

Roof height and stable design plays an important role in improving ventilation and air flow in your stable. The roof should be between nine and 11 feet high, with your horse having a minimum of three feet of room above their head. Optimum roof height allows warm air to rise and escape, which is then replaced with fresh air.

Pitched roofs are best for air circulation, while ridge vents can allow stale air to escape.


Horses need plenty of natural light, whether it’s through windows, clear roof panels, or open areas in their stabling.

Electric lighting – both indoors and outside – is also essential, especially during darker winter months, as it creates a safer environment for both you and your horse. All light fittings and wiring should be safe, durable and well out of reach of your horse. Outside of the stable is ideal to prevent your horse from accessing them.

LED lighting is suitable for stable use as they do not heat up like other bulbs, reducing the risk of fire. They’re also energy efficient and affordable. No matter which type of bulb you choose, it should have a plastic safety cover fitted – this will prevent dust from gathering around the bulb, and reduce the risk of injury to your horse.

Wiring should also be rodent-proof – hard coverings such as plastic or steel sleeves can be placed over your wires to help prevent them from being chewed.

Stable flooring

Non-slip flooring is essential. Many stables use textured-surface concrete flooring as a base with deep-litter bedding on top to prevent horses from slipping.

Concrete is durable and will withstand lots of activity over time. It's also easy to clean and can be easily swept, washed and disinfected when needed. However concrete flooring alone is uncomfortable to stand on – without enough bedding your horse may avoid lying down or could damage their legs over time.

Traditional stable bricks provide an anti-slip surface. But this type of flooring can be uneven, and more difficult to keep clean. A sealant can help to fill the pores and gaps of the bricks and create a surface that is easier to clean, but this may be less cost effective.

Rubber matting is both comfortable and a good shock absorber, reducing the stress on your horse’s joints when standing in their stable. Rubber mats that are not permanently sealed down should be lifted on a regular basis, as dirty bedding or urine can become trapped underneath. The floor beneath can then be regularly washed with disinfectant to prevent any build up of bacteria.


All stabling must have a good drainage system. Drainage is important as it keeps urine and spillages away from the horse. To do this, stables should have drainage channels. Suitable bedding can also help with keeping urine away from your horse.

Water sources in the stable

Water can be provided in a large rubber tub in the corner of the stable, or by an automatic drinker fixed to the stable wall.

Water buckets are useful as you’ll be able to monitor how much your horse is drinking throughout the day. However, you’ll need to remember to change the water daily to prevent it from getting warm or dirty. If your horse is likely to kick their bucket, you can place it in a tyre to keep it secure.

Automatic drinkers provide your horse with unlimited fresh water. Since they automatically fill, you won’t be able to tell how much your horse has been drinking, but it cuts out a lot of the hard work involved in changing water. But be aware that in winter the pipes may freeze over. If this happens, you'll need to provide an additional water bucket to keep your horse topped up with water.

Food sources in the stable

A bay horse eats from a hay net in their stable.

Feed can be provided in the stable both on the floor or from a hay net, hay rack, bowl or manger. There are pros and cons to each method so you’ll need to consider what’s best for your horse.

Feeding hay from the floor is the most natural position for horses to eat. It’s also convenient for owners who are providing ad lib hay diets. However, some forage can be wasted as it’s dragged into dirty areas of the stable. To minimise wastage you can provide forage in large plastic tubs on the floor. Hard feed can be given in shallow plastic or rubber bowls placed on the floor and removed once your horse has finished eating.

Giving feed in hay nets can also minimise wastage and slow down your horse’s eating. This is especially useful for horses who are on a diet, as it helps their ration of forage to last longer. Hay nets with smaller sized holes can slow your horse’s consumption down even further, promoting a more natural style of feeding. Multiple hay nets can also be tied up in the stable to encourage your horse to move around while they eat.

However, depending on the height you’ve tied your hay net, eating this way is not a natural position for horses and is unsuitable for horses with back or neck problems.

A hay rack can be fixed within the stable in a variety of positions. Corner or wall racks and mangers can help to reduce wastage of hay, and reduce time spent filling hay nets. But these generally do not provide a natural eating position for your horse.


Loose bedding material is placed on top of flooring for extra comfort and warmth. This layer should also be absorbent and disposable for easier cleaning. Soiled bedding and droppings should be removed on a daily basis, with extra bedding added as needed.

The bedding you use should consider the individual needs and behaviour of your horse. There are several types of bedding available, including:

Straw bedding is readily available year round and is often one of the cheapest bedding materials to buy. Straw provides a good warm cushion for your horse to lie down on, and allows urine to drain easily. It is also quick to handle and muck out as droppings can be easily separated from the straw.

However straw bedding can be dusty, making it unsuitable for horses and owners who suffer from respiratory conditions. Some horses may also eat straw bedding, making it unsuitable for those that gain weight easily.

A good alternative for horses who eat straw bedding or need a dust free environment, wood shavings are generally affordable. Dust-extracted shavings can be more expensive but are better quality, especially for horses who may suffer from respiratory conditions. Wood shavings are absorbent, making it easy to remove soiled piles. Droppings can also be easily separated from clean shavings.

Look out for low quality shavings (usually produced by sawmills), as this can contain splinters and other hazardous material.

Made from recycled white wood, shredded wood fibre is a low dust bedding material. The absorbency means the surface of the bed stays dry, making it comfortable for your horse to lay down. It provides good support to the hooves when standing.

Shredded wood fibre is easy to muck out without removing too much excess bedding. However, since urine drains through to the base of the bed, the entire bed will need removing once a week.

Shredded paper is a highly absorbent and soft bedding material. It has low levels of dust and horses are generally not tempted to eat it. However, when wet, the paper can stick together making it tricky to muck out.

While paper bedding is usually cheap to buy, you may need a large amount of it to make a thick bed. Since the paper is usually made up of newspaper, magazines and other prints, the ink may stain light coloured horses.

Shredded carboard is a good, low-dust alternative for bedding. Cardboard is naturally insulating, making it warmer than shredded paper bedding. When wet, the cardboard clumps together, making it easy to remove any soiled piles. However, it can be difficult to separate from droppings.

Whichever bedding is used, it must be of good quality and hazard-free. Each type of bedding has advantages and disadvantages. However, the effectiveness of your chosen bedding material depends on how clean it is kept, and the amount used. Regular mucking out is vital to the health and wellbeing of your horse.

Tips for when stabling your horse

Establish a routine

Horses are creatures of habit. A consistent yard routine means they’ll know what to expect, avoiding unnecessary stress. A routine will also help you to stay on top of daily stable maintenance, such as mucking out and changing water.

Make time for exercise

Spending time exercising outside the stable prevents your horse from becoming stressed and developing boredom habits such as weaving. Daily turnout is essential for a horse's welfare – it allows them to socialise with others, graze throughout the day, and exercise.

If your turn out is restricted at certain times of the year you can also maximise their time spent outdoors in other ways. For example, while you’re mucking out the stable you can let your horse loose in the arena, or set aside time to take them for in-hand walks.

Divide meals up throughout the day

Horses are designed to feed little and often throughout the day. Stabling can restrict grazing. To help your horse's digestion while stabled, you can divide their daily ration into smaller feeds. Provide a fibre-based diet and use fine-mesh hay nets and snack balls to increase the time spent foraging for the available feed.

Provide enrichment

Horses are naturally inquisitive. Stable toys can provide good enrichment and keep your horse stimulated. Different toys can be swapped out regularly to provide new interest. You can also create your own enrichment by hanging a carrot, apple or swede from the ceiling of the stable.

Remember that, while enriching your horse's stable is highly beneficial, it's no substitute for time spent in the field and interacting with other horses.

Ensure horses can socialise

Horses are herd animals and need companionship with other horses wherever possible. They should be able to interact with horses in adjacent or nearby stables to maintain essential equine contact. A stable design where horses can face opposite one another is ideal.

You can also try placing a mirror in your horse’s stable. These are usually made from mirrored acrylic, which is lighter, more durable and safer than glass. A mirror can help your horse to feel calmer when they’re alone in a stable since they can see their own reflection. Glass mirrors should not be used due to the high risk of shattering.

Spend time with your horse

Horses also benefit from consistent human contact and handling. Spend as much time as you can with them, for example through grooming as most enjoy this social interaction. By grooming your horse yourself, you're communicating in their language and strengthening your bond. This can help them feel more relaxed when stabled.


Unless your horse is on box rest, you should avoid having them stabled for long periods of time wherever possible.

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• 10 November 2023

Next review

• 10 November 2026

Approved by
Ruth Court

Horse Welfare Manager