What is the difference between a field shelter and a stable?

Sunday 5th January, 2014

Before looking at the differences between a field shelter and a stable, it is useful to consider how horses live and their fundamental needs and life styles. Generally horses live either in the open, but with access to some form of shelter from the weather, or alternatively they may be kept in a stable.

Although horses can be fairly tough animals, they have a number of basic needs. The need access to shelter from the wind and rain, and shade for when the sun is very intense. They also need plenty of space for exercise and to run, along with access to clean fresh water and hay or grass for forage.

Field shelter

A field shelter is designed to provide warmth and dryness for your horse in the winter and shade in the summer, while the horse spends as much time as it wishes to in the open field. The shelter can also provide an area for feeding and storing hay.

Although a field shelter can be a simple construction, it must be stable and strong enough to withstand the elements including very strong winds otherwise there could be a serious danger of injury. Neither can it be simply installed and forgotten about; it needs frequent attention and should be mucked out on a daily basis.

Field shelters may be fixed in one location, or they can be mobile. An advantage of mobile field shelters is that they can be moved around according to weather conditions, drainage and to allow grass to recover.

Although horses grow an extra coat of hair to help keep them warm in the winter, if their only protection is a shelter then in the really cold weather you might consider providing them with a rug, but if you do just don’t put a rug on then and forget about it. You should remove it every day to allow the air to circulate and make sure that it isn’t causing any skin or hair problems. Also make sure that it isn’t making the horse too hot.

Another important thing to consider in cold weather is that when water freezes you horse loses access to water, so always ensure that you break the ice every morning.


The alternative to a field shelter is to keep your horse indoors in a stable. Typically a stable is a well ventilated building that contains separate stalls so that horses can be stabled together, but with separate living waters. In addition to the living space for the horses, stables have feeding areas, areas to store tack and equipment, and possibly in larger stables an area for washing and treating the horses.

As well as providing the horse with shelter in the winter an additional benefit of stables is that you are better able to take care of his needs and provide him with food and water as necessary.

In order to provide the needs of your horse that were mentioned above, for instance as exercise, you should never leave him in a stable all day long. To do so is bad for the horse both physically and mentally; he will get bored and restless and likely to do damage to his surroundings as well as injuring himself. It is very important to turn him out for at least part of the day.

Naturally it is more expensive to keep your horse in a barn rather than providing a field shelter, but it does have a number of advantages. It is easier to groom your horse in a barn, to monitor its feed, and to generally take care of it. Some people consider that it is healthier to use a field shelter as barns and higher levels of dust and, especially those that aren’t adequately ventilated, pollutants such as ammonia which together can result in respiratory problems.

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