Considerations When Building a Therapeutic Riding Facility

Here are some important factors from Horizon Structures to consider when designing a therapeutic riding facility.

Equestrian facilities run the gamut in form and function, but not every design is best suited to the special needs of riders, volunteers and teachers who participate at a therapeutic riding facility. Courtesy Horizon Structures

Equestrian facilities run the gamut in form and function, but not every design is best suited to the special needs of riders, volunteers and teachers who participate at a therapeutic riding facility.

While it is always possible to renovate an existing horse farm for the safety and security of special needs users and their support team, if this use is contemplated in advance of the build, it is cost efficient to incorporate some extra features in the original design plans.

Here’s a look at a few of the important factors to implement in the equine facility structure and design that is to be purposed for therapeutic riding.


Obviously, clear access at entrances for wheelchairs to viewing rooms, barn aisles, bathrooms and mounting areas is essential. While the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] defines entrance widths should be 32 inches from the door’s face to the opposite stop, it is not unusual for certain wheelchairs to be as wide as 40 inches. A 48-inch-wide doorway is an optimal width that will accommodate all needs.

All doorways will ideally offer a level surface for transition from one room or area to another without a raised threshold. Small fixed ramps each side of a raised threshold can minimize the energy needed to navigate into and around the building.

Smooth, level floors made of concrete or similar materials without the placement of rugs will not only be easier to clean, but also will ensure free wheel movement across the ground. Similarly, barn aisleways should be rubber bricked or concrete floors with mats of minimum thickness.

For safety, the aisleways should be designed slightly wider than the average 12 feed, and cross-tying horses in the aisleways should be limited to a specific area of the barn away from key entry points for visitors and/or a grooming stall/station provided.

The aisleways should be kept clear of tack trunks and other equipment to ensure visitors don’t have to navigate an obstacle course. Tack fixtures for halters and equipment should be accessible at a maximum of 48 inches above the ground.

It is also important to construct ramps and railings to a sturdy mounting block platform that can be safely navigated with assistance as needed.

For the comfort of all patrons, the equestrian facility should incorporate a bathroom that meets ADA standards, including a panic button, hand railings, free-standing sinks, etc. Panic buttons can also be added at the correct height in other areas of the building, such as the mounting platform.

Clearly marked and permanently lit exit signs are a requirement for any commercial equestrian facility. Ensure that these exits are wide enough and user friendly for the wheelchair users and their support person.

Safe Areas

While a designated viewing room to an indoor or outdoor ring is not a necessity, it can provide a useful staging point for all visitors and can do double duty as a gathering point for special events. It will provide a safe and secure environment for the support team of family, volunteers and participants in the therapeutic riding program, and it keeps everyone warm in winter and shaded in summer.

For outdoor arenas, ensure that fencing is sturdy and secure to keep horse and rider within, but adapt areas for open viewing so those that cannot see above the fence do not have to peer between boards.

It is also essential to provide shade for the “collecting” or viewing area. An open pavilion or pergola style outdoor structure is not only budget-friendly, but it also allows for variant and larger numbers of people at one time without the need for folks to navigate doors and move within a confined interior space. A pavilion or pergola can also be constructed level to the surrounding site. Consider adding a traffic-friendly ground surface such as pavers or concrete.

Ensure that the windows of any viewing area are set low enough and wide enough to maximize viewing at wheelchair height. Utilize as much space as possible for the room to facilitate easy maneuvering within the area. All windows should be made of shatterproof glass.

While it might be tempting to construct ground to ceiling windows, for the safety of riders, horses and spectators, it is better to provide a solid wall at the base of the windows. A low, 15-inch “kneewall” can offer maximum viewing for the wheelchair user but will not protect the horse and rider on the other side of the windows from risk of injury. To accomplish maximum safety, raising the kneewall height of the window wall while distancing the riding area from this wall with a see-through but well-built fence is advised.

Also consider that all “operable parts” such as switches, outlets, etc., are within the 48”/15” height range throughout the visitor areas.

There are many technical solutions such as smart control interfaces using Google Alexa or Apple Siri voice recognition that can be extremely helpful to visually impaired users.


Provision of a proper parking area for the larger vehicles that will transport handicapped visitors and their equipment is essential.

While the ADA-suggested space for each parking slot is at least 96 inches wide with a 96-inch wide loading access aisle, it is helpful to increase these sizes if possible to provide more ease of parking and access. Placement of designated parking areas with an abundance of turnaround/backup area is much appreciated by the drivers of these larger vehicles.

The parking area should be as close as possible to the entry point of the facility and should be illuminated at night.

Think Ahead

Both humans and horses appreciate large, light and airy spaces to live and work. Natural light lifts the mood and good ventilation provides health and comfort.

Anticipate the extra needs that a therapeutic riding facility will need to accommodate that are set forth by the ADA guidelines. Considerations should include the planned activities the facility will entertain in the future. For example, areas where hands-on grooming or interaction out of the saddle might take place will require additional considerations for students with special needs, such as blindness, deafness and physical/mental disabilities.

Consider the need for quiet spaces, braille light switches, charging ports for medical equipment and seating alongside wheelchair locations, all of which will be much appreciated by visitors to the center.

And remember, it is always more cost efficient to incorporate these special requirements during construction than after. Due diligence with regard to ADA provisions and local permits and stipulations are best addressed ahead of the build. Don’t be shy to consult with a seasoned barn building company for design ideas and resource other therapeutic riding school owners for advice.

About Horizon Structures

One horse or 20, there’s one thing all horse owners have in common—the need to provide safe and secure shelter for their equine partners. At Horizon Structures, we combine expert craftsmanship, top-of-the-line materials and smart, “horse-friendly” design to create a full line of sheds and barns that horse owners can feel confident in choosing for their horses’ stabling needs.

All wood. Amish Made. Most of our buildings are shipped 100% pre-built and ready for same-day use. Larger barns are a modular construction and can be ready for your horses in less than a week. All our barn packages include everything you need.

Horizon Structures also sells chicken coops, equine hay feeders, greenhouses, dog kennels, 1- and 2-car garages, storage sheds and outdoor living structures and playsets.

Headquartered in South-Central Pennsylvania, Horizon Structures, LLC, is owned by Dave Zook. Dave was raised in the Amish tradition and grew up working in the family-owned shed business. He started Horizon Structures in 2001 in response to an ever-increasing customer demand for high-quality, affordable horse barns.

For additional information about the company or their product line, please visit their website at

This article was written for Horizon Structures by Nikki Alvin-Smith.






"*" indicates required fields

The latest from Stable Management, the #1 resource for horse farm and stable owners, managers and riding instructors, delivered straight to your inbox.

Additional Offers

Additional Offers
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.