A Fresh Look

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Many barn owners dream of walking down an aisle between rows of fancy box stalls that house happy horses. Unfortunately, sometimes the reality is not as pretty: you may see broken stall fronts, doors that no longer work or mismatched stall fronts.

If your current barn strays from your fantasy, don’t despair! With a little time and effort, you can replace those old stalls or install new stalls in a stall-less shed or barn. Soon, you’ll be walking down the beautiful barn aisle of your dreams.

Step 1: Decide What You Need

Before you pick up the sledge hammer to demolish existing stalls or head off to buy lumber, figure out what you need and want in your new stalls. If you are replacing existing stalls, decide whether you need to replace the entire stall or only the stall fronts. If the dividing stall walls are in good repair or only need minor repairs, you can save time and money by leaving them in place and only replacing your stall fronts.

If you want to add stalls to a shed or barn that previously didn’t have stalls, Charlie Poore of Quickstalls, Inc. (www.quickstalls.com) recommends getting out some paper and a pencil and drawing your barn and plotting the layout of the stalls. Come up with a few different layouts to consider. If you aren’t sure which layout you like best, get stakes and string and plot your preferred layout. Walk through it a few times to get the feel for where walls and doors will be and whether the layout works for you.

When deciding what you need, consider both your current and future needs. For example, if your goal is to eventually purchase a stallion, include a stallion-safe stall now. If you plan on foaling out mares in the future, either install broodmare stalls or build stalls with easily removable dividers so that you can turn two regular box stalls into one large foaling stall.

Also think about future resale value: don’t build stalls smaller than 10 x 10 feet, as that will limit buyers if you have to sell your property. Also, avoid installing stalls anyplace where the ceiling will be less than eight feet tall (10 to 12 feet is best).

Step 2: Decide Whether to Build From Scratch or Buy a Kit

Next, you need to decide whether to build stalls from scratch or to purchase prefabricated stalls (also called stall kits). Building your own stalls saves money and lets you customize the stalls to your barn and farm. However, it takes a lot of time, construction skills and the right tools. So if you’ve never built anything before, using stall kits might be a better option.

Stall kits cost more than building your own stall, but they’re much easier to install. They come in two basic forms: support post stalls and modular or portable stalls. Support post stalls get strength from posts set into the barn floor or ground so you’ll need to install the support posts first. Most manufacturers recommend using at least 4 x 4-inch posts set a minimum of three feet into the ground. Support post stall kits come in different forms, but most require you to fit together several pieces before installing them. They also normally do not come with the lumber for the stall, so you’ll have to purchase that separately, cut it to the right length, and slide it into metal channels in the stall.

Modular stalls don’t need support posts; they come in panels that are held together by brackets. They can be installed in a barn using brackets to attach them to existing walls, or they can be used as free-standing portable stalls that can be moved and reconfigured (the panels are heavy and require more than one person to move). Some portable stall kits include four complete stall walls that must be snapped together with brackets, while others require more assembly.

When purchasing stall kits, modular stalls or the materials to build your own, Charlie Poore says the biggest mistakes he sees are people who make decisions based on price, not need. “Look at the quality of the materials. Heavier, thicker materials will hold up better.” Quality costs more up front, but it lasts longer and keeps your horses safer than flimsy materials. Dave Goossens of Country Manufacturing Inc. (www.country­manufacturing.com) adds that you need to purchase materials suitable for your area. “Black steel should only be used in low-humidity climates,” he says. “Use galvanized steel if you live in an area with high humidity, and aluminum if you live near the coast where salt in the air is a problem.” He also adds that properly dried tongue and groove lumber is best. Fresh lumber that isn’t well dried will shrink over time, leaving gaps and bowed wood in your stall walls.

Step 3: Installation Time

When installing stalls, it’s important to take time to do the job properly. It’s common to underestimate the amount of time it will take, so double your estimate to give yourself plenty of leeway. Rushing through stall construction results in mistakes that cost you time and may also mean you have to buy new materials.

If you are building stalls from scratch, use stakes and string lines to lay out the design of the stalls before you start construction. Measure everything at least twice to make sure you get the right length, and use string levels to make sure your lines are straight and level. Before you begin construction, walk around the stake and string design to make sure everything is laid out in its proper place.

If you are using a stall kit, Poole recommends laying out the pieces of the kit and making sure they’re all there before getting started. Then review the instructions or assembly photos, and make sure your kit comes with a photo of what the stall should look like when finished. If you have questions about the instructions, call the company to clarify before you start assembling your stall.

Once you start assembling or building, measure any cuts you must make twice, and check every edge with a level at least twice before nailing or screwing things together. Using the level gives you even edges and helps make sure your stalls are square. Dave Goossens warns that if your header board (top board on the front of the stall) is not square, the door may not slide properly, so it is important to get that installed correctly. He says that’s one of the biggest mistakes people make.

Once the stalls are done, take a minute or two to step back and admire your work. You’ll be proud of your barn each time you walk down the aisle—and even prouder knowing you did the work to make the barn look great.

Stall Kit Manufacturers

Most stall kit manufacturers ship anywhere in the continental United States. However, shipping can be quite expensive, so check with local companies first. Then check to see if other companies have dealers near you. This list is just a sample of the companies that offer stall supplies.

• AG-CO, www.ag-co.com, 1-800-522-2426

• Armour Companies, www.armourgates.com, 1-800-876-7706

• Country Manufacturing, Inc., www.countrymfg.com, (740) 694-9926

• Innovative Equine Systems, www.equinesystems.com, 1-800-888-9921

• Priefert Ranch Equipment, www.priefert.com, 1-800-527-8616

• Quick Stalls, Inc., www.quickstalls.com, (505) 453-4322

• Tractor Supply, www.tractorsupply.com, 1-877-718-6750

• Triton Barn Systems, www.tritonbarns.com, 1-800-918-6795