Tips and hints about keeping a horse at your own house. How to build and fit a stable and what is needs.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, owning a horse was not very easy. You needed to have somewhere to stable it and grazing available before making the purchase. Both these requirements meant either a knowledge of horses or a knowledge of farming and farm animals. Farmers used horses for ploughing and other tasks on their farms until the tractor took over, so many farmers also has a knowledge of horses.
Nowadays anyone can but a horse, and many do. There is an abundance of livery stables dotted around the country, (whatever country you are in), and many offer “self-livery”. This means paying “rent” for the use of the stable, but being responsible for feeding, mucking out etc yourself. In other words, “stable management”.
As a young girl with a pony, my mother had had horses and was able to help me. I was also bought books and told to learn the contents if I intended to keep the pony, and I was sent to the Pony Club where “Stable Management” was taught.
There is no substitute for learning, and as horses are delicate animals – at least as far as stable management is concerned – this should be learnt first, or at least straight away as soon as a horse is bought.
A basic understanding is a good idea, even if your horse is at livery, as unfortunately many yards open because someone had money, and not from a love of horses.
There was a recent outbreak of Strangles*, which resulted in a few horses dying needlessly. This was due to bad management of a yard and would have been avoided if the few simple rules regarding Strangles had been observed. When these rules were brought to the owners attention, she was amazed and didn’t know they existed, (to be honest I don’t believe she even really knew what Strangles was). I could tell from what happened next whether the owners in that yard knew anything at all about horses – they removed their animals as soon as quarantine was over. The horses remaining, about 80% belonged to owners who had no idea how close they had come to loosing their horse – and with no insurance payout as the loss would have been due to negligence!
Over the next issues I will be dealing with a few basics of good stable management. Things that are equally important whether your horse is at livery or at home.
You wouldn’t take your child to the first nursery school you came to and leave it there without first ascertaining if the manager/owner was capable of dealing sensibly with young children, so why do the same for your horse?
*Strangles is a serious, contagious, notifiable illness that will be dealt with in a later article.
The stable should be at least 14feet by 12feet to keep an average horse comfortable. If it is a bit bigger, all the better. the perfect position for a stable is somewhere a horse can look out and see what is happening around him. As they spend many hours locked up in their stable, this relieves boredom and satisfies their natural sense of curiosity.
The door needs to be around 4 feet wide to allow the horse to go in and out without catching himself on the door posts. It also should open outwards in case of a horse getting cast, (this means lying down and getting stuck, and this might happen in the area of the door, meaning you can not push it inwards to help), and to avoid disturbing bedding. The door ideally should be in two parts so the top part can be left open, permitting the horse to put his head out for fresh air and for the view, but closed if rain is blowing that way or at nights in winter. If a horse is prone to jumping out, or even trying to, a grill can be fixed on the bottom part to prevent this, and it also stops horse who bite any passer-by’s from being able to do this. I a horse weaves, that means he sways from side to side, a grill with an open “V” shape is better, as he can still enjoy the air and view, but has no room to maneuver his head and neck from side to side. One thing to remember with this type of grill is that if the horse is frightened he will instinctively pull back and thus catch his check bones on the grill, sometimes very hard. The latches should be rounded with no projections that might cut a horse, but still allow quick and easy access in case of emergencies. Two latches are ideal, one at the top you can close after yourself when you go in, and another at the bottom in case the horse plays with the top bolt and manages to open it, (and many will). An extra latch also helps stop the door getting warped if the horse kicks it. The bottom latch is easiest for you if it is a “kick-bolt”, this means literally, you kick it open if your hands are full.
The perfect stable also has an overhang, a part of the roof that covers the horses heads when the sun is out or if it is raining. This also makes it easier for you to work by being able to access the stable while staying dry and keeping food dry.
If possible a window opposite the door is a great advantage. Horses get bored easily and this gives them another view as well as extra light, but bullet-proof or some type of extra strong, shatter-proof glass is essential. Even the most even tempered horse may kick out if startled, and if they put their foot through the glass you my loose the horse. Another way to avoid this risk is to fit a grill round the window.
It is a fact that horses stay fitter and get fewer colds etc. when their box is well ventilated. Warmth comes from their rugs, not keeping the stable shut.
The floor needs to be non-slippery, resistant to moisture, long lasting, hard and something that does not spark if the horse is wearing shoes. There will have to be a drain somewhere for excess urine that is not absorbed by the bedding, and the floor should slope very, very slightly towards that.
One of the most popular types, mainly because it is cheapest, is concrete. This is then given a smooth grooved top, to prevent slipping. There are a number of special floors available, but these can be quite costly. Some are stable brick, others matting. The most popular matting is rubber, as this is moisture resistant and soft on the horses legs, but beware it does not also sweat. This is a flooring, not a bedding, and as such requires added bedding like any other flooring.
An eye-level ring in the wall for tying the horse to is a good idea. Even if your horse does not need tied, you may get another one that does, or you may have to treat an illness or injury that necessitates the horse being tied. Mangers should be about chest high to the horse and in a corner out of the way. They must have rounded edges, (everything in and around the horse must have rounded edges, no projections and not capable of doing any damage). The manger needs to be big enough so the horse can not easily throw his food out, but not so big he can’t get at the food easily to eat it. Removable mangers are good as they can be washed, but whatever type you have, make sure it is clean before adding new food. Always remove any old food – you could kill your horse if you don’t! (*Horses can not vomit, so if they eat something that has gone off it must pass all the way through them before they are free of it. This is often the cause of colic, and unlike a child, many horses die of colic each year. Colic is the MAIN killer of horses.)
Although some people like hay racks above mangers, this may look nice and tidy, but means the horse eating at an unnatural angle and dust falling into his eyes and nose, (horses can not breathe through their mouths). One of the best ways is to throw the hay onto the floor in a corner, after all that is the natural eating position for a horse. Unfortunately some animals will trail it around their stable, but a manger or hay net at a low height are dangerous and you may have no other choice but to put in a hay rack.
Adequate lighting is another must as many emergencies tend to happed at night. Light bulbs either need to be placed well out of reach of the horse, or have a protective cage round them. The light switch should be outside the stable and while it should be easily accessible to you, again the horse should not be able to reach it.
Remember horses like to play and fiddle, so anything they can reach will get pulled, twisted and bitten.
All in all, it only takes a bit of common sense and knowledge of horses to keep them safe at home. Waking up each morning and having them at home will re-pay any work many times over.
Photos courtesy of shutterstock and Stock.xchng
Title and last photo are of the author