Chapter 1


Although many breeders assert that a very good horse can only be bred in a few places in the world, horses are extremely adaptable and reproduce successfully in almost all regions and climates. In general, horses do well in both cold and hot climates. They tolerate high altitudes and deserts, flatlands and mountainous terrain. Furthermore, they reproduce in feral bands with no management at all in some countries.

It is unrealistic, therefore, to provide breeders with definitive directions for farm facilities, layouts and fencing that are suitable for any location. Moreover, it is probably too simplistic to prescribe definitive plans for the development of stud farms because there are so many possible variations. The basic concepts will apply in the majority of areas, and local information on building materials and methods will be utilized in the adaptation of these to local conditions. Also, it is recognized that ingenuity applied to management may be more important than defined structures that conform to accepted standards.1 Use of good proven designs from existing facilities can often eliminate mistakes.

Climatic conditions and economic constraints have profound influences on the construction and management of the stud farm. The detailed requirements will vary markedly throughout the world. Although in some areas horses require to be stabled throughout the breeding season, in other areas this is not only undesirable but may be impractical. In areas without the rigors of periods of cold weather, drought and heat play a major role in the breeding industry and are significant factors in the running costs. As a general philosophy for horse management, horses are healthier when they spend longer outside. Clearly, however, the management and the quality of the pastures, paddocks and fencing will have a profound influence on the best circumstances under any particular conditions. Larger holdings with more equitable weather lead to fewer farm personnel being required than for the labor-intensive housing in barns in the winters of the northern hemisphere.

In planning and developing a facility to manage horses, safety for both the animals and their handlers must be a primary focus. In spite of the perception that there are more ways for a horse to injure itself than could ever be described, careful planning and management will prevent most avoidable injuries to both man and horse. A thorough understanding of equine behavior, careful thought about the procedures to be undertaken and focused concentration on the job at hand by the handlers should enable a stud to function safely and economically. Nevertheless, many facilities are adapted from previous farming facilities and here the dangers can be much higher. Before any detailed planning is started, and certainly before any building is undertaken, it is useful to visit as many other facilities as possible and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of individual systems.

The general outlines in this chapter apply to all horse-breeding areas in the world. Most countries have their own unique methods of handling, holding, feeding and rearing horses. However, there are many principles that can provide ideas for additional improvement and which may enhance the quality of the environment for horses.

Suggested references to broaden the reader’s scope appear at the end of this chapter. For the purposes of covering as many aspects of the subject as possible, it will be assumed that the reader intends to develop a breeding farm from the ground up. Realistically, many stud farms have been developed from existing agricultural facilities and this will inevitably introduce limitations of adaptation and difficulties of use that will need to be overcome. Obviously the purchase of a ‘turn-key’ facility changes the scenario, but the principles of sound, safe and efficient construction still apply and will influence that purchase.


All farm designs should be aimed at ease of use and safety for the horses and their handlers. Problems are introduced by financial limitations, lack of understanding of the requirements of horse and handler safety, and the failure of some horse-management systems to take account of the fact that horses are living creatures, not just figures in a financial statement.

Hobby farms are seldom built to any recognizable standard of either economy or safety; frequently, they grow and adapt without conscious long-term design planning. Most restrictions are based upon financial considerations and where these are of no material concern it may be possible to construct the ideal facility for the specific place and time.

The management structures of commercial breeding farms are largely dictated by economic considerations, ease of management and safety aspects. There should always be contingency plans for expansion or recession. The investment in the land and all the subsequent developments must be put into context with the goals of the operation. In all but the most exceptional circumstances the economic aspects of the venture are also important. Hobby farms may not be subject to economic limitations and the biggest operations may also be run without regard for financial aspects. Most investors, however, are seeking some financial return or tax relief from their operation, if not always serious profits. Therefore, what is paid for the land, the level of property tax assessment and other operational costs are important. Furthermore, perhaps the most critical pressure is the appreciation potential of the property. Increasing population pressure exerts an upward pressure on land values. Should the horse-breeding venture be terminated, it would be some consolation to realize a gain from the investment in land and improvements. Careful planning at the outset should improve the chances of this.

Traditional approaches to housing mares and stallions were for two independent sets of quarters, isolated from each other to minimize excitement. However, recent equine behavioral research suggests that integrating stallions and mares in common facilities may have important benefits for the operation.2 The so-called ‘harem effect’, resulting from interactions of sight and sound, produces a calming effect on both sexes, similar to the behavior of a band of mares running with a stallion. It is believed that both behavior and fertility are positively affected. No specific guidelines for facilities are offered, but the obvious first step is to house a stallion in a barn with mares.

Considerations of climate and local conditions are important in designing the farm and can significantly affect the layout. In subtropical regions, for example, housing requirements may be completely different from those in more temperate regions. The need for barn space will be significantly less if horses can remain outside all the time. Separation for feeding can be accomplished with small portable pens, or with simple ‘feeding barns’, which can double as holding spaces for routine examinations or extended day-length lighting systems (Fig. 1.1).


The selection of one type of site over another is based almost entirely on the prevailing climate. Before developing a farm in an unfamiliar area, it is important to consult with local agricultural extension services. Additional input from existing horse farm managers will also be helpful. The breeding records for particular areas may be helpful in establishing the best areas for horse breeding, but most established properties have adapted and altered their environmental features significantly over many years. Most breeders agree on the benefits of grass, whether it is naturally or artificially irrigated.

Horse farms are based on three types of space:


Planning for water usage is critical to the consideration of a farm site. Regardless of its source, the quantity and quality of water are important and should be considered together with the potential to construct a reliable distribution system. Failure of free-choice water supplies, through prolonged subfreezing weather or extended droughts, for example, is potentially disastrous. In very cold climates the provision of warmed water is good management, and will spare labor in hauling bulk water. Brackish or salty water is usually poorly tolerated by horses and can result in poor condition and poor breeding.

Water may be available by access to natural watercourses, but care should be exercised when inspecting small watercourses that they are in fact permanent rather than temporary. More frequently, water is supplied by an extensive underground piped distribution system of water troughs with automatic floats to regulate the level and prevent overflow.

Sufficient water space must be provided for larger groups of horses. Moreover, it is essential that the water is clean and, in summer, that it is in such volume as to be cool, rather than hot from too small a volume. Automatic water troughs in stables are often too small and rarely allow a thirsty horse to have an uninterrupted drink before the water level becomes too low. A more satisfactory volume of 20–30 liters should be provided, usually in buckets.

Paddock water troughs should have a secure drainage plug to allow ease of cleaning. Regular cleaning is essential to prevent build-up of algae and decayed matter. Volume-controlling float valves should be protected from interference by the horses, either by guards or by being out of reach. Horses will play with accessible floats, often causing loss of water, muddy surrounds and, if undetected, severe loss from the main water supply. Long or round troughs provide the best cool water for horses and plenty of room for them to move around.

Continuous fresh water supplies are also essential if pastures are to be irrigated effectively; shortages of supply can be particularly harmful to a stud operation.

Trees and natural shelter

Shade from trees is beneficial in hot climates. However, in many circumstances, particularly if there are feed shortages (i.e. roughage), horses will destroy the trees by eating the bark (Fig. 1.2). Simple trunk protectors may be effective in preventing this. Furthermore, some trees are potentially poisonous. In the UK, many older properties have ancient trees that are very dangerous (e.g. yew, red oak, and laburnum).

Trees in areas prone to severe thunderstorms are potentially lethal lightning conductors. Fencing off the areas concerned is more difficult if there is to be any benefit from the trees in terms of shade or shelter provision. Lightning conductors are effective measures to reduce the risks.

Properties that have few effective shade or shelter trees are seldom used for stud farms unless there is the potential to grow them. Fast-growing eucalyptus, poplar or conifer trees can provide shelter within a few years. There are also esthetic aspects of stud farming that depend on trees.

A row of trees can be planted as a windbreak outside a fence line (Fig. 1.3) and horses will appreciate the protection they afford in the worst weather conditions.

Shade houses/field shelters

These can be simple constructions of four posts with a shade cloth roof in dry climates (Fig. 1.4), or an iron-roofed, more solid waterproof construction of wooden panels or sheet and brick, in which the feeding and water facilities are placed. The protection afforded by shelters is also helpful where Musca flies and culicoides midges are a problem as these invade darkened shade areas less frequently than open-air paddocks with no cover.

Where prevailing winter winds are severe, shelters also provide protection from inclement weather. Old hay-storage sheds are often converted into low-cost shelters against, heat, cold and wet conditions (Fig. 1.5).


Consideration should be given to access to the farm by the services that will be required. Delivery of construction materials, maintenance needs, service personnel and eventually transportation of animals and foodstuffs require decent hard-surfaced roads with reasonable access to the farm for suitable vehicles. In the UK, small country lanes can be a serious limitation for modern transporters, but by compensation they afford some sense of security. Careful planning of access roads, which should be kept wide enough for vehicles capable of moving horses (particularly mares, foals and young horses) is very important to allow ease of access to all points of the farm. Roads can be used to separate paddocks and so may act as effective quarantine barriers in case of disease outbreaks. They also allow planting of shade trees and installation of water conduits without having to interfere with the fields themselves. Free movement of feed vehicles and farm machinery, and the transfer of mares/foals to other locations on the farm without entry to other occupied paddocks, are also important advantages of a carefully planned road structure.

The movement of horses (possibly stallions or mares with foals at foot) by leading them should not be unduly risky; crossing main traffic routes or railway lines is fraught with danger and increases the risks to man and horse. Consideration should be given to possible escaped horses: gates and other restrictive measures such as walls and fences should ultimately allow the animals to be recaptured easily.

Connections to basic utilities such as water, electricity and gas need to be planned. Drainage and handling of waste must also be considered carefully if disease is to be limited.

Farm layout

Before the specific layout of the operation is designed, careful regard to the functions required of the facility is essential. The plan must be carefully made before the first post hole is dug. Basic questions include:

• Will stallions be standing at the stud with their own ‘book’ of mares or will they simply be used for artificial insemination?

• If stallions are to be used, how many will be kept and what is their expected ‘book’?

• Will outside mares be brought in for breeding and, if so, how many and over what period?

• Will mares be visiting the stud to foal in order to get better supervision and foal care and to maximize the use of the foal heat?

• Will there be permanently resident mares on the farm and will these take precedence over visiting mares?

• Will weanling foals and yearlings be held on the premises? If so, will they be in contact with other outside horses or will they be kept segregated?

• Will a high level of veterinary attention be expected (will a veterinarian live on the farm?) or will this be more casual?

• Should there be isolation facilities for new animals? This is a very important aspect, and should be discussed in careful detail with the consulting veterinarian.

• How long will mares (with or without foals at foot) remain on the stud after covering?

These questions should yield a list of the facilities that are required immediately and for future developments. Ultimately, the safety of personnel and the well-being of the animals must be paramount in the design and construction of a stud farm. The nature of horses is such that their management is inherently dangerous and a full understanding of the potential hazards will limit the problems.

With the essential structures in mind, a plan should be developed for the relationship of each unit to pastures, paddocks, roads, water lines, utility connections, etc. so that the whole facility will be coordinated. Each unit should be able to function independently from the others.

The underlying threat of infectious disease should not ever be overlooked. The potential catastrophe that can follow from the speed of spread and the economic damage from an outbreak of an infectious disease such as contagious equine metritis should not be forgotten. Serious economic danger from possible outbreaks of virus abortion and strangles creates the necessity for quarantine facilities (yards, stables, and paddocks) that are separate and distinct from the main farm area. Quarantine facilities should work on the principle of an ‘all-in all-out’ policy. Simply, this means that a group of horses held in quarantine for the required time must be kept separate from any new arrivals because of the possibility of cross-contamination in both directions if they are mixed. On large farms, this can mean very complex horse-holding facilities with enforceable management methods that prevent the breakdown of quarantine.

Visiting walk-in mares should be carefully segregated from home farm or live-in mares. Head collars, bridles, etc. must be thoroughly cleaned and/or sterilized if any suspected problems arise, and gear that is used in pre-entry (quarantine) areas should not be used elsewhere in order to minimize disease spread.

Strict control of stray dogs, cats and vermin such as foxes, rats and mice is necessary, especially if virus abortion erupts. Serious spread to adjoining paddocks can occur when dogs and carrion-eating birds spread infected aborted material.


Safe fencing is essential on a stud farm. The horses on the facility, whether highly valuable Thoroughbred or other purebred horses or animals of lesser value, provide the raw material on which the stud functions. Their safe restraint is vital. All fences have some measure of danger: the more secure and solid the fence, the more solid fracture-type injuries occur; with star posts and wire, there are leg injuries from the wire and body injury from the pickets. When panicked by storms, etc., horses may break, or become entangled in, any type of fencing.

A survey of fence-related injuries3 supported the contention that no fence is horse-proof and free of potential hazard. The survey pointed out that the highest rate of serious injury occurred with barbed wire fencing, followed by high-tensile steel wire and page wire. Wooden fences (post and rail, and post and board) had high rates of injury, but those injuries were less severe than those related to wire. Although these results are not surprising, the fact that barbed wire fencing on metal posts is the most economical in terms of both materials and installation means that these fences will probably not disappear.

Selecting and building fencing for horses is an exercise in compromise. First, it must be recognized that there are no totally safe fences for horses. The animal’s basic nature is to run from real or perceived danger. If that flight is blocked by anything, a collision is a strong possibility. The options are to attempt to run through or jump over the fence. The results may vary from escape to serious injury from splintered fence boards or unyielding posts or wire. Moreover, the consequences of escape, whether in one piece or not, may produce further injury. Another cause for concern is the altercation between horses that can occur at the right-angled corners of a fence, in which the aggressors pin the recipient in the corner and settle the dispute. The dilemma, then, is whether to select a solid unbreakable fence or one that will fall apart on contact. In both cases there is ample opportunity for injury.

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