A Little Shelter

For horses who live outside 24/7, a run-in provides necessary protection from the elements. Here we review the different options and how to consruct one yourself.

Run-in sheds are perhaps more beneficial than you might think. In his book “Horses and Horsemanship,” M.E. Ensminger states that “horses kept in an open shed, even in colder areas, are healthier and suffer fewer respiratory diseases than horses kept in enclosed barns.” Run-in sheds are not only less expensive than barns for the horse professional—they have benefits for the physical and mental health for horses, too. For these reasons, unless horses need to be confined because they are being shown or are sick or injured, it can make good sense to let them be outdoors.

In order for a shed to provide shelter from the elements it must be in the right location: well drained, level, convenient to main buildings and roads, and facing away from prevailing winds.

The size of the shed depends on the size and number of horses. The rule of thumb is 60 to 80 square feet per 1000-pound horse. The shed should be at least 24 feet deep to protect the horse from wind, rain and snow. The front height should be at least 10 feet and the back, eight feet.


The open-front shed is probably the most common design. The roof and sides are not usually insulated unless to prevent condensation. Cross-ventilation can be achieved by leaving small openings between the top of the back wall and the roofline. Drop down panels in the back or on the sides will provide added ventilation during the summer, and in the winter the panels can be raised to protect the horses from the cold. A partial closed front gives extra protection in cold and windy weather.

A simple Quonset-style hut made from heavy tarp stretched over a frame is the least expensive pasture shelter and is easy to construct. It is ideal for a temporary or portable shelter. For small horses and ponies, the frame can be made from hog panels arched between t-posts driven in the ground. Secure the panels to the posts at ground level, and then stretch the tarp over the panels. The back can be left open in summer for cross ventilation, and covered with another tarp in winter to block the wind.

This type of shelter is not very sturdy and won’t hold up against heavy winds, rain and snow. But as a temporary solution, it can be cost-effective.

Several prefab barn companies offer the shed row design. A stable plan can be adapted for a run-in by simply leaving off the front wall and doors. Many pre-fabricated sheds are easy to assemble yourself and can be taken apart and relocated.

Whatever the design, the shed must be constructed so that it will support itself, the winds that put pressure on it, and the weight of snow. The Mid West Plan Service’s “Horse Hand­book” has valuable information on building open-front shelters. This manual and other helpful information is available from county cooperative extension services. Before beginning construction of a run-in shed check to see what permits are required, what zoning regulations may affect your plans and what codes you must follow.


Structural lumber, plywood, and pressed board are the traditional materials used for building a run-in shed. Exterior wood should be treated with a preservative to prevent rotting—especially standing timbers that will be set in the ground, or siding near or at ground level. Painting or staining the run-in shed adds to its appearance and increases the life of the building. Choose exterior paints that are made for the material used. It is also important to choose lead-free and non-toxic paints and stains on places where horses might chew or lick the surface.

Pressed wood or hardboard comes in four-foot wide panels up to 16-feet long and in various thicknesses. The wood fibers are bonded in a type of resin and pressed into the panels, so there is not a grain. It comes in both tempered and standard forms. The tempered panels resist moisture and can be used on exterior walls.

Plywood is created by bonding several thin sheets of wood together. It also comes in a variety of grades and designs; choose exterior plywood for a run-in shed.

Metal is the preferred material for roofs, and can be used for the entire building as well. Rust will deteriorate steel sheeting unless it is galvanized (a zinc coating) or painted. Other metals may not rust, but can undergo other damage by weather or corrosion. Aluminum roofing is a good choice in hotter regions since it reflects the sunlight better than galvanized steel.

The strength of metal roofing and siding depends on its thickness. Siding needs to be built of a thicker material than roofing. For extra strength, the inside of the metal walls can be lined with plywood as an extra precaution against a horse kicking through the walls and injuring a leg.

Concrete block is an attractive and strong material to use. The blocks come in several sizes and shapes and are made of various materials. Laying block takes special know-how, so the cost of labor must be considered if you do not possess those skills.

Puck board is a high-density plastic like that used in hockey rinks. Chinook Stalls uses this product in its prefabricated buildings. The company reports that so far no horse has kicked through the puck board walls. The material flexes rather than breaking on impact from a horse’s kick. This material may also be purchased for the do-it-yourselfer.

Many of the fabric arena manufacturers also offer pasture shelters in varying sizes. These structures?are designed to stand up to the elements and are relatively easy to install and be moved.

Whether you construct one yourself or purchase a pre-fabricated unit, a run-in shelter offers an ideal solution for horses who spend most of their time outside—and they are relatively cheap and easy to build.






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