A universal truth about horses is if they can injure themselves, they will. So as horse owners, you get used to looking out for your horses’ well being. You tie them short enough so they can’t get tangled in their lead ropes, you keep your barn tidy, and you patrol their horse stalls and turn out areas for sharp objects.
If you’re planning on building a new barn to house your horses, this is a great opportunity to think about safety features. Some of these are obvious and some are more subtle. Here is a list of my eight favorite equine safety rules of thumb:
1. Provide adequate storage so nothing has to be stored in the barn aisles. This will help keep the aisles clutter free and make them safer, too.
2. An absolute minimum ceiling height is 12 feet clear. If your ceilings are lower than this, a horse may rear and hit his head. Barns with higher ceilings are safer and they ventilate better as well.
3. Follow these precautions with electrical outlets and equipment:
- Place panels in a safe, dry place. Keep the area in front of the panel clear.
- Outlets should be placed higher than typical in the barn aisle to prevent them from getting wet or full of debris.
- All outlets in wet locations should be in waterproof boxes.
- Place outlets so they are out of reach of your horses when they are in their stalls.
4. Be very careful of box fans for stalls. They are notorious for catching fire. If you feel that fans are required at each stall, purchase a type that is specifically made for agricultural use. It should have a fully sealed motor, all metal construction, and a heavy-duty cord.
5. Use heavy-duty materials in the construction of your barn. Most materials that become unsafe are simply not rigorous enough to hold up over the years. For example, any metal mesh used at the stall or on exterior windows should be a very heavy duty welded type, bolted or welded to a steel support frame.
6. Keep tie areas out of the way of traffic in and out of the barn. (see image)
7. Design your stall to prevent any recessed areas toward the bottom of the walls that might catch your horse’s feet when he is lying down and cause him to become cast. You can prevent casting by banking bedding against the walls and by purchasing an anti-casting strip to mount on the wall of the stall to give your horse something to push against. These are usually mounted around 36 inches off the floor.
8. Pay attention to all latches. I once witnessed a horse injure himself on a carabiner-type latch by pushing it open and getting the skin on his face caught in it. It’s better to keep latches out of reach, or at least to use a type that isn’t as likely to pinch any skin.
Every barn owner wants a safe place to keep their horses. Safety starts during the design and construction. If you understand all of the details of the design of your barn, you’ll end up with a much safer place for your horses.
Heather E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB is a principal at Animal Arts, an architectural firm that has exclusively designed animal care facilities since 1979. Heather’s primary area of expertise is the design and management of equine and large animal projects. She is also highly experienced in the streamlined management of animal shelter projects. Heather was the Project Manager for the country’s first LEED Platinum animal shelter designed for the City and County of Denver. Heather speaks regularly about the design of large animal facilities at such conferences as the Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Conference for the Central Veterinary Conference and the American Association of Equine Practitioners Annual Conference.