Building a horse barn? Start with the right site


STILLWATER, Okla. — As this winter’s snow melts, a number of equine owners will get a firsthand view of less-than-stellar drainage around their horse barns.

One of the most important concerns for a building site is water drainage, which includes water flowing to the building site as well as water moving away from the barn.

Starts with site

“Many horse owners do not adequately select and prepare a barn building site to handle water runoff because of the added costs of site preparation,” said Dave Freeman, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension equine specialist.

Costs of additional dirt for the building foundation and contractor costs for leveling and shaping the ground can be substantial.

“Unfortunately for horse owners and their animals, the barn will not be fully functional without preparing for excess drainage,” Freeman said.

Improperly-selected sites promote poor drainage from stalls, water standing in and around the barn and soil erosion around the barn.

He said properly selected locations will be elevated to have an overall slope of 2 percent to 6 percent — that is 2 feet to 6 feet of fall per 100 feet — within the barn floor, 8 inches to 12 inches above ground level.

Water runoff must be contained so it does not promote erosion or contaminate water sources.

Manure storage

Proper manure storage and growth of pasture vegetation also can help reduce contamination and erosion from water runoff.

Freeman said manure storage areas should be large enough to store manure until it can be properly removed when field and weather conditions, as well as local regulations, permit.

He also recommends horse owners consider subsurface drainage around all foundations to prevent erosion caused by water runoff from the barn roof, wash racks and other water-use facilities.

Over time, it is typical for erosion to drop the level of the floor in the barn and stalls.

No ‘quick’ erosion fixes

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of “quick fixes” when barn or stall floors are lower than the surrounding area.

“Hopefully, additional material such as clay soils can be brought in to help alleviate some of the problem,” Freeman said.

Stall floors

“If you’re redoing stall floors, be sure to place porous materials such as gravel beneath the dirt flooring. The flooring should be graded with a small slope and be packable, hence the frequent use of a clay base for the stall.”

Horse owners have a number of choices as to the flooring’s top level, but shavings or some product that helps collect moisture so it does not percolate through the clay are common selections. These types of materials are usually available at a reasonable cost.

“In most cases, we’re talking about 4 inches to 6 inches of porous material to be covered with similar levels of a ‘packable base,'” Freeman said. “Shavings or other materials would be placed on that base.”

French drains

Horse owners also should not overlook the possible advantage of employing French drains around the barn. “Basically, French drains are troughs of porous materials that allow moisture that percolates through soil an opportunity and direction to move,” Freeman said.

“Redirection can be an extremely useful land management tool when it comes to barn habitability, depending on the area around the structure.”


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  1. Good that you mentioned drainage. It’s usually not thought about until after the barn is built and the ground turns to mush. I’ve been researching fixing my drainage problems. Found this guide with instructions on building a French Drain that is very good.


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