Stall Confinement

Take a look at stalling a horse vs. keeping a horse on pasture through the winter.

Take a look at stalling a horse vs. keeping a horse on pasture through the winter.


For spring, summer and fall, I usually keep my horse out to pasture all day and all night. He has a covered shelter, and with our moderate weather during those seasons, he stays quite comfortable.

However, every year I always ask myself, “Should I keep my horse in a stall this winter, or should I keep him out to pasture?”

Are they any negative effects from keeping a horse stalled during the winter? Or am I better off keeping him outside?


There are several benefits to keeping a horse stalled, but there are also many benefits to turning a horse out to pasture.

Horses exposed to dust from feed and bedding or other irritating sources such as diesel or gas exhaust have an increased incidence of inflammatory airway disease, commonly referred to as “heaves.” Therefore, it is critical that not only the barn, but each stall has good ventilation and ample air changes per minute.

Also, research has shown that stall confinement is associated with the majority of impaction colics. Of course, feeding high-concentrate diets, making sudden changes in feeding programs and limited access to clean water are also significant causes. If a horse must be confined, minimize the amount of grain fed, allowing free choice to good-quality hay, and provide the opportunity to exercise to reduce not only the incidence of colic but also the incidence of gastric ulcers. In addition, fiber digestibility increases up to 20 percent in exercised horses, which in turn decreases the incidence of impaction colics.

Learn the causes, signs and treatments of stomach ulcers in AQHA’s FREE report, Stomach Ulcers in Horses.

Also, horses are social animals and experience a number of behavioral problems when isolated and confined. They also have a strong need to exercise and can become increasingly frustrated when not allowed daily free exercise. Many behavior studies have found that the prevention of movement (exercise), social interaction with other horses and grazing causes horses to develop behavioral problems such as weaving and cribbing. They also have a tendency to misbehave during handling, training or trailer loading, which can lead to injuries to the horse as well as its handler or rider.

If you stall your horse, consider the effect this situation might have on his general health and emotional state. Explore alternatives to balance confinement time with turnout, exercise and grazing time to optimize his health and performance.

— Dr. Thomas R. Lenz
Past President of the American Association of Equine Practitioners

Read more about stall confinement Dr. Lenz’s Horse Health column in the December 2011 issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal.

14 thoughts on “Stall Confinement”

  1. I think that your horse should be stalled at night and turned out all day. All of my 20 horses are on that schedule and none of them weave, kick or misbehave, plus they stay warm!

  2. My horse has been stabled for 4 out of the 8 years that I’ve had her. Summer AND winter. The first 4 years I had her she has summer turnout only, and then one summer she decided enough was enough, and ran to the gate and up and down the fence line so badly we had to bring her in. We have tried a few times to put her out since then, but always with the same effects on her. She just hates it. I am trying one last time this Spring as I have moved yards and she might prefer it here.
    Keeping her in has made her happy, and she certainly hasn’t developed any stable vices from it!

  3. I keep my horses out year round. They have shelter to go in of course and when it’s storming bad or really, really cold I do put them inside our barn. I have very few problems out of my horses apart from the occasional cut or scrape. They are happy out in the field 🙂

  4. I have for 20 years during the summer kept horses inside during the day and out at night. 12 hours each. Then in winter reverse that. They get enough exercise to get rid of that pent up energy and have enough social interaction with other horses. This way when it comes time to ride or hand they are in a better frame of mind. Also then distinguish free time from work time easily. The best laxitive and digestive tract ingredient is live grass. Oh course in moderation.

  5. Our horses are never stalled. Horses are meant to be outside and at least in our two cases, they’re easy keepers and air ferns. I can understand stabling a horse who can’t keep weight on during severe storms in winter, but ours are fat and happy all year long. And because they are out with their herd, they are easy to work with; they are happy to be saddled and go jumping in the arena or cross country course or just hack around, bright-eyed with their ears up. The gelding couldn’t care less about stalling but the mare hates it and she would be miserable in confinement.

  6. We turn our broodmares out during the day, no matter what. They have shelter but are free to roam around. At night we put them in their stalls and they are very happy. They know their stalls are their “safe” place at night and that helps when foaling time comes. Moving around outside in cold weather is a positive thing for a horse!

  7. I personally keep my horses in stall corral combo but they do get let out daily into the pasture to move around unless it is really storming. I think depending on what you do with your horses will make your decision for you. Its very hard to keep your show horses up nicley when they are hairy and full of mud. If they are in the pasture summer or winter I feel they should always have a place to come in if they choose. If they decide to stand out thats fine just so they have the choice.

  8. I keep my horse in a semi barn so she has a box stall and a large corral with shared fence lines. This to me is the best of both worlds. Especially since pastures in Southern California are limited and VERY expensive! I tried a box stall but my mare became depressed. I think socialization with other horses is absolutely necessary.

  9. I have two horses. They are out all year round. They have a lean-to. I love having them out there. I know my one mare would love having a stall since she’s always in that shed but my other little Arab cross cannot and will not be in a stall, even if she is in a stall for an hour and I go to ride her she is the worst. And the funny thing is she never goes in the shed. My girls wear blankets in the winter just because its the two of them and I know being in WI they can’t keep eachother warm enough. I know they are happy being outside.

  10. At the barn where I board, the back door of the horses’ stalls open to pasture. They are brought into their stalls morning and evening for feeding, or if there is some reason they would need to be kept inside (injury, vet or farrier appointment, etc). Other times they have 24/7 turnout, year round. They are blanketed according to owner’s preferences about weather conditions. Some of us blanket pretty heavily in winter……my mare always has a blanket (light or medium) with a lined rain sheet over it. If it’s fairly mild, she may only have the rainsheet. Just like for people, several layers are more insulating than just one heavy layer. She doesn’t get a heavy winter coat, no matter if she is left unblanketed and it gets cold. She is 17, and has some arthritis, and it seems to bother her less when she stays warm. She never gets sick, never is sweaty under her blankets, and never rubs or acts as if she is uncomfortable. Plus she stays clean, which is a great help to my allergies! I think I also am inclined to spend way more time riding and interacting with her in the winter because she is clean and dry! My vet says that for us, this is what works and it is perfectly healthy. I love that she has the option to go out, because she can move around with her herd, and her legs don’t get puffy. She is also excellent whenever she is stalled, I think because she is overall well-exercised and content.

  11. My four horses also have the option to be in or out. They almost always prefer to be out, rain or snow. Only one of them prefers being in when it rains. They love playing in the snow, the deeper the better.

  12. A broken-down, 3rd generation Montana cowboy ‘splained to me that horses don’t like the sound of rain on overhead structures. So they stand out in the rain.

  13. Horses Require Movement to properly digest feeds, and Hays. Stall confinement is detrimental to ALL Horses Helath-As horses Slow down-Move less-SO does Digestion-NOT a good thing in Horses! As well as Behavioural issues also-Stalls are unnatural-Its like You sitting in a 10 x 12 for the next 12 hrs-JAIL

  14. How do you or can u settle a herd bond horse when u take the other away ,becomes very upset n tries to break down stall

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