When most people hear the word "horses", they usually picture a Pinterest worthy barn, immaculately kept, flower pots accenting each side of the big entry doors, a long row of stalls with professionally groomed horses sticking their heads out lining each side of the long middle walk. Painted red, white, or forest green, maybe even natural weathered wood.
Well, I'm here to shatter that paradigm.
HORSES DO NOT NEED A BARN. Yes, you read that correctly. In Central Texas anyway, and most other arid climates. Of course, there are exceptions, areas that get blizzards and crazy below zero dipping temperatures. But, for the majority of the US, horses would much prefer a more native environment.
Barns were built for the convenience of humans, plain and simple. For millions of years, horses have roamed wide open spaces. They've sheltered in caves, under trees, in canyons, and under rock outcroppings. And, if you let horses choose wether to be under the shelter of a barn or out in a tree-lined field during inclement weather, they'll choose the natural option every time.
So, why do we use barns anyway? Some of the barns I've been in have been million-dollar constructions, tile floors, chandeliers, and padded stalls. Others have been humble multi-purpose buildings to house the old family nag, dairy cow, and chickens. Well, like most things humanity comes up with, we THINK we can improve on God's perfect creation. We fall short every time. And that is exactly the reason I say, BARNS ARE FOR HUMAN CONVENIENCE. Nothing more.
We humans much prefer grooming our horses under the shade of a barn roof, protected by the walls from biting winter winds and springtime rainstorms. We like all of our tools in one place, within walking distance and easy reach. Now this brings up another point, how do you feed your horse when he's in a barn? This is where convenience goes out the window.
Your horse is designed to eat HAY. Grasses to be more precise. When was the last time you saw a band of wild mustangs chowing down on a bucket of Purina Horse Chow in the badlands? That's my point exactly, and probably the subject of another blog post.
So now that your horse is confined to what you think is ultra-luxury barn living (at this point you're trying to humanize the horse which is an insult to his character), he can no longer roam a nice field and nibble grass all day. Instead, he's confined to a stall, maybe a very small outdoor paddock on the backside of his stall. He's reliant on YOU to feed him at the very least twice a day, better three times. Since he won't be able to snack at a big half ton round bale of long grassy stems, he'll have to make do with a flake of alfalfa and bucket of grain. This is the reality of keeping your horse in a barn. Pastured horses are self-feeding horses and don't require much more than a replenished round bale when natural grasses are grazed down.
When your horse is kept in that Pinterest-worthy barn day-in and day-out, he also suffers from lack of vitamin D from the sun. Sure, you can add lights to the barn, but it just doesn't replace the sun. His eyes benefit from being outside watching the sunrise and sunset, just like humans. His coat benefits from being washed by the rain. His whole psyche benefits from having a big area to roam, graze, explore, and run. The turned-out horse is a far healthier horse mentally and physically than the barn-kept horse.
We haven't even scratched the surface of the other nasties that come with keeping a fully occupied horse barn- twice daily poop-scooping, shoveling, raking, changing dirty bedding, and so on. You'll have to figure out where to haul all that poop too, and what to do with it.
As glossed over earlier, there are times a barn is beneficial for horses. If you live in an area with sub-zero winter temperatures, then a horse barn may be a good answer. Extreme weather like blizzards, and large hail may also get you thinking about adding a barn for your equine friends. A barn may be a good choice for a foaling mare if she's typically kept with other horses. That being said, often a simple shade roof with two sides is plenty for your horse. For multiple horses, they often like to crowd under one bigger turn-out shelter. Other times, they act exactly like nature tells them, and you'll find them sheltering instead under a grove of shady trees.
I'm certain if I asked any of my own horses if they'd like to have a barn, they may excitedly all agree they want one- but only because they think they'd get to come and go as they please, run through the middle alley tipping over everything like a band of wild vandals, and raiding the cookie bags kept in the tack room. I guarantee they'd run away at the first mention of being locked in a private stall with a small outdoor back paddock. Horses want to be two things- TOGETHER, and free to roam as much as they can.
So, if you're considering building a barn for your equine friends, or maybe you've hesitated to get equine friends because you don't have a barn, you may want to think again. A barn can be a wonderful place to create memories, and a convenient organizational tool. But, at the end of the day, you may find you'll be money ahead, and have happier horses by planning something a lot more cost effective. Barns can be great, but if I were in your shoes, I'd plan on making a barn that could do more than keep horses.