Indoor Or Outdoor Boarding for Your Horses?
We researched what veterinarians and experienced horse owners had to say about how to create a healthy environment for horses. Should you go with indoor or outdoor boarding for your horses?
Veterinarians have suggested that horses housed in heated barns were less healthy than those kept outside.
There are great benefits to a horse’s health and disposition when they are being boarded in a stable where they are mostly outdoors, and brought in to feed and for shelter on cold nights.
Social interaction with other horses is very important to them. Companionship is essential to a horse’s mental health. Being forced to stand still in a stall is extremely stressful for a horse.
A three-sided shed should be approximately 20 feet deep, and should provide approximately 12 feet of width for each horse. Build it facing south for maximum sunlight, with transparent panels in the roof to let the sun in. Because horses are herd animals, they feel safest in a group.
It is best to include a couple of stalls so that horses who are injured can be confined temporarily. This will also provide a way to feed supplements to individual horses as needed.
Space for hay storage and lights that come on at night should be provided. If the weather is below freezing, a horse kept outdoors should be blanketed. This is especially important for underweight horses, older horses, Thoroughbreds and Arabians. Increase caloric intake during the winter months, and provide plenty of warm water.
There is no doubt that keeping a horse in a stall most of the time is most convenient for horse owners. You won’t have to trudge out to the rain soaked, mud covered pasture to bring your horse into the barn.
When deciding between indoor or outdoor boarding for your horses, you should consider that outdoor board may not work for some thoroughbred horses. Veterinarians who teach equine health, disease prevention and nutrition, say there are possible benefits to indoor boarding, though they advise that 24/7 turnout with a shelter is the ideal.
There is an advantage to being able to monitor a horse’s food intake in a stall. Horses who are in elite competition may have high-energy needs and some require close watching. With a competitive show horse, you can minimize the risk of injury by keeping the horse in a stall.
Health Concerns with Indoor or Outdoor Boarding
Because humans prefer to reside in cozy, warm houses in the wintertime, we surmise that our animals do too. However, horses that are kept indoors are at greater risk of respiratory illness, digestive problems, infectious diseases and behavioral problems. Stalls can create a risk for not only a horse’s physical health, but for his mental health as well.
Physical and emotional deprivation will result in stable vices, such as cribbing and weaving. Having access to fresh air, forage, friends and lots of physical movement, are vital to a horse’s health and happiness. When confined to a stall they will often kick, dance around and spook very easily.
Horses like to be able to eat for two-thirds of the day. Feeding too infrequently will cause them to be prone to ulcers, colic and other digestive problems.
Research has shown horses who are kept in stalls all the time, except when taken to the riding arena or racetrack, can be exposed to critical levels of dust and toxic mold in the air.
Solutions to Reduce Risk When Indoor or Outdoor Boarding
If your situation requires indoor boarding for your horse, you will want to do what you can to make it physically and mentally healthier for your horse. There are a number of steps that can be taken to reduce the risks:
• Good ventilation can help reduce the respiratory problems associated with the constant exposure to dust and ammonia gas (from urine) when horses are kept indoors. Increase the air flow and keep horses out of the barn while it’s being cleaned. Dust and ammonia levels are highest when disturbed.
• Frequent feedings help to reduce the risk of ulcers, poor digestion and colic. Feed at least five times a day. Horses should never go more than eight hours without food.
• Use thin rather than deep bedding. Deep bedding will allow more ammonia build-up. Rubber mats used in stalls must be scrubbed thoroughly and frequently.
• To provide adequate socialization, arrange stalls so that each horse can have contact with his neighbors. This increases their sense of security and enables them to feel more relaxed.
• In an enclosed barn, infectious disease can be quickly transmitted to the other horses. Have a separate barn or pasture where a horse who is ill can be isolated from the others.
Most experts encourage boarding horses outdoors. There are many factors involved in determining whether to do indoor or outdoor boarding for your horses. Indoor boarding can work well, and there are definitely things we can do to make it better for the horse.
The more we fulfill their needs and preferences, the better the horse will feel and perform; beneficial to both the horse and his owner.