As most horse owners know, a run-in shed is a roofed, three-sided, free-access structure that offers protection to pastured horses from wind, rain, snow, and the summer sun. But the run-in shed also can provide health benefits beyond weather protection.
Run-in sheds have better ventilation and less accumulation of dust mold and spores than barns. "They're relatively safe," notes Dr. Dallas Goble, an associate professor of veterinary surgery at University of Tennessee. "Very few injuries are associated with sheds that are properly maintained. Individual horses have the opportunity to regulate where they want to be, and that's good for the horse's health and psychological well-being."
Here are some suggestions on building a top-notch run-in shed:
Location, Location, Location
The basic elements of the run-in shed begin with supporting posts, siding, and sloped roof. "Generally, you see treated posts set into the ground, with two-by-fours nailed to the posts, covered by an exterior siding," says Raymond. Any number of materials can be used for the outside including good plywood, metal (aluminum, steel, or tin) siding, cinderblock, rock, or wood. The more common is the pole-construction type – two-by-fours attached to telephone pole types of posts, then aluminum, metal, or corrugated tin covering the outside of the posts and framework.
As for roofing materials, they can be strictly shed-style with a pitch that goes from the front of the shed to the back with a slope that drains the rain off the back of the shed into a gutter, or you can have a shed with a peaked roof with equal pitch on both sides. You also can attach an awning from the front of the roof to provide more shade and protection. And consider installing a grounded lightning rod, particularly with metal sheds.
Minimum height inside the shed at its lowest point (the back) should be at least eight feet and at least 10 feet high at the highest point (the front). This extra height provides a little headroom should a horse rear.
Make sure the shed is wide enough to safely accommodate the number and size of horses that will be using the shelter. Allowing 12 feet by 12 feet per horse – about the size of stall – is a general rule of thumb. If you have yearlings, 24 feet by 12 feet is a nice size and will accommodate about 12 weanlings and yearlings.
Temperament also may be a factor. A group of Clydesdales will often be more amenable to sharing the shed than will thoroughbreds or quarter horses that are smaller and more aggressive.
If your horses will be getting feed and water in the shed, place an appropriate number of feedboxes and water troughs at the back, spacing the boxes apart to reduce a dominant horse from getting the lion's share.
Some experts, including Raymond, suggest using interior partitions in sheds. Sometimes dominant horses keep the lesser horses out. If you're doing a lot of feeding in your shed, put in small partitions so horses don't see the others while they're feeding.
Others, including Dr. Goble, disagree. "The dominant horse will gulp down all his feed and jump over to the next partition and kick that horse out. Partitions just give an additional opportunity for injury."
Although smaller sheds don't need supports, larger sheds require interior bracing. The best choice is round, rather than sharp-edged square posts that can injure a horse that gets slammed into one. For extra safety, cover posts with some sort of cushioning material, such as car tires.
Even though an entire side of the shed is open, it is a good idea to provide additional ventilation, such as a window, to prevent moisture build-up (which can damage the structure of the shed and create health and hygiene problems) and to increase air flow during the summer.
The Ground Below
Footing inside the shed should be dry and cleanable. Hard clay soil free of stones is adequate when a shed houses only a couple horses. Otherwise, apply a 6- to 8-inch base of gravel and then add dirt and bedding – wood shavings, straw, or the rubber particles used in riding rings. Keep the shed mucked out. How often depends on use, but manure and soiled materials should be picked out at least twice a week. You also could spread a light layer of hydrated lime on the ground to absorb moisture and to deodorize and disinfect. Dispose of soiled bedding by composting or hauling it. Make sure there is good drainage around the water source or provide water outside the shed.
A free-access run-in shed offers several benefits, including less time spent on turning out and rounding up horses as the weather changes and more freedom for the horse. As long as it's sited, constructed, and maintained properly, a run-in shed can be a helpful addition to nearly any property.