Blog by Nikki Alvin-Smith
The design of a horse stable door or entrance to a run-in shed is of great importance to the safety of yourself and your horse. Even multi-million dollar college facilities still manage to get it wrong, implementing narrow aisle ways and “skinny” doors in an attempt to add more stalls to the space.
The result of a bad design in the doorway can result in damage to the horse’s stifles, hips, shoulders, head, eyes, neck. Well. O.K. Pretty much any part of the horse! Poor design can also impact the handler who is restricted by lack of space and exit options should the horse become frightened or spook.
The ideal entrance to a stall is four feet wide. This allows the handler to step into the stall just in front of the horse’s shoulder when leading it into the stall. A handler should turn the horse around inside the stall and stand by the door before removing the halter so that an exit is always available.
Of course, in a center aisle barn if the aisle is too narrow then the stall door width is even more important. An aisle should accommodate two horses passing each other. An 11 or 12-foot width is a good measure for average size horses. If a horse does not have room to make the right angle turn to enter the stall it is likely that at some point he will hit his hip on the door.
The resulting pain and possible injury can also cause a horse to become ‘gun shy’ about entering or leaving a stall. If you’ve have ever had a horse jump out of the stall you know that not only is this action likely to cause repeat damage to the horse but that the risk for you, the handler, is significant. A horse may go on exhibit this anxiety with doorways to horse trailers. It is simply a lot easier and safer to make a smart design decision in the first place.
In stall design for center aisle barns the doors will ideally be “sliders” rather than hinged doors that swing open into the aisle or worse open to the inside of the stall. Sliding doors should be on runners on the top with safety stops to prevent them sliding off. The bottom track of the horse stall door should be secured with a roller bolt to prevent a horse from kicking it out and trapping his hoof in the gap.
The height of the door is also important. Most barn builders recommend a minimum height of at least 7’. However, something that works for a 15 h.h. horse may not work for a 17 h.h. warmblood stallion. Grills on the door can prevent a horse from making a jump for it. A horse that attempts to jump out of his stall and fails to make a clean jump out can suffer severe stifle and other injuries. Grills also prevent a horse from biting at passing horses and people in the aisle.
When adding stall hardware to the door it is wise to use a bolt system that is easy to pull all the way back into a safe position so that the bolt does not extend into the open space when the door is open. Some hardware is spring-loaded and curved at the end of the bolt to alleviate the likelihood that the horse will become caught on the bolt. Many expensive horse blankets fall foul of the bolt and an unnecessary rip to your blankets/sheets can be avoided if the door is wide enough and the bolt is always pulled all the way back to home.
A smooth-moving sliding door will open easily to its full capacity. It is important to maintain the tracks of the door to ensure it is always working properly. Ideally, a well-maintained horse stall door should slide, with no resistance, using nothing more than the pressure of your finger. All non-aluminum metals should be treated to prevent rust becoming an issue.
For shedrow designed stalls or doors to the outside of the stall it is prudent to have chew guards on all surfaces to prevent damage caused by a bored horse munching on the wood. The stall doors must be of adequate height for the horse and have grills or guards if needed for the more excitable equine. When open, the top of a Dutch door should be sufficiently secured to prevent it coming undone in high wind.
The installation of a roof overhang or extended eave will keep the stall drier in adverse weather and provide shade to the stall interior protecting the horse from the sun. Additional benefits are a minimized fly population and cooler temperatures within the stall. For the ‘Houdini’ horses we all know and love a second bolt can be installed on the lower part of the Dutch door to prevent a horse from making his own exit.
For run-in sheds you should always look for more width than depth. A horse needs to be able to escape his compatriots in the event of bullying and a deep run in shed will have him cornered more easily. If you have several horses in a field, providing more than one run-in shed is a good idea ensuring the lowest horse in the herd pecking order is less likely to be left out in the cold.
Overhead garage-style roller doors between the stables and the indoor arena or to the outside are popular. However, be aware the doors may freeze to the ground in winter and if they are damaged e.g. hit by the tractor bucket on the way to harrow the indoor, they will be instantly buckled and stuck. At a recent clinic I was giving at a lovely facility, this exact issue had occurred. The door was stuck just a foot shy of its full open height as it had been damaged when hit by a piece of equipment.
A rider mounted a nervous horse in the indoor and the horse backed towards the doorway to the stables and began to rear. Thankfully with some prompt encouragement from myself and the rider’s trainer we urged the horse forward enough that the accident was averted. Always make sure entrance doors are high enough to easily clear the height of a mounted rider and fix your doors without delay if they become damaged.
There are many facets to building a safe barn for both horse and owner. Smart horse stable door choices are not as exciting to think about as tack room décor or coordinating siding, roof and trim colors. Consultation with a professional barn builder who is experienced with equines and their needs is always a bright idea! As they say, “ You don’t know what you don’t know.”