This article offers some practical planning tips before you build.
Start With A Plan
Have you ever visited someone’s place and right away noticed what screams “Do It Yourselfer” so loud you can’t take your eyes off it for the sake of trying to figure out what the heck you’re looking at? Well that’s a project undertaken without a plan, you don’t want to be that guy or gal.
There are a lot of practical reasons why having a plan is so important.
It allows you to figure out the true cost involved.
It offers the opportunity to utilize any material you may already have.
It allows you to discover potential problems on paper before you begin.
It gives you something to show others that have experience and get their feedback.
And it is proven that people that have a plan are more likely to actually complete the project.
When I say a plan I’m not saying you have to hire an architect and pay for a plan that will cost as much as the shelter. If you can draw stick people then you can draw a simple plan for building a horse shelter. I have built some pretty extensive horse barns from plans I sketched out on a legal pad. All it cost me was a few hours of sitting still long enough to get my idea on paper.
Choose Your Design
First you need to figure out what the necessities are, the must haves. For example, will this be for a single horse, for multiple horses? Do you live in an area where the weather is severe in the winter? Will it house something other than your horse, like a horse trailer or a tractor? How about your tack and feed, will you need space for those too?
You can get as elaborate as you want to or you can keep
it very simple and still get your horse’s needs met.
Some Basic Elements For Your Plan
So let’s start at the bottom and work our way up through the building process as we consider some important elements of design.
Starting with the main structure, the posts used for an equine structure need to be firmly planted in the ground. Whether they are 6×6 square Pressure Treated Posts or 6″- 8″ Pressure Treated Round Posts (otherwise referred to as Peeler Cores), I recommend they are as close to three
feet in the ground as possible. In most cases these will need to be placed in the ground with concrete. There are a few places out West where the ground is so rocky and it compacts so tightly that if you get the posts a good three feet in the ground they will tamp down as tightly as if in concrete, but this is the exception. And if you’re using steel posts you will also need to place them deep and in concrete unless they are to be bolted down on concrete footers.
As far as the footing inside the shelter and directly outside of it where the horse enters and exits I picked up a tip that works great for avoiding the inevitable holes that horse traffic produces in front of feeders, water troughs and entry points. Installing railroad ties just proud of the natural ground service is an excellent way to avoid these areas becoming a constant source of mud and damage to your horse’s feet. They are relatively inexpensive, horse proof and last a very long time in the ground. Some folks will even put horse mats over them in front of feeders and add another layer of protection.
When it comes to the walls, the bottom four feet need to be covered with wood of some sort to protect the horse from inadvertently kicking through a wall and becoming injured, particularly if your using metal siding on the structure. Here again I have seen people use a number of different types of wood from 5/8″ OSB sheeting over 2×4 purlins, 2×8, 10s or 12’s, and even slab wood slats which can be bought from a mill for very little cost.
The exterior has a lot of options too, probably one of the most cost effective and requires the least amount of maintenance is metal. It’s easy to install and looks nice too, however it has to be done correctly to avoid causing injury to your horse. You don’t want to have any protruding corners or edges and the bottom four feet MUST be protected inside the structure. The other thing to consider is that all sides of a shelter don’t have to be enclosed. In fact for single horse paddocks I prefer a 12’x12′ shelter with only two walls covered to protect from the sun and prevailing winds/ weather and a railroad tie lined floor of course.
Onward and upward! The roof structure needs to have enough pitch to shed
water and if you live where it snows it needs to be steep enough to shed snow as well unless you want to go out to feed one day and find your favorite horse holding up what was once the roof. You also need to make sure that the material you use for rafters and purlins can span the depth or width of your structure. Also, you want to make sure that the entrance point is high enough that your horse doesn’t get injured by hitting his head entering or exiting the shelter. Metal works great for the roof exterior and will give you lots of years of service.
Sometimes when building shelters, particularly horse shelters its good to at least give a little fore thought to the idea that someday you may want to add that second stall or feed room or maybe a tack room. So consider that in your design and imagine that’s your ultimate goal and work with your plan to see if it would accommodate you doing that later. That way if you do want to add on later it won’t look ramshackle but seamless instead.
Horses Need Shelter
One thing is certain, all living things need shelter at different times and this includes your horse. If you have a horse and he doesn’t have shelter yet make this a priority. It may take sacrifice and prioritizing your expenses for a bit, but your horse will benefit greatly from having his own little corner of the world to hang out in and eat out of the weather and you will get that warm fuzzy feeling! Thanks for reading along and if you have comments or questions please leave them below and I will be sure to reply. In addition to being a long time horseman I have also been a career builder and can offer some help if you get bogged down.
Joe is a lifetime horseman and student of the horse. He spent years as a trainer and as a horsemanship clinician. He is also a real estate professional and a former contractor specializing in residential construction.