Choosing the best configuration of shelter in your horse’s pasture is one of the most important aspects of horse management. Most horses seek shelter at some point during the day, whether from cold and precipitation or from insects and heat.

During the winter, it’s important to consider what type of shelter your horse needs to stay warm in inclement weather. In summer months, correctly designed shelters can provide shade and refuge from bugs and rain.

A common option for providing shelter to horses is a run-in shed, a type of freestanding structure that allows horses to freely enter and exit. Sheds should be well-ventilated, dry, and large enough to accommodate the number of horses in the pasture.

However, some horse owners may prefer to keep their horse housed within an individual stall in a barn. Whichever form of housing you choose, follow the tips in this guide ensure it meets your horse’s needs effectively.

Why Horses Need Shelter

Providing adequate shelter for horses is fundamental to their health, comfort, and well-being. In extreme cold temperatures, horses need to burn calories to help them maintain a stable body temperature.

Management practices, such as feeding schedule and the provision of suitable shelter, play a significant role in how well horses can adapt to sustained cold temperatures.

However, a poorly designed shelter can deter horses from seeking refuge precisely when they need it the most. Knowing the optimal setup for equine shelters is important to keep horses comfortable and dry through inclement weather.

Adapting to Cold Temperatures

Horses are very good at adapting to cold temperatures, a trait that has enabled them to thrive in various climates around the world. Most horses are comfortable at temperatures between 59° to 18°F (-8° to – 15°C). When the air is dry and not windy, horses may tolerate temperatures as low as 0°F (-18°C).

However, with access to appropriate shelter, horses can tolerate temperatures as low as -40°F (-40°C). [1] This makes it possible for many horses to live outside year-round, even in climates with harsh winters.

Maintaining Body Temperature

Several horse-specific and environmental factors influence the amount of energy a horse requires to sustain its normal body temperature in cold weather.

Horse characteristics that impact their ability to stay warm include:

In addition to ambient temperature, weather conditions that can impact your horse’s body temperature and comfort include:

  • Humidity
  • Precipitation
  • Wind
  • Exposure to sunlight

Keep these factors in mind when designing shelter for your horse. Depending on your horse’s status and your geographic region, you may need to make changes to your housing and management.

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Types of Shelters

The most common shelter options for horses are run-in sheds in paddocks or pastures or individual stalls in a barn.

Horses do best when grazing and socializing freely, so it is important to maximize turnout and minimize the length of time a horse spends in a stall during the day.

Shelters placed in paddocks offer an alternative to individual housing in stalls, and provide easy access to protection from the elements.

Sheds for Horses

Sheds in pastures and paddocks provide an easy-to-access reprieve from inclement weather such as rain, snow, and wind. Run-in sheds are typically designed with three walls and an open front to allow free entry and exit.

When constructing or selecting a shelter, consider factors such as durability of materia, safety, and ease of maintenance. Horse sheds are often constructed of wood or metal, or a combination of materials.

Metal roofs are a sturdy option, but may be noisy during hard rainstorms. Insulate the roof to dampen the noise, which can ensure spooky or sensitive horses access the shed when they need it most during heavy rainfall. [3]

Regular inspection and maintenance are also important to keep the shelter safe and functional throughout the year.

Shed Size

Selecting the correct size and position of your shed can increase its usefulness in sheltering horses from the elements.

The size of your shed should be determined based on the number of horses using it, as well as the size of those horses. Follow these general guidelines when determining shelter dimensions: [2][3]

  • Height of Opening: At least 10 feet (3 meters) high
  • Depth of Shed: At least 20 feet (6 meters) deep
  • Total Area: 100 square feet (9.2 square meters) per young horse and 120 – 150 square feet (11 – 14 square meters) per mature horse

This size allotment is adequate for horses that get along well together. A larger shelter may be needed if herd dynamics are a known concern. [1]

Shed Location and Position

Ensure the shelter is situated in a well-drained area to prevent muddy conditions and flooding. If the intended area for your shed is low-lying, consider building it up with gravel to improve drainage.

Excessive mud can deter horses from using a shelter and high moisture content in the surrounding footing may cause hoof issues in horses. Proper mud mana