In the Zone
Before you commit to keeping a horse at home, the first thing you need to know is whether zoning laws in your area permit a horse to be kept in your neighborhood. If it is permitted, find out the particulars of the regulations. For example, you may be required to keep the horse on a certain number of acres. Once you've established that it is legal to keep a horse at your home, here are some other things to consider as you set up shop.
If you plan to have a barn built, your options are limited only by the amount of space you have to construct your building and, of course, your budget. If you have a minimal amount of space, plan to have just one or two horses, and would like to leave most of the space for your horse(s) to run around in, consider a three-sided run-in shelter. Horses can live absolutely fine in this situation even in the most severe weather, as long as you tend to their needs.
Figure 6.1: Run-in shelter
Ideally, the run-in should have a standard stall space for each horse that will use it — that is, two horses should ideally have a run-in that is 12′ × 24′, or a 12′ × 12′ stall space per horse. The nice thing about this setup is that you could put a temporary panel down the middle and create two stalls with turnout areas for nighttime or emergencies.
The only problem with using just a run-in shelter is the inconvenience for the caretaker. It leaves no space to do things such as groom or tack up your horse, or a wash rack for bathing and hosing off after a hot ride. You will need a space somewhere to store hay, grain, tack, a wheelbarrow, and so on.
If you plan to build a full-fledged barn, you can go two-stall, four-stall, ten-stall, whatever you have the space and money for. A four-stall barn with a couple of stalls used for horses, one for a tack/grain room, and another for hay storage or as a spare stall if you need it for a friend, can be just the right size.
Builders who specialize in equine shelters know the details of how high and wide the doorways need to be and how to safely install light fixtures for horses, and they are extra careful about picking up nails and taking care of all those little things that are hard to remember until you are in the midst of the project or, worse yet, after you are done. Equine barn builders offer everything from run-in sheds to multistall barns with tack rooms, washrooms, sprinkler systems, and overhead hay storage to indoor arenas with ten stalls, mirrors on the wall, and a heated viewing area. The amount of money you have to spend is your primary limitation.
There are always things to repair or replace when you keep horses, as they can be quite destructive. Plan to have extras of your most commonly used supplies to replace broken ones without having to make a special trip to the supply store. Replace or fix worn-out items before they give out.
If your property already has a barn that was used for horses in the past, your start-up will be a little easier. Get rid of protruding nails, replace or cover glass windows that will be within reach of the horse, and look for anything that might cause a horse's hoof to get caught. Are there any electrical wires or other such items within reach of the horse's stall — old rusted chicken wire, for example? If so, move it or block the horse's access to it. Be sure stall doors and such are high enough to contain a horse. Be sure stall doors and exterior doors open wide enough to get a horse in and out without the horse constantly hitting his hip on the doorframe.
Figure 6.2: Floor plan of a 30′ × 30′ four-stall barn
Do not underestimate the strength of a horse! When building walls, hanging gates, creating fencing, or constructing anything that is to contain a horse, consider whether they will be able to hold if the horse leans all its weight on them. Wooden fencing is safest for a horse. Most people run a line of electrical wire or tape across the top rail, just to keep horses from chewing or rubbing it.
Ideally, stalls should be well ventilated and have at least a little bit of sun exposure during the day. The advantage to this is that urine spots get baked by the sun for a few hours every day and dry out quickly. Sunlight also helps destroy certain types of molds and bacteria. However, if your horse stays in its stall a lot, you won't want the stall to bake in the sun all day, and you'll want to be sure the horse has a shady area to retire to.