Barn Design: Real Life Disasters

It always amazes me how commercial stables do some of the stupidest things in terms of safety and never feel the need to replace or repair equipment, fences, doors etc… but yet when the first big accident happens resulting in loss of life (animal or human) they are the first to go “I didn’t know!”

The sliding stall door (below) had been kicked so many times that a huge gap was now in place between the frame of the stall and the door. The first time my vet entered this barn her eye zeroed in on this and she said, “This will break a horses’ leg. Had to put a horse down because of this problem.”

The mechanics of a door are not complicated. It doesn’t cost much more, if any more, to have safe door than an unsafe door other than the vet bill when your horse gets caught in the gap, struggles and breaks its leg. It’s why I wanted the stall doors done rather quickly at our rental. The originals were hard to open and checking on a horse by entering the stall this way would have been almost impossible!

What should a stall door do? Contain the horse safely. This means no gaps, opens and shuts without a problem to allow barn staff to enter and care for the horse, and has a latch the horse cannot manipulate for its release. Lumber can often be found on Craigslist for half the cost of Lowes – or even found free. You could make a door out of pallet material if you had too and those are often listed for free too. So money is no excuse. If you can’t afford the lumber, you can’t afford a horse.

Let’s talk about latches…. A latch should be one, so uncomplicated the stupidest barn help can do it, and it should be visible from a few feet as to if it is latched or not. One barn that always had two chains to lock every gate, inevitably had the Barn Owner leaving them both unlocked! I thought the two latch thing was an anomaly until I went to another barn and they had the same set up!

The biggest issue I have with latches for gates and doors is they are not easy to open. This doublechain mess took far too much time to open and close. Inevitably, the chains slipped off and fell to the dirt. The more time it takes to open and close, the more likelihood a horse will slip out while the human is busy trying to figure this crap out.

This latch with the rubber bungee cord was the hardest thing to work. It couldn’t be closed easily if you were on the inside of the pen, holding a horse. Cheap, yes. Effective? No. What happens to ineffective pieces of equipment? They fail at the worst moment causing financial loss, injury or possibly, even death.

What should a latch do? It should contain the horse. The horse should not be able to manipulate its opening. Staff and visitors should all be in the habit of latching every gate behind them. Preferably it should be easy to see from a few feet away if the gate or door is latched or not. Barn Owner and Staff should be in a habit of a night check that means confirming all is locked down.

Probably the biggest problem with horse properties is the lack of proper fencing. Fencing costs money and a lot of money. People don’t realize that fencing an acreage is going to cost you per linear foot in labor and materials and this quickly adds up. When I was discussing retiring Tristan at one person’ private acreage, he wanted me to put up fence for a nominal, monthly rental fee. Guess what? After I figured up the cost of the fencing there was no way that was going to be a “deal” for me!

As a property owner you risk liability (see your state’s Open Range Livestock law) if your horse gets out, gets hit by a car and the person in the car either dies or suffers damage to their vehicle (yep, seen it happen). Fencing materials can be cut down in price if you search Craigslist for second hand materials, and protecting the fence can be done by putting up electric (the only way you will keep a horse off a fence).

However, electric does no good if it isn’t turned on, posts and line is down, or the voltage is weak due to grass or weeds brushing against the wire. Visitors also turn off electric without telling the Barn Owner. If you use a solar system, a few cloudy days without a battery backup, stops the juice.

Here’s a corner post and rails falling apart. The cross bars were rotting, the nails visible. Do you think this would contain a horse? Yeah if the horse was 20 plus, crippled and blind. The BO had a very hot electric line up so the horses’ didn’t test it but a terrified horse (being chased by another aggressive horse or frightened by violent weather etc…) will challenge and run through even an electric fence.

I’m assuming the BO wanted a decorative rail fence, however, holding it together with wire is the answer? If you’ve worked with horses enough, or done roundpen work, the most typical behavior on the part of the horse is to strike out and hit the side of the fencing when it is mad. What do you think would happen if this was struck by a horse having a temper tantrum? Z tore down two rails of this fence with one kick.

The area near stalls, run-in sheds, loafing sheds etc… is where horses like to congregate for long periods of time. It’s the horses’ water cooler! They hang out, chat with their buddies, groom each other and FIGHT each other, either in play or because of dominance. It’s why these areas should be the most secure of your property as they will take the most punishment.

If I had a dime for every time I saw the stupidest mistakes made in the shelter area, I would not have to worry about my retirement. Let me state it again – METAL WALLS CANNOT BE INSIDE THE STALL OR RUN IN AREA. I know of two instances where horses were severely damaged because they kicked through a metal wall and sliced into their leg. The first, a foal, had to be euthanized. The second was severely crippled for life and should have been euthanized but wasn’t due to the owner’s misplaced pity.

Sheath the walls with plywood up to a 4′ kicking height. Used plywood can be found on Craigslist (under Materials) and is sold by roofers who have torn off old plywood to replace with new. This stuff is often in very good condition.

A very typical problem you will see at a barn is a gap between the bottom board on a stall wall or partition. We actually have this problem at our current rental and it will be fixed within the next 10 days. This is a very often ignored, dangerous mismanagement problem as it can cause trauma, broken limbs, or death.

A horse laying on the ground will roll or rock to get back up. In the process, a leg gets caught in this gap and the horse begins to struggle. This is what we call being cast in the stall.

To save a cast horse do not enter the stall; you will risk being kicked and injured yourself. Get a lead rope, dangle it over the edge of the stall wall where the horse is trapped and loop it around the horses pinned leg. By pulling the ends of the leadrope, as the horse continues to struggle, you can remove the leg from being trapped. This is not as easy as it sounds and if you have ever had to do it (me, thrice) you know how scary it is!

The reason the gap occurs is that dirt has not been re-filled – horses moving about will naturally subtract dirt, over time, from the interior of a stall or run-in shed. People don’t replace the dirt because dirt costs money and it is backbreaking work to dig out a stall and replace it with new fill dirt. This was the job I did when in college when working for a horse trainer – digging out a piss hole made by a gelding and re-filling with lyme and dirt is not fun work so get stall mats!

Tractor Supply now sells recycled rubber stall mats at a very reasonable cost; they are cheaper then their standard stall mat. Another option is Craigslist where people post rubber conveyer belts for sell – these come from industrial machines and the rubber can be cut up and used for mats in a pinch.

One thing I don’t get is this… the White Trash method of feeding hay or making a water tank is using an old bathtub. Why? What sense does this make? I’m told that the “horses don’t have to eat off the ground” – if this concerns you, understand that horses pull up the hay from the bathtub and then drop it on the ground!

By the time you buy an old bathtub you could have bought a used water tank on Craigslist. How expensive is a new muckbucket? If you filled this monstrosity with water how would you ever dump it to clean it out? You can’t. Because this tub is not surronded by a wooden frame there is plenty of sharp corners to cut your horses legs upon.

Last, but not least, is the sloppy way people manage the space in their barn. Dumping hay bales from the upper storage loft and then leaving them blocking the aisle and stall doors is asking for visitors to trip and sue you. It makes it difficult to move horses. If there was a fire how would you access your horses?

Managing horses is tough work. It’s not all trail riding, cantering and jumping. It’s breaking ice out of water tanks when it’s sub zero temperatures, staying up all night to check on a colicking horse, unloading heavy bales of hay, digging fence posts, and lots of other physical work. Physical labor is going up in costs so yeah everything costs money.

But what costs the most money is when someone sues you because her horse had to be euthanized due to your poor maintenance… or more commonly, you are sued because someone gets hurt on your property. BTW Equine Liability Laws help, but they are not a sure-fire protection. If you are shown to be negligent, then that opens up a whole realm of liabilities.

Your goal as a horse owner should always be to strive for safety — for yourself and your animals. I don’t buy the story that it “costs money.” It does cost time, can be hard work, and require you to use your brain, none of which I think is unreasonable to ask of any individual.

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2 Responses to Barn Design: Real Life Disasters

  1. Pingback: Horseideology password « Horse Ideology

  2. horseideology says:

    I password-protected this post because these photos were all taken at the same barn. While I don’t board there any longer I actually was treated very fairly there and liked the BO. I don’t want her feelings hurt by my commentary here, even though it is just.

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