3 considerations for planning paddock shelters

Paddock shelters come in all shapes and sizes – so how’s a horse caretaker to choose? Consider these three important factors when weighing the options.

Do horses really need paddock shelters? After all, they will often stand in weather that would have us running for cover, seemingly oblivious to any discomfort. You might plan and build the perfect run-in for your horses and find they almost never set foot in it. Nonetheless, it’s instinctive to want to provide cover for our equine dependents, and in many climates it’s extremely important. The following considerations will help you choose a paddock shelter that pleases your herd.

1. Location, Location, Location

The primary concern for run-in sheds is location. John Blackburn, founder of Blackburn Architects in Washington, DC, recommends placing a paddock shelter so the back is against your property’s typical winter wind pattern (usually north or northwest). “If you can, locate it on ‘higher’ ground; maybe on a hill or natural rise in the topography,” Blackburn notes. “As prey animals, horses will be more comfortable with an increased field of vision around them.” Situating the run-in on higher ground also allows you to easily see inside yourself, to check on the occupants without having to physically enter the space. There are a few additional questions to consider. Where are the paddock shelters in relation to fence lines? Can two pastures share a double-sided shed? Answering these questions will help create highly versatile and budget-friendly sheds.

2. What size do you need?

How big should your paddock shelters be? To determine this, ask yourself how many horses will use the shelter. Each horse should have about the size of a stall inside the structure to be comfortable – 12’x12′ or larger. Because the dominant horse in the herd will often take over a space and push the others out, you can make run-ins too small, but rarely are they ever too large. Inside the shelter, swing gates can create the versatility of stalls for feeding, broodmare protection, or grooming.

3. Basic necessities

Another consideration is water access. Water troughs should be placed near the run-ins, but never so close that the dominant horse can push others away.

Now, what about construction? In hot environments like Southern California or Florida, pasture sheds can have just a roof, offering overhead sun protection but little else. Alternatively, they can have two or three sides. The choice between two or three walls is up to you and your budget. An extended roof cantilevered over the front will offer sun and weather protection without compromising a horse’s ability to see around the enclosure.

While there is no need to make these sheds “fancy”, it’s nice to match the aesthetics – paint color, materials, etc. – with the rest of the farm. Blackburn recommends placing a slab under the building and using pressure-treated timbers along the base at the soil line. A pressure-treated frame, using 4’x4’s or 6’x6’s, especially near the ground, will help it last longer, and in the open environment of a field, off-gassing is not a concern.

Screws are preferable to nails, for obvious reasons. And the floor can be dirt or stone dust. Rubber mats are not necessary and create another clean-up spot on the farm. Paddock shelters are probably the last structures you want to be worried about maintaining when so many other projects line up for attention at the barn.

Remember – the primary concern for horses is escape. If they can’t see out of a field structure to protect themselves, they are highly unlikely to use it.

Some companies bring in economical pre-fab shelters on a flat-bed truck. If this is your preferred route, then consider creating a solid platform on a spot with good drainage.

When thinking about paddock shelters, be sure to keep these considerations in mind. Ultimately, there are many “good” options – the key is to figure out what works for you and your herd! As with all aspects of farm planning, when you put a lot of thought into how a run-in will function, you will save yourself a lot of trouble and headaches over the lifetime of the facility.