Cattle housing that has been designed to create a healthy environment to prevent pneumonia is ideal for conversion because internal stable partitions are easily erected to make loose boxes.
The key is to ensure adequate ventilation without draughts because horses hate standing in a draught, says ADAS senior equine consultant Geoff Fairfoull, who is based near Oxford.
“Air speeds where the horse is standing should be less than 0.15m/second.
The problem is that a loose box is quite confined – usually a space 12ft square – making it hard for a horse to choose to stand out of a draught.
But a livestock building that has been designed to create healthy conditions for cows should be good for horses.
The stocking density will be much less, so ventilation shouldn’t be an issue,” he says.
Mr Fairfoull says horses tend to be more prone to respiratory disorders such as coughs or dust allergies.
This is partly physiological (they have a greater lung capacity), but also because they are exercised, making it easier to spot respiratory problems.
So the objective of good ventilation is to remove stale air contaminated with dust particles, mould spores and ammonia without causing draughts at horse height.
Stables should have four air changes an hour, drawing fresh air in and pushing stale air out every 15 minutes at low speed.
“The stack effect for livestock is the same for horses:
You need a big height difference between the air inlet and outlet so that warm stale air can rise and leave the building.
Wind across the ridge helps suck air out.”
Ex-dairy cow housing tends to have large access doors, which could create air flow problems, as they are often left wide open or shut, with no options in-between.
Mr Fairfoull suggests some form of windbreaker mesh screen can be used instead.
“They allow air in, but with slow movement.
Certainly you need to avoid high speed draughts down a central passageway.”
He also advises producers not to cram too many loose boxes into a shed.
“Wide passages between stables are needed so owners can manoeuvre horses, turn them round and attend to them outside their loose boxes.
Also make space for tack, rugs and other equipment – again, this helps the overall appearance and makes it look inviting.
Having everything under cover makes it more pleasant, particularly in winter.”
One downside is that older livestock housing often lacks natural light.
Cleaning or replacing roof lights (make sure you take safety precautions, though) or fitting extra electrical lights helps create a better housing environment for horses.
It also makes a better working environment for the horse owner, adds Mr Fairfoull.
“People do things with their horses and need light to see.
It’s also about the owner’s perception of stabling:
Light and bright is more appealing.”