Run-in sheds—small three-sided buildings where pastured horses can find shelter from the weather—are simpler and less expensive to build than larger barns. Free-choice access to a run-in shed means that many horses can be left outside in all seasons, saving the expense and labor of using bedded stalls in a barn. Pastured horses seem to develop fewer stable vices, are able to exercise when they want to, and enjoy hanging out with their grazing buddies, while still having the option to go into the run-in shed if they want relief from sun, rain, snow, or wind.
To make the best choices when constructing a run-in shed, consider these points. Choose the right location. A well-drained area that gets some breeze is best. Put the open side of the shed away from the prevailing winds in your area. Consider having the site graded with shallow ditches that will carry rainwater away from the shed. Avoid placing the shed under trees that could drop heavy branches in a storm.
- Choose the right size and shape. The shed should be wider than it is deep and should have as large an opening in front as possible. Narrow doors or partial front walls will be in the way of submissive horses that might be chased out by a dominant herd member. The lowest parts of the door opening and roof should be at least ten to twelve feet high, and interior space should allow each horse at least 100 square feet or more. For a field with lots of horses, several small run-in sheds are a better plan than one large one.
- Choose the right materials. Run-in sheds can be built using a variety of materials including concrete block, wood, metal, and fabric. Whatever material you choose, keep two things in mind: safety and durability. With the exception of a fabric shelter, all run-in sheds should be lined with oak boards up to a height of four feet. Horses can kick through wood and metal siding, with severe injuries resulting as they pull a leg back through the jagged hole. Lining a concrete wall with wood saves scrapes and injuries from a hoof slamming into the hard surface. Heavier and larger-diameter treated lumber will last better than lighter materials. Roofs should be strong enough to hold the anticipated snow load for your climate, and should be sloped to shed rain. All structures should be anchored to the ground so that they can’t blow over in a strong wind.
- Choose the right ventilation. Just as barns should not be built air-tight, run-in sheds need ventilation so that they don’t become damp and muddy inside. Especially in the winter, sheltered horses give off a lot of moisture as they breathe. This will rise and condense on a cold metal roof unless there is are gaps at the eaves for the warm, moist air to escape. Wall openings with shutters (not glass windows) in the sides or rear of the shed can be left open for a breeze in summer and then closed and latched in winter to block cold winds.
- Choose the right ground preparation. Setting a shed right on the ground is a bad idea, and spreading a few inches of gravel over existing pasture isn’t any better. To guarantee dry, solid footing in your run-in shed, begin by having a contractor remove about six to eight inches of soil from the site and then fill the hole with gravel. Have this rolled or tamped, and then add a couple of inches of fine stone dust. You want the horses to step slightly up, not down, as they enter the shed. You can also set your shed on a concrete pad covered with rubber matting, though this will substantially increase the cost of the project. Pouring concrete piers or sills as a foundation will add to your initial cost but will help to contain the gravel and prevent the shed from settling or sagging. Whatever your choice, be sure to clean manure out of the shed on a regular schedule that will depend on how much the horses use it.
- Check everything before adding the horses. Pick up all nails and scraps of wood; be sure there are no splintered or rough edges inside and out; check that electric lines, if any, are completely shielded by conduit; confirm that there is no place a horse could get a leg or hoof caught under a wall edge or behind a brace.
- Introduce the horses to the new shed. They will probably check it out briefly and then ignore it completely, even in weather that you consider bad…and then one day you’ll look out and see two or three contented horses relaxing in their brand-new shelter. Horses being horses, it will be their choice of when, and whether, to grace it with their presence.
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