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What's involved in building stables?

Stables are quite often the first thing that comes to mind for somebody keeping horses, after all like us, they all need somewhere to shelter and sleep. Whether you’re building from scratch or converting an existing building into stables cost is always going to be one of the deciding factors, but the comfort of your horse and quality of the work should also be one of the main deciding factors as well.

Conversion or new build?

If you’ve got some existing buildings that could be converted to use as stables, that’s always a good starting point, and in many cases using an existing building can be quite a cost effective way of creating stables. Many farm buildings can be converted into looseboxes or stalls, provided that the building is structurally sound, the ceiling heights are high enough and correct ventilation is either present, or can be installed. The floors need to be sound and even and the doorways need to be big enough to take a horse comfortably. If you do need to replace the floor or level it out, make sure that you still have enough headroom, not just for the horse but also to allow for good ventilation to circulate. Don’t forget to consider what the use of the existing building is, in some cases you may need to treat them for infections such as ringworm etc, before using it for horses.

However some buildings may just not be suitable or it may not be cost effective to convert them; each will have to be taken on its own merits.

Remember that from a planning point of view, that unless you can demonstrate that horses are being kept for agricultural use, stables are generally considered to be for either a recreational or commercial need, and as such, even converting the use of a building will require planning permission to be gained before it can be used as stables. It’s also worth remembering that all Planning Authorities are likely to look more favourably on an application if an existing building can be re-used for something else, particularly if the building in question is already redundant.

If a conversion isn’t a viable option then the other alternative to consider is new build

New Build

As we’ve mentioned already any new stables that aren’t for agricultural use will require planning permission. There are lots of things to consider, when you’re thinking about stables and we’d always recommend visiting other yards to try and gain a good idea about the good and bad points of different layouts, construction types and also stable manufacturer. If you can, go and see stables that are a few years old, that way you can also get a good idea of stable quality and wear and tear.

Position

Of course there are planning issues to consider with the position of a new stable or stable block, and like everything involving a planning application a great deal of thought needs to go into the visual and sometimes environmental impact on the surrounding area and your neighbours. Even if you are proposing to build a new stable in the middle of the countryside and nowhere near your neighbours, having the ability to ‘tuck’ a stable block into the corner of a field, being built close to other existing buildings or having them screened by trees or the lie of the land, would tend to be looked at more favourably from a planning point of view.

You should give some thought to its security as well, being able to see the stables from either your house or from other buildings that are in use, is always a good idea. Try not to have the doors and windows facing into the prevailing winds, but also try to ensure that both you and your horses can see each other as you approach the front of the building, don’t position the doors in such a way that the horses can’t see you until you come round the corner. Some horses can become excited when they can see traffic from a road; this seems to be particularly true of hunting breeds, so you may also want to consider facing your stables away from a road as well.

You should consider the supply of water, electricity and drainage to the stable as well, and in simple terms, the further away from the existing services, the more expensive it’s likely to be to connect them; this is particularly true if you intend to have your water and electricity connected to separate metered supply. Of course you could always consider rainwater harvesting, bore holes, solar power or generators, for water and electricity as well as mains supplies.

If your stables are to be built on a Greenfield site, then remember to give some thought about vehicular access to them, particularly for feed deliveries etc. 

Obviously the base of the stable needs to be flat, so if you are going to build your stables on the slope of a hill, more excavation and fill is likely to be required where you cut into the slope to create a level surface, than if you build it on a flat or level surface to start with. If you’re considering building stables in a dip, you’ll need to make sure that flooding isn’t likely to be an issue as well.

Size

The size of each individual stable box can vary depending upon the size of horse you intend to keep.

You’ll find most stable suppliers will provide stables in a range of different sizes, to suit different sizes and breeds of horse. Opinions do tend to vary a little about the size of stable required for different breeds or sizes of horse and generally stable sizes are given in imperial measurements rather than metric. As a rule of thumb a stable that measures 12’ x 10’ is suitable for a pony, 12’ x 12’ is suitable for horses up to around 16.2hh and 12’ x 14’ or 14’ x 14’ for horses more than 16.2hh; for very large horses or for foaling, then consider boxes around 16’ x 16’. Doorways should be 4’ wide and for horses over 14.2hh, then the doorways should really be 7’ tall however for very large horses, then consider doorways as high as 7’6” tall.

Layout

The layout of a stable block really depends on each persons individual needs and preferences, as we’ve mentioned above, it’s always a good idea to visit other yards so you can get other peoples views of the things to consider. Generally for small numbers of stables, most people choose either a straight run, or a small L shape, whereas larger numbers of stables different layouts can also be considered. If your new block is to include tack rooms and feed stores, then their position also needs to be considered as well. Horses are social animals, so it’s usually a good idea to position boxes next to each other, with the tack room and feed store at the end of the layout arrangement. If you’re intending to provide different box sizes and have an L shape arrangement, then it’s usual to position the larger size box in the corner.

Give some thought to the headroom inside the boxes, some stable manufacturers use roof trusses to create the roof, where the ceiling rafters go across the box at roughly door head height and some manufacturers provide full head height right up to the ridge of the roof. Also consider the size of the canopy overhangs outside the box, both of these points could be quite important if you have a larger horse, or want to take you horse out of its box to groom.

Comfort

The stable and it’s roof should be designed to give good ventilation, without causing draughts and ideally keep temperatures below 15 degrees C, in general terms horses can tolerate cold temperatures much better than higher temperatures,

Badly designed stables can become unhealthily hot in the summer and dank and oppressive in the winter. In general terms horses can tolerate lower temperatures much better than they can higher temperatures so the ability to keep temperatures low in summer is paramount. In winter when temperatures are lower, condensation can be a problem, but if the stables are ventilated correctly then it should be possible to keep condensation at bay. A well designed stable will have good ventilation, without causing draughts.

A vaulted ceiling will allow for more headroom and also improve the stable’s ventilation and if the ceiling is timber clad as well, this will also reduce the chance of condensation becoming a problem.

The floor should slope slightly, so that any liquids flow to one side of the box, this will help to keep the bedding as dry as possible, which in turn will also help reduce the chances of a build up of ammonia, which will affect the horse’s respiratory system.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, horses are social animals and generally like to be in sight of each other. Some owners like to have talking grills between the individual boxes, if you intend to do this, try not to have them close to mangers or feeding troughs, as horses tend not to like being disturbed whilst they’re eating.

Ideally the roof should overhang the front of the boxes by a minimum of around 3’, this will keep the horses dry when it’s raining and also provide shade. If you want to carryout your grooming outside of the box, but still under shelter, then you may want to consider increasing this overhang.

Try and avoid building your stables underneath trees as these can disturb horses in stormy weather.

Quality/Specification

Some people think that one stable has got to be much like another, and aren’t aware of what to look for to determine the difference. Hopefully by the time you get to this stage, you’ll have visited a few yards and will have been able to see some of the differences between the stables for yourself, it can be quite useful to get the view of others over this. As we’ve mentioned earlier, costs are obviously a priority, and most people will endevour to get the best value from any purchase, but please try and make sure that whilst considering the cost that you aren’t compromising on safety or your horses comfort. The old adage of you get what you pay for is still generally true, which in turn means that the higher the quality or higher the specification, then generally speaking, the higher the cost.

There are a large number of stable manufacturers available to pick from and sometimes it can be quite a process to compare specifications between them. We’ve put together a list of things to consider when making these comparisons, some of which may take some research to get hold of the information, but we feel it’ll be worthwhile getting – as ever it’s not intended to be an exhaustive list, but it is intended to help.

Good things to look out for are comparisons between the overall sizes of the boxes – some manufacturers standard size boxes are slightly different to others; comparisons on the roof height and design and whether roof trusses are present or not. Check out the section sizes and the spacing of the main structural timbers, Compare whether the external cladding is weather boarding or tongue and groove and compare their thickness as well. Compare the sizes of the doors, the section sizes of the door timbers and also check out the extent and thickness of the kick boarding inside the box. If you can also make sure you know what timber is treated and what it is treated with. Take a good look at the quality of the door and window fittings, such as hinges, catches, locks, etc and check out whether or not guttering and downspouts are included. It’s also a good idea to check out the actual quality of the timber being used, some manufacturers use poorer quality timber that is full of splits or knots, which can lead to obvious problems in the future – although these are generally the cheaper manufacturers on the market.

We’ve mentioned ventilation a number of times already; so please make sure you’re happy with the amount of ventilation that you’re proposing to have in the new box. The different manufacturers offer different amounts of ventilation as standard.

When you finally get down to cross referencing prices to specification, please make sure that you are comparing the prices of the different manufacturers like for like. All too often we hear people tell us that they thought something was included, but they ended up paying extra for it, this is particularly true of vaulted ceilings, additional ventilation, kickboards and gutters and downspouts.

We would always recommend that you try and get the highest specification and quality you can afford with any building purchase, you don’t want to be spending a lot of time and money on ongoing maintenance once the buildings are a few years old, you’ll want them to last as long as possible before that starts to happen.

Basic Stable Construction Principles

By the time you get to the stage of building your stables, you’ll already have gone through the process of deciding what you want and where you want it, all you have to do is get it built. The principles behind building stables is the same for any building and is reasonably simple, but like with many things, if you get it wrong it can give you problems in the future.

Your new timber stables will need to be fixed down to a concrete base, so this will have to be formed first and then the stables erected on top of that.

Creating the formation level

Your stables need to be level, so the first thing that needs to be done is creating what’s known as the formation level. The overall construction thickness of a typical stable base will be around 250mm to 300mm, depending upon the final levels of the ground and your finished stable floor. It isn’t a good idea to build directly upon the existing topsoil, as this contains a lot of organic material, so we’d always recommend that this will need to be removed. Don’t dispose of the topsoil that you remove, because you can use it to ‘regulate’ around the outside of the newly constructed stables, when it’s all finished off, or carryout some landscaping elsewhere on your land, all you’ll need to do is level your topsoil and spread a little new grass seed on top to finish it all off. Try to avoid sending anything off site for disposal at a tip, because these days disposal of any material can prove to be quite expensive pastime.

Once you’ve removed the topsoil, you’ll need to get the ‘formation’ down to a relatively flat and level surface. Depending on the location and slope of the field, this may mean that you have to excavate in some areas, but fill in other areas. Don’t worry about this too much, because as long as the filled areas are compacted correctly, you shouldn’t have any problems. If you end up with excavated material left over, once the formation level has been established, you’ll need to find another home for it; if at all possible, carryout some landscaping somewhere level an uneven area of the field with it, as with the topsoil, use a tip as a last resort. In some cases, it may be a requirement of a planning approval to carryout some landscaping and your excavated material may be able to be used for that.

Once you got your formation level established, you can start on the actual build of the stable base itself.

Drainage requirements

It’s surprising how many people don’t consider this when thinking about their stable construction. The main thing to think about here is draining away the rainwater that’ll be produced from your stable roof, but sometimes you’ll also need to consider the need for any land drains around the stables as well. With the stable roof drainage, it’s a good idea to establish where your downspouts are going to finish so that you can drain them directly into an underground drainage pipe, rather than let it discharge onto the floor or existing ground.

If you can establish this point, place you underground pipes before you place your concrete and make sure that you either connect your new pipe to an existing underground drainage system, discharge it into an existing ditch, stream or other water course or discharge into a soak away. If you’re building the stables in a wet area of the field, at the bottom of a slope or in an area where you think the existing field drains maybe a problem, then it’ll be a good idea to consider placing extra field drains in the area as well, after all you don’t want the immediate area around the new stables to become a muddy sticky mess, or your new stables to be flooded

Sub-base construction

Your new stables need to be built on a solid foundation, so we’d recommend using a minimum of 150mm thick well compacted hardcore be laid on top of the formation layer, underneath the concrete base. If you are going to run drain pipes below the sub-base, even to pick up the new downspouts, always install the sub-base first before placing your pipes, because compacting the sub-base can quite often damage or break your newly laid pipes.

There are many natural or recycled aggregates that can be used for this; you just need to be sure that whichever aggregate you choose to use is clean and free from things such as clay, soil, plastics or wood. Sometimes this sub-base is known as MOT or crusher run; it basically needs to be a range of different sizes of aggregate that will consolidate when it’s compacted. We wouldn’t recommend anything larger than around 50mm diameter though as anything larger will prove harder to compact down.

Concrete base

Once the sub-base has been laid, you need to place the concrete base. The top of the concrete needs to be above the surrounding ground level, by perhaps 100mm or so, (similar in some ways to the floor of your house, being higher than the level of your garden). We’d suggest that the base needs to be slightly larger than the stables, perhaps only 50mm or so that’s all, with an apron being formed to the front of the stables, so you’ve got a good working area to the front. You’ll need to make sure that the concrete base is sloped a little – perhaps to a fall of 10mm in every 10000mm – under each individual box, so that urine doesn’t collect and your bedding stays dry. It’s also a good idea to have the outer edges of the base, sloping down towards the proposed ground level and for the front apron to slope away from the stables, just to try and divert any water away from the stables themselves. A point that is sometimes overlooked here is where you intend to fetch any water or electricity into your new stables, if you place some ducts within the concrete slab, you can fetch everything into the stables underground, which is always a good idea.

Choosing a contractor for the base construction

Some stable manufacturers offer the service of carrying out the construction of the concrete base for you, but many don’t. For those people who don’t want to use this service, or would prefer to use their own contractor instead, you need to be sure you pick somebody who will be able to carryout the work properly. You will probably find people who advertise in your local or equestrian press as groundwork’s contractors, whoever you’re considering make sure that they are experienced at working on stable bases, not just somebody who can lay concrete or lay drains, get references and check them out. As with most things, it’s a good idea to speak to others who have had work done and see if they can recommend anybody.

Stables

Once the concrete base is laid, the stables can then be erected. We’d always recommend bolting the stables down and the method of doing this depends upon your manufacturer, some bolt down directly to the new concrete base and some bolt down to the concrete base, through a course of bricks.

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