Whether you are designing your perfect stable yard, renovating an existing stable yard, or simply looking for inspiration, this article is packed full of useful stable yard design information and ideas to help you achieve your dream horse barn.
I’ve always been obsessed with the design and functionality of stable yards – I find it virtually impossible to walk onto a yard without re-organising, or completely redesigning, it in my head! I’ve put together this guide for any of you with same affliction as me, or for any of you fortunate enough to be designing and building your own yard or renovating / re-organising your existing facilities.
I’m guessing that most of you, like me, at some point in your life, have come across what you’d consider to be your…
‘Perfect Stable Yard Design’
Whether that be at a show venue, visiting your trainer, visiting yards when looking for a new horse, etc, or even just scrolling through Google image search, Pintrest or similar, for pictures of…
‘Dream Horse Barns’
…and dreaming about one day having your own place that wouldn’t look out of place on the list!
I’m guilty of this… I once viewed a horse for sale in the glorious Cotswolds in England – I approached a beautiful Manor house along a tree-lined drive flanked by perfect post & rail paddocks (feeling rather out of place in my tatty 4×4!); there were flowers everywhere, and the ten huge stables had bespoke internal partitions with brass finials. They were set in a wonderfully airy purpose-built brick barn with block paved flooring and a path lead from the yard past a round-pen to a gorgeous covered arena with mirrors and a fabulous set of show jumps. Every detail was stunning – and I still wanted to re-organise the tack room!. Anyway, I didn’t buy the horse but went home and spent the whole evening scrolling through pictures of similar facilities online whilst doodling designs for my perfect yard.
The above might not sound like your idea of a perfect stable yard design – everyone’s opinions will be different – but regardless of the aesthetics that appeal to you, and the facilities you lust after, most of the basic considerations for designing your perfect stable yard will remain the same.
In this guide we will cover…
Assessing What you are Working With
Size of Stables & Walkways, etc
Other Considerations (such as accommodation and security)
What Are Your Requirements for Your Stable Yard Design?
Everyone’s requirements for their stable yard design will be different… from a couple of stables in your home paddock and maybe a schooling area, to a sprawling competition venue with every equestrian facility you can imagine. Get a pen and paper and make a list as you go through this article!
Will the yard be for private or commercial use?
- Are you just planning to keep your own horses for private use? Private yards are generally less busy, and facilities can be tailored to your own needs.
- Commercial yards will generally need to have better facilities to attract clients and will need to be very durable as they will have heavier use. They will generally come with higher running costs too, with business rates and commercial insurance, etc. You should also look for the regulations and laws in your country regarding commercial stables yards. In the UK, this government page is a good place to start – https://www.gov.uk/farm-and-livery-horses/stables-and-livery-yards.
How many horses does the yard need to accommodate?
- The amount of land you have, and how you plan to manage it, will determine how many horses you can accommodate.
- If you need to stable your own horses, think about where you may be in 5 – 10 years’ time. Quite often, horse owners end up with more horses than they started with!
- If you are thinking commercially, you will need to consider the returns on your investment from the outset, for example, look into livery prices in your area and calculate how many stables you will need to be profitable.
How much equipment do you need to store?
- The number of stables will affect how much storage you need, and by experience – you always need more than you think!
- Other than the obvious, tack, rugs, feed, hay and bedding, etc, will you be using machinery for paddocks, and have a large collection of show jumps, etc?
What facilities will you need?
- Depending on the type of riding you do, there are lots of options. If you just want your own horses stabled for happy hacking, you won’t need much. However, if you are setting up a commercial yard, or are a keen amateur competitor, you will at least want a decent riding arena.
- This article is focussed on the yard part of your design, for more about schooling facilities, read The Ultimate Guide to Horse Riding Arenas & Equestrian Facilities.
Assess What You’re Working With
Whether you already have the land and space to build, or are on the hunt to buy some, it’s worth considering the following…
Are you building from scratch or adapting existing buildings?
- Plots with existing buildings are usually easier to obtain planning permission for.
- Assess the quality and suitability of the structures to ascertain whether to adapt them, or to demolish and re-build.
What land do you need?
- A basic rule of thumb is 1 acre per horse, for more information read Horse Paddocks – A Complete Guide to Equine Grazing and Out.
- Flat land is generally easier to build on and lends itself better to equestrian pursuits.
- What is the land currently used for? It can be tricky to get permission for a change of land use, so this is worth looking into.
- Are there trees? Clearing trees can be tricky, both for planning permission and because their root systems can compromise foundations.
What are your limitations?
- Planning permission is usually the biggest hurdle so check out what has been granted locally, and assess the plot for neighbouring properties that may object, etc.
- Budget will be a major limiting factor to the scale and finish of your stable yard – assess your budget and do some research into build/stable costs in your area to get a clearer picture of what is possible. Remember, you will also need to factor in groundwork, connection to services and fixtures and fittings, etc.
- What is your skills level? Could you take on a build yourself, or would you be happy to do finishing touches, etc. This can be a big money saver, but realistic!
- Are services connected to the site? This can be an expensive and time-consuming process, so will need to be factored in too.
These answers will be unique for you, so I’m going to outline some universal questions and address some of the key considerations that can be applied to most ‘perfect stable yard’ designs, regardless of size, to achieve your ‘dream horse barn’ set up…
Stable Yard Design Details & Planning
- Planning permission and building regulations can be a minefield, so it is best to consult with your local department and get advice from a professional.
- It is also worth researching what equestrian developments and facilities have been approved and built in your local area, as this can give you a good idea of what may be successful. For example, in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, planning is very strict and you could be very limited.
- Be nice to the neighbours! A big factor when obtaining planning is local opinion, and objections can cause planning to be rejected – keep your neighbours informed and onside.
- If you want to apply for accommodation onsite, be prepared to justify it. For example, on the grounds of security – look into statistics in your local area for horse/tack theft, etc.
- Be prepared for applications to be rejected – I read some advice once that said something along the lines of, ‘when applying for planning, submit for more than you need as it is easier to reapply with scaled down plans than to extend them’, how true this is I don’t know, but it seems to make sense to me!
- Building materials often come down to planning permission, costs, and aesthetics.
- Choosing materials in keeping with local area and existing buildings is usually a good idea.
- Wood is probably the most widely used material of choice because it is relatively cheap and easy to work with. Brick and block built stabling will look amazing and last much longer, but will cost much more. Barn style stables can be purpose built wood or brick constructions, or more agricultural style metal framed/clad buildings.
- Flooring must be non-slip and non-porous and have very good drainage. Block flooring is a traditional look, but concrete is the most common nowadays – ensure concrete is sealed and the surface has texture. It can work well to use concrete for the majority of your build, then blocks in the central walkway areas as a design feature.
- Roofing will vary depending on the type of building and your budget – the main consideration is obviously protection from the weather! Tiled roofs are usually the most attractive. Corrugated roofs tend to be the cheapest solution, but they can be noisy and provide little insulation, so it is advisable to line roofs where possible.
- Insulation may be an expensive investment, but the benefits of temperature regulation are fantastic and I would highly recommend looking into the best way to insulate your buildings.
Designing for Weather Conditions
- As mentioned above, insulation will make a lot of difference for both hot and cold temperatures.
- In colder climates, it is important to keep internal areas free of draughts whilst staying well ventilated. Care must be taken to prevent water from freezing; lagging pipes and having a spare water tank just in case is a good idea. Some people even have heated pipes and stable heaters, although this would be costly.
- In hot climates, it is advisable to make indoor areas well shaded and spacious with plenty of external openings to keep it cool and allow air to flow. Many people also swear by the use of fans in their stables to assist with air circulation to keep the temperature more bearable – just be sure to install them safely and out of the horse’s reach!
Design with The Future in Mind
- Don’t necessarily build just for the horses you have now, try to anticipate where you may be in 5 – 10 years’ time…
- Okay, so you may only have two small children’s ponies now, but children grow!
- Will you sell on and replace your horses, or will you make additions?
- It’s best to have stables that will suit a variety of horses (for example, minimum size of 12 x 12’ / 3.6 x 3.6m), and either too many boxes, or a clear space/potential to extend in the future.
- Whilst good equestrian facilities will generally add value to a property, if re-sale is a factor, try to keep them more traditional/universal in design, rather than highly personalised (for example, if you have Shetland ponies and only need small stables, instead of building miniature stables, build full size, then split them in half with a partition).
Practical Stable Yard Design
- Think about how you use your yard and equipment on a day to day basis. Create a ‘flow’ between spaces and position things sensibly, for example, tack rooms should be close to grooming areas/cross ties, and feed rooms work well close to where deliveries arrive and at the end of a row of stables, so you work along the boxes feeding.
- How, and where, doors open, is often overlooked. Having doors that open outwards and fold back onto blank wall space allows them to be pinned open out of the way. If space is tight, sliding doors are a good solution, especially for barn doors – anyone who has battled with a huge swinging door in a gale force wind will attest to this!
- Getting the right balance between natural light and protection from the sun’s heat needs careful thought – natural light is healthy, and will save on electric lighting bills, but too much can turn your barn and stables into a greenhouse. Some transparent roofing and roof lights have anti-glare/UV protection, so this is worth considering, although more expensive.
- When installing electric lighting, think about how shadows will cast, how bright you need the light, and the placement of switches, etc.
- Locate taps, electricity points, and light switches as mentioned, in sensible places.
- Using items with standard fittings, and in common sizes, makes replacing broken items much easier down the line.
Aesthetic Stable Yard Design
- Whether you prefer a traditional or modern look, opulent or minimalist design, it is a good idea to keep the aesthetics of your yard ‘coherent’ – keep your ‘theme’ and colours, etc, consistent.
- When selecting fixtures and fittings, use ones in the same colours and materials where possible, for example, buying black coated saddle/bridle racks, hooks and rug rails, etc, is fairly easy.
- Features like clock towers and weather vanes add more interest and opulence.
- Where you are refurbishing existing facilities, it may be a cliché, but it’s very true, that a lick of paint can work wonders! Painting all stable and tack/store room doors the same colour can make a huge difference. For a traditional look, painting the internal walls of stables white, with black at the bottom half (to the height of the stable door/around 4’/1.2m), looks really smart.
- Flowers and greenery brighten up most spaces, just make sure they are not poisonous! Unless you’re green fingered, opt for hardy evergreen types.
- For an added bonus, with a practical application too – plant some foliage with other uses. For example, ones that repel flies (mint and citronella spring to mind, but a google search will help you find some suitable for your region), and ones that produce edibles, like an apple tree or a carrot patch.
Small Stable Yard Design
- Small stable yards need creative thinking and efficient storage to maximise the use of space.
- Ancillary rooms like the feed and rug room, and even tack lockers, can all be combined into one space.
- Creating a secure perimeter around the hard standing in front of your stables means it can double up as a winter pen for your horses when you want to preserve grazing, and they can come and go from their stables.
- Clever storage solutions, such as vacuum packing rugs, and using foldable items (such as folding saddle rack for tack cleaning), and creating built in storage, all help with space saving.
- Where storage on a small existing yard is too compact, a mobile field shelter, which in a lot of cases won’t require planning permission, can be a good way to store hay and bedding.
- Also think about utilising the roof space above rug / feed / tack rooms and hay and bedding stores – a few planks laid across the rafters and a folding step ladder can open up so much opportunity for extra storage!
Health & Safety, including Ventilation
- Establish clear yard safety rules and display copies of them clearly on the yard – incorporate notice boards into your stable yard design.
- Make sure horses can’t escape the yard and get onto the road – enclose the perimeter of your yard with fencing and gates (with clear ‘please shut the gate’ signs!).
- Good drainage is essential – yards can very easily become ice rinks when pools of water freeze.
- Ensure flooring is non-slip and that you have ground salt / grit bins ready for when frost and ice are likely.
- When designing and building your yard, take into consideration that you don’t want any sharp edges or protruding nails, etc.
- It’s important to establish clear rules for fire too, create a fire safety / evacuation plan and then display copies of them clearly on the yard.
- Fire extinguishers should be easily accessible around the yard.
- Fire and smoke alarms are often overlooked at the stables, but you would never dream of not having them where you sleep, so I think they are a good idea for where your horses do!
- A sprinkler system would be ideal, but costly.
- In an ideal scenario, you would design all stable doors to open the same way, with a clear path to the exit and in the direction of an open arena or paddock. And away from a hay/bedding barn, where to be honest, a fire would be most likely to start.
- From the early stages of your stable yard design process, think about fire safety and other potential hazards.
- Ammonia and dust are damaging to health for both horses and humans, and can be a real problem in stable yards, so having adequate ventilation is a major consideration right from the outset of your stable yard design.
- Fan operated ventilation systems, passive wind ventilation in the eaves and ridges, louvre vents and extra external openings (such as rear windows in stalls) are all options to consider – the size and style of your design will impact which will suit most.
- Making sure floors drain well, and keeping stables as clean as possible, will help to keep ammonia fumes lower.
- To keep dust to a minimum, rubber matting stable floors will mean less bedding should be needed and high quality / low dust bedding can be used.
- If you’re stables are attached, or close to your arena (especially an indoor one), make sure it has a sufficient sprinkler system that is regularly used to dampen the surface.
- Store hay, etc, away from the stables.
- Spacious stalls, wide walkways and high ceilings will all help with ventilation.
Indoor or Outdoor stables?
This will often come down to the existing buildings on site that you may be working with, or planning restrictions. If you are lucky enough to be creating a bespoke stable yard design and building from scratch and in an area where planning isn’t too restrictive, then indoors or outdoors is personal choice, and each has its own advantages / disadvantages.
Indoor ‘American Barn’ Style Stable Yard Design
- American barns are good for all weather conditions and provide lovely working conditions all under one roof.
- Internal stabling is a great way to convert an existing barn, but it can be harder to get planning permission for a new build.
- Unless you install rear window into the stables, there is little in the way of interesting views for the horses stabled.
- Because everything is all under one roof, and internal stables tend to be more open, contagious diseases can be more prone to spread.
Outdoor Traditional Stable Block Design
- Cold weather, rain and intense sun (even when there is a decent overhang) are the bane of traditional stable blocks, as there is little protection outside the stables themselves.
- Having a good overhang / front canopy is a really good idea – a minimum of 2 feet (o.6m) will give some protection from rain, but 4 – 12 feet (1.2 – 3.6m) is ideal to provide better protection and working conditions.
- Outdoor stable blocks are often the most attractive externally.
- They can be laid out in different ways to suit the space available – straight blocks, L-shape, U-shape and square/courtyards.
- Because they are less intrusive on the landscape, they can be easier to obtain planning for.
- Because outdoor stables view the outside, horses often have a more interesting outlook than in an American barn style stable that doesn’t have rear windows in the stalls.
- Individual stables mean contagious diseases can be easier to manage.
Size of Stables & Size of Walkways, etc?
- Stables need to allow enough room for the horse or pony to turn around, lay down and get back up again with ease. A standard stable is usually considered to be 10 x 12 feet (3 x 3.6m) for a pony, or 12 x 12 feet (3.6 x 3.6m) for a horse. However…
Stable size is not a case of ‘one size fits all’
- For example, a miniature pony or Shetland could easily be comfortable in something smaller, and a 12 x 12’ box would be rather snug for heavy hunter or draft type horse, which would be more suited to a loosebox of 12 x 14 feet (3.6 x 4.2m). And ‘foaling boxes’ for mares and foals should be an absolute minimum of 12 x 16 feet (3.6 x 4.8m).
- Cost is another factor, unless you are building completely bespoke, most stable manufacturers supply the standard sizes, and charge extra for changes.
- I think another factor when planning stable size within your stable yard design, is how much time the horse or pony will be spending in it; if the horse will be living out all summer and only coming in at night during the colder winter months, then the above minimum sizes will probably be completely sufficient. However, if the horse will be spending long spells stabled (for example, where grazing is limited), then I would opt for roomier stalls, and even consider external adjoining pens to allow them access to the outside, or larger barn style enclosures to allow more room for stretching and rolling, etc.
Stable Doors & Ceiling Height
- Standard stable door openings are about 4 feet (1.2m) wide, and around 7 – 8 feet (2.1 – 2.4m) tall, with the stable door itself being about 4 feet (1.2m) high, which is perfectly sufficient for most horse and ponies.
- For smaller ponies, a lower stable door is a nice feature so they can see over the top. Some manufacturers offer ones that are made of bars rather than solid wood, or ones that split at pony height, which can be a good solution to accommodate different types of horses and ponies (the bar type doors are also good in warmer climates, where more air circulation is needed). However, even for smaller ponies, I wouldn’t recommend doorways to be any narrower than around 3.5 feet (1.06m), because you need plenty of room to manoeuvre a wheelbarrow, and lead through, etc.
- The main doorways for American Barns, and features like walk through archways for outdoor stable blocks, should ideally be wide enough for machinery to get through and at least 12 feet (3.6m) high so they can be ridden through safely.
- You will also need to decide if you will have swinging or sliding doors, standard half doors, or ones with anti-weave or full grills. I prefer standard doors, you can always fit anti-weave grills later on if you decide you need them.
- Ceilings should be a minimum of 8 feet (2.4m) at the eaves, but ideally considerably higher at the ridge, both for safety and air circulation.
Width of Stable Yard Walkways / Aisles
- When it comes to walkways, you need to think how that space is used. You need plenty of space to safely lead and turn horses, and to work/muck out, etc.
- I would recommend a minimum of 8 feet (2.4m) in front of a single row of stables, and a minimum of 10 – 12 feet (3 – 3.6m) between two rows of stables that are facing each other.
- However, I genuinely believe the wider the better! Generous aisles are much safer for leading horses past other stalls, allow space to tie up outside stables if needed and more room for mucking out, etc.
Which Way Should Stables Face?
- The best orientation for your stable yard will depend on the landscape around you and the weather conditions in your area.
- Stables, particularly traditional external style stables, should face away from the prevailing winds, to help prevent drafts and rain / adverse weather being blown in.
- Some people suggest that south facing is a good idea to get the most sun. However, this can cause boxes to overheat. I am a fan of stables that face south-east, so they get the morning sun, which helps to clear ground frost, but they don’t suffer from direct sun all day long.
Stable Layout and Design
- Standard stables will be square or rectangular in shape. I personally like rectangular stables that allow the bed itself to be made fairly square, with a clear area at the front for hay, etc.
- Some high-end bespoke yards have curved stable fronts that look beautiful. However, they would be expensive, and less practical for sweeping and fitting rubber mats, etc.
- Doors can be positioned centrally or to either side, central doors work particularly well because you position hay to one side and feed or water to the other.
- Talk grills between stables are a lovely feature – horses are naturally herd animals, so they enjoy socialising. Full width grills, especially near hay, etc, can cause anxiety though, so half width, or smaller window style grills are ideal. However, for stallions, stud/foaling boxes, visitor stabling or treatment stables, I wouldn’t recommend grills.
- If you opt to have external runs, usually positioned at the rear of the stable, I recommend making the stables wider than they are deep, and positioning both doors to one end, this way you can make the bed to the side away from the doors so as to save bedding being dragged outside.
- You can opt to have external rear window openings for extra light/ventilation and interest. If the design allows, I recommend these…
Stable Fixtures and Fittings
- If using hay nets, they should be tied from a tie ring with bailing twine (the net should be high enough so it can’t be caught by stray hooves, but low enough so the horse isn’t reaching up/tilting its head upwards).
- Naturally, horses graze with their necks stretched to the ground, so many people (myself included) prefer to feed hay on the floor or, to keep hay more contained, at a low level using a hay bar, hay cube or similar.
- Some internal stable fronts incorporate swinging feed mangers, and hay racks, that can be filled from the aisle way – these are great time savers, especially for larger yards.
- In larger barn style stables, or where you have large walk ways, you could consider hay feeding grills, that allow horses to lean out into the aisle so you can put hay on the floor outside the stable – similar to cow feeders (this saves a lot of time, makes sweeping leftovers easy, and works really well where large numbers of horses need haying – such as youngsters, retirement and rescue barns).
- Water in the stable often sparks up a lot of debate between buckets and automatic drinkers – automatic drinkers are definitely easier, but people are often concerned about monitoring how much their horse drinks (although you can buy ones that measure this for you). Whichever you choose, practicality and safety are the most important factor, make sure the fresh water supply is easy to access (extendable hoses are a god send!) and that the drinkers are safe and easy to clean.
- I swear by rubber matting on the floors (and even the walls), because it provides extra protection for the horse’s joints and saves on bedding.
- Having plenty of tie rings is always good idea (in and around the stable and the yard).
- Stall door guards, bars or chains can be useful for more airflow and easy access for mucking out, etc.
- I prefer to avoid having storage inside the stable, for example, horses can get caught up in hanging rugs (or take it upon themselves to destroy them!). However, having the essentials to hand outside the stable door is useful – a simple rug rail for quick rug changes, a hook for a headcollar and hoof-pick, etc.
- Other things to consider, especially for horses stabled a lot and prone to boredom, are horse toys and stable mirrors (some people even keep chickens on their yard purely for the purpose of equine entertainment!).
Ancillary Storage Rooms & Areas that You Will Need to Consider
The stables are merely the start of your dream stable yard design – there are so many other spaces to plan for. The size and extent of each will depend on the number of horses and amount of kit you have, but will include…
- When you think of the ancillary rooms required at your yard, the tack room is probably the first one you think of.
- Locating it near your grooming area is sensible.
- Tack rooms need to be secure, after all, they house the second biggest investment after your horse; your tack, especially the saddle will usually be the most expensive piece you own. Most insurance companies will also have strict criteria for tack storage too, so you should also check this when designing a tack room.
- I personally like designs that have a large tack room, with space for a small kitchen, room to clean tack, and sit and chat over coffee, with an inner room or locker for saddles and bridles for added security.
- Make sure there is plenty of space for saddle and bridle racks (with some spares too – most people accumulate more than they think, and spare racks can be used for numnahs and saddlecloths, etc).
- Ideally, you would have an alarm, but if a proper alarm system is too costly or impractical, you can buy alarmed padlocks as an extra deterrent.
Rider’s Lounge & Kitchen
- A ‘Rider’s Lounge’ and kitchen may sound a bit O.T.T / overly ‘posh’, but this could be as simple as tea and coffee making facilities in the tack room with a couple of chairs or a bench on the yard, right up to a full kitchen and seating area with views over the arena!
- A nice area for socialising over a cuppa is a real selling point for liveries.
- Feed rooms need to be damp free and vermin proof.
- You will need plenty of space for feed bins – galvanised metal feed bins are ideal because they are designed for purpose.
- For a more high end look, you can box in your feed bins with wood (see pic above).
- Shelving above your feed bins to store supplements are a good idea, and a feeding chart, such as a white board or chalk board, should be clearly displayed (this could be a large one on the wall, or smaller ones for each horse’s feed bin depending on your yard set up).
- Having a tap close by to clean feed bowls, and for dampening feeds (and soaking feeds like sugar beet) is very useful.
- It is a good idea to locate the feed room close to where deliveries arrive and at the end of the yard or row of stables, so you work along the boxes feeding.
- It’s surprising how many rugs and other bits of kit you accumulate as a horse owner, and how often storage for all this stuff is overlooked, or wildly underestimated!
- Rug rooms should be easy to access and free from any damp.
- If you have the space and opportunity, I highly recommend having a washing machine and dryer, with a drying rack for rugs and numnahs, etc, too.
- I personally think having a rug rail outside of each stable (if there is an overhang to protect from rain, or they are internal stables), is very handy for quick rug changes.
- A proper rug rack (or even a sturdy hook fixed up high), is useful for heavier rugs, or rugs that need to dry.
- Some shelves are a good idea for lighter rugs, boots and grooming kits, etc. The plastic type used in garages are good for this. (Keeping the bags that rugs come in, or having some heavy-duty vacuum pack bags, or a blanket box is good way to store rugs when they are not in use to keep them clean and protect them from damage).
Grooming & Wash Bays
- Grooming areas, and wash bays, should be near your tack and rug rooms.
- Generally, they need to be at least the size of a stable (12 x 12’ / 3.6 x 3.6m minimum), so you can safely move and work around the horse when it’s tied up.
- A wash off area with good drainage and a non-slip surface is a must for most yards. An over-head hose swing is a really handy addition to this area, and access to hot water is ideal.
- A dedicated grooming area with cross ties, good lighting, a non-slip surface and a safe power point, is a good idea, especially for clipping, vet and farrier visits, etc.
- Incorporating some shelving for items of grooming kit, and perhaps even bridle hooks / folding saddle racks is a good idea.
- If you can afford one, a horse solarium is a real luxury that I would highly recommend!
WC & Shower Facilities
- Unless you keep your horses at home outside your back door, a yard toilet is a pretty basic need, and is essential for a commercial stables or livery yard. Depending on the size of the yard, you may need more than one toilet, along with disabled access toilets.
- Ideally you would incorporate one into your stable yard design, but if stables are at home, it may me easier to plumb one in nearer the house (for example a gardener’s loo in an outhouse), and if plumbing isn’t possible onsite, I used to have client’s that had a builder style ‘portaloo’ onsite which was a good compromise. I’m no expert on these, but I’ve heard some people even use composting toilets at their yards, so this could be worth looking into.
- A shower / changing area is another luxury, and a really nice touch, especially for larger yards, and a huge selling point for high end liveries.
- For private stables and small yards, this probably isn’t needed, but it is still a good idea to have a secure filing cabinet or drawer as your ‘mini office’ in your tack room to keep all of your documents (such as passports, vaccination records, etc), stored safely. It is also a good idea to have a diary with contact details for vets/farriers, feed suppliers, etc, and dates for visits/deliveries, etc.
- For larger and commercial yards, especially competition stables and riding schools, an office / reception area is a real asset for keeping records and dealing with customers.
Hay & Bedding Storage
- Generally, the more hay and bedding you can store, the better – buying in bulk is often much cheaper.
- Ideally, you want a separate building for hay and bedding because this will be the biggest fire risk to your yard.
- If a separate building isn’t possible, make sure that there is a full height wall between it and adjoining structures, ideally built in a material that will slow the spread of fire if it does occur.
- When planning the size of the space, think about how much hay and bedding your yard is likely to use each week – how many bales of hay and bedding per horse (be generous) times the number of horses, then calculate the size of the bales (taking into account that you will be able to stack them to a safe height) to see how much space they will take up – we store ours on wooden pallets which are roughly 4 x 4 feet (1.2 x 1.2m). I recommend having at least enough room for four weeks supply if you can (remember you will also need space to move around the bales).
- A large doorway and good access to this space makes deliveries much easier (for example, our shavings get delivered on pallets with a driver and forklift to unload them so we made sure the ground is level concrete and the doorway is large enough to accommodate this, and our hay is delivered by a farmer so we made sure the hay barn has space to manoeuvre a tractor and trailer in front of it).
- Two doorways (one for delivery, and one for yard use) can be a good idea.
- The hay and bedding store is also a good place to store your yard tools, and can be useful for any farm machinery or vehicles (such as paddock maintenance equipment).
- Planning departments often need to see a clear plan for how muck will be dealt with (and no… you can’t just burn it nowadays).
- Planning, costs, the amount of horses, and how you plan to get muck taken away will affect the type of muck heap you choose – there are several options…
- A basic muck heap will need a non-porous hard standing, ideally with three sides. You will need a farmer to come a remove it when it’s full which can be quite costly.
- Investing in a good tipping muck trailer, and striking a deal with a local farmer to collect it, is a good option as it’s less labour intensive for the farmer, so after the initial investment it can be cheaper, and the trailer keeps the muck contained.
- Commercial skips and bins are another option, it is quite hassle free but can be very costly, so it’s worth ringing around some in your area to get a deal – the size you’ll need will depend on the size of your yard.
- Composting systems are a good green way to deal with muck, and cost effective in the long term, but do require some in-depth research into a good set up, and good management (they work particularly well for muck from paddocks and for small yards, especially if you have a veg plot or make friends with local allotment owners).
- Whichever you decide is the best way to deal with your muck, you need it located somewhere convenient for mucking out, but ideally downwind, and in a place where it will minimise aesthetic impact.
Other Considerations when Designing a Dream Horse Yard…
Onsite Accommodation at your Stables
- Of course, the dream for most horse owners is to live onsite with views from your kitchen to your horses poking their heads over their stable doors, and grazing in the paddocks!
- Equestrian facilities can also add to the value of your property.
- For liveries, it’s a huge selling point if someone lives on site, not only for horse care, but for the added security.
- Especially for larger yards, groom’s accommodation is really worth considering.
- Gone are the days when a tatty old caravan hidden behind the barn is appropriate, so thought needs to be put into planning this accommodation wisely (for example, most grooms will prefer individual accommodation, or at least private bathrooms).
- Flats could be built into your yard design – for example, in the roof space, or in a separate building. They will require planning permission and must comply with building regulations.
- For smaller or private yards, owners often create a ‘granny’ annexe, for example above the garage, as this can be easier to obtain planning for.
- Decent onsite accommodation is a big plus-point for attracting staff, it also means you will attract a wider range of applications to choose from, rather than just those in the local area (and again, people living onsite is a selling point for liveries).
- As mentioned above, security is a big consideration when planning a yard. Theft of horses, horseboxes and tack are all genuine risks.
- CCTV with clear signs that it’s in use, (or even dummy cameras!), are a good idea, along with security lights, secure gates / fencing and decent locks.
- Alarms are also a good consideration, especially for tack rooms, and where full alarm systems aren’t appropriate or affordable, you can even buy alarmed padlocks.
- Joining up to local neighbourhood / farmers / horse watch groups in your local area is another measure you can take.
- If you don’t live close to the stable, or have no one living on site, you can get cameras (like the ones people use in their garages, etc), that you can monitor on your phone.
- You should also microchip your horses, security mark your tack, wheel-lock your horsebox, etc.
- You also need to consider how visible your facilities are from the road / passers-by, and how much you choose to show online on your social media, and in advertising, etc.
Parking & Vehicle Access
- Bear in mind when designing your yard, that access will probably need to be suitable, and wide enough, not just for cars, but also for tractors and large horseboxes.
- Make sure there is enough parking to accommodate the number of people you expect to use your facilities.
- Some yards even incorporate undercover parking for horseboxes, which not only keeps them in good condition, but also helps to hide them from potential thieves.
- Try to locate your driveway and parking to minimise its impact on the yard itself – for example, you want to avoid having to lead horses into paddocks past cars, etc, where possible, and avoid having parking next to the arena where cars could spook horses.
- It is also worth think about designating a safe area for loading.
- Depending on the size and use of your yard, you may need to think about wheelchair access and disabled facilities.
- Insurance is worth thinking about early on, and it’s worth consulting insurance companies if your building design and intended use will affect premiums. For commercial yards, looking into potential business rates is also a good idea.
- Utility bills can soon rack up at a yard, so it could be worth looking into some green and renewable energy options, either to supplement the mains, or for complete supply where mains connections are too impractical. There are lots of options to look into for your stable yard design; the most common being solar and wind.
Beyond the Yard…
Other Equestrian Facilities
There’s so much to cover that I’ve focused this article on the stable yard itself. However, no dream horse barn set up is complete without addressing the land and equestrian facilities beyond the barn…
Grazing Land / Turn out
- I believe that good turn out facilities make all the difference to a yard. 99.9% of the horses I know, and have cared for over the years, have been much happier, even with just a few hours a day turn-out, to roll, stretch their legs and generally be horses!
- There are many options to turnout you can choose, be it individual, in pairs, or as a herd – traditional paddocks that you can rotate, large open fields, or even a natural style grazing system that seems to be gaining popularity these days.
- If you have limited grazing land, you could install all weather turnout pens which take up less space and help preserve the grazing you do have for summer.
- You will also need to consider fencing options, getting water to your paddocks, shelter, and much more!
- For lots of information, read Horse Paddocks – A Complete Guide to Equine Grazing and Turn Out.
Schooling & Exercising Facilities
- Schooling and exercising facilities complete the picture of a perfect stable yard.
- A decent riding arena is a good place to start, especially for liveries and if you plan to compete.
- Even if you are generally a ‘happy hacker’, if you can afford one, a school is really useful for when the ground conditions are terrible, and for dark nights if you install floodlights.
- Whether you have an arena or not, a good mounting block is an essential bit of kit.
- Once you’ve got an arena, there are so many more options, depending on your requirements, budget and space available – a round pen, horse walker, horse treadmill and grass schooling areas.
- For those with plenty of land, you can even consider a XC course, gallops and dedicated trails for hacking.
- For lots more information, read The Ultimate Guide to Horse Riding Arenas & Equestrian Facilities.
Equestrian Therapy Facilities
- There are lots of options nowadays for equine therapy and rehabilitation equipment, such as hydrotherapy pools and treadmills.
- Unless your stable yard design is for a top notch rehab, racing or competition facility, it is unlikely you will require any of these as the costs are very high and you can usually hire them at larger colleges and equine vets.
Choosing a Stable Supplier / Builder
- Finding the right builder for your project will be one of the biggest decisions you make.
- Have a clear idea of what you want for your stable yard design.
- Decide whether you need a company that can manage the whole build for you, or whether you are confident to take on a project manager role and use subcontractors, or even take on parts of the build yourself.
- Do your research and look for reviews – just because a company looks ‘swish’ at face value, it’s best to get feedback from previous customers.
- Shop around and compare costs – get a few quotes, compare prices of different materials, etc, but don’t compromise on quality.
Other Build Factors
- As already mentioned, be nice to the neighbours – they can make life very difficult if your build is disruptive, so keep them onside.
- Making sure your site is accessible for large lorries and building equipment will help your build to go smoothly.
- Look into the costs and logistics of getting your site connected to the mains, it can be costly and takes time.
Caring for You Horses During a Stable Yard Design & Build
- Having a yard built or renovated will be a huge disruption for both you and your horses (anyone who has had their kitchen or bathroom replaced, or just had their house redecorated, will know how disruptive even that can be) so planning for their care during this time is important.
- You could consider keeping your horse in livery whilst your facilities are being built (for some options, read Types of Livery Explained – How Much Does it Cost to Stable a Horse?).
- If you plan to keep them onsite during the build, plan your build during the summer months so they can, ideally, live out.
- If you need stabling, or if your build overruns, mobile field shelters could be a good solution as they usually don’t require planning permission and can be reused in your paddocks after the build. Another option is hiring temporary stabling (like the type you get at competitions).
- If possible, you could also build or renovate in stages, so the whole yard isn’t out of action at one time.
- Whatever you decide, as long as your horses are happy during the build – the end result will be worth it!
Thanks for reading, I hope you now feel armed with some useful stable yard design ideas…
As you can probably tell, I wasn’t lying when I said I’m just a bit obsessed with stable yard design!
I’ve also written some companion articles to this post, as mentioned – Horse Paddocks – A Complete Guide to Equine Grazing and Turn Out, and, The Ultimate Guide to Horse Riding Arenas & Equestrian Facilities, which will help you to complete your picture of your dream equestrian facility. (I also spend my spare time doodling floor plans for yards, so I hope to post some of these for you in the future).
Finally, GOOD LUCK if you are embarking on your own stable yard design and build (I’m just a tiny bit jealous), please feel free to message me in comments with your experiences!
Here are some further articles that you may enjoy…
Horse Paddocks – A Complete Guide to Equine Grazing and Out
The Ultimate Guide to Horse Riding Arenas & Equestrian Facilities
What do I Need for a Horse? – The Ultimate Checklist of Equine Equipment
Types of Livery Explained – How Much Does it Cost to Stable a Horse?
Tips and Tricks for On the Yard
Tips and Tricks for the Stable
Tips and Tricks for Fields & Paddocks