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Designing a Run-in Shelter

Run-ins or Free Loafing Sheds


Horses and ponies need shelter that is clean, dry, and protected from the weather. This can be in the form of a run-in shed, or a stable. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods of housing. However, if you've weighed the pros and cons and decided to build a run-in shed here are some recommendations for design.

  • Place your shed in an area that will not flood.

  • Place the back wall to the prevailing wind.

  • Position the shelter so it is well away from gates or fences. This means cleaning is easier and there is plenty of room for horses to get in and out.

  • Design it large enough that all of your horses can stand and lie comfortably in it, and bossy horses will not be able to completely ban the underdogs from entering the shelter. A recommended size is about 100 sq. ft. (9 sq m) per average sized riding horse -- about the same size as a box stall. However, if you can provide a larger space, do. Bossy horses may make it difficult for others to stay in the shelter if there is limited space.

  • Consider making it portable so it can be dragged to different locations. This helps with hygiene, and the shelter can be moved if flooding does become a problem.

  • Consider making the entrance large enough for a tractor bucket to get through for easy clean-up.

  • Be sure the ceiling is high enough that a horse will not be able to hit its head, even if snow drifts in at the entrance.

  • If the structure is permanent, you may decide to put concrete, brick or paving stone flooring down. This makes cleaning easier. Earth flooring is easier on the horse's legs and may be warmer. It is more difficult to clean. We've found we need to replace the earth in our run-in over the years. We clean daily and in doing so, we take a bit of soil with the manure each time. This results in the ground level lowering over time. It needs to be built up every few years to prevent it from turning into a puddle during spring thaws or heavy rains.

  • Some structures can be noisy in the wind. Construct your shelter securely. A noisy tarp roof, or loose metal siding might discourage horses from using it as well as present a safety hazard.

  • We've found from experience that 6"X6" uprights withstand bumping from horses better than 4"X4" lumber. Check the building code in your area for specific requirements and whether or not your structure requires a building permit.

  • If your design doesn't already include it, consider putting eavestrough over the entrance. This way, icy patches will not be formed at the entrance from water dripping off the roof and you, and the horse won't be surprised by cold trickles of water as you go in and out.

  • We've found over the years, that we use our run-in for grooming and hoof trimming. If possible, a GFCI outlet and safe lighting is handy to have.

  • Be sure when your construction is complete that there are no nails or screws, edges of metal siding, protruding lumber, or other obstacles that a horse could injure itself on. Be sure to clean up the construction site too.

  • You can choose to build your shelter from scratch or there are many pre-built designs available. Many of these designs are roomy, but still portable.
A few examples of pre-built sheds are:

System Fencing - Run-in Sheds
Shelters of America - Livestock Shelters
Portable Garage Depot - Animal Shelters
(These are not endorsements of these products--just examples of what is available)

Space recommendation according to the Canadian Agri-Food Research Council, Recommended Code of Practice for The Care and Handling of Farm Animals

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