Draft Horses Section IV. —On General Management Stables

Draft Horses Section IV. —On General Management Stables

Draft Horses Section IV. —On General Management Stables Cart-horse stables are to be found presenting all gradations of construction, between the extremes of an open-ended, rude hovel, to a building fitted to shelter the best hunter in the kingdom in many localities it is customary for the farm-stables to be con- structed in the form of an open shed, accessible at all times from the straw-yard. Such an arrangement obviating the necessity for tying up the horses, and permitting free movement amongst them, is the nearest obtainable approach to the more natural pasturage, but it is averse to the proper regulation and apportionment of their food.

The following description is intended to indicate what the requirements of a good stable really are, than to portray the condition of those attached to even good farmsteads. A study of the details and principles of construction will, however, serve to guide an occupier in the adaptation of means at his command for the improvement of an old and defectively arranged building.

The site for a stable should be well drained, and the foundations dry. Damp stable floors and walls have been the ruin of many a good horse; rheumatic thickening and shortening of the tendons and ligaments, often wrongly attributed to undue strain or overwork, are not uncommon results of inhabiting damp stalls. If dryness is not obtainable by ordinary means, a vertical as well as a horizontal ‘ damp course ‘ in the walls must be adopted, and the pavement of the floor laid in cement or bituminous asphalt.

Before newly built stables are occupied, it is essential that they should be thoroughly dried, which can be most expeditiously affected by burning coke fires continuously within them for several weeks after they are roofed.

Exposed as cart horses are to sudden changes and inclemency’s of weather, they feel the effects of external cold in proportion to the warmth of the stable they inhabit. ‘ A cool stable makes a healthy horse ‘ is an ancient aphorism, but not less true than old, provided the temperature is not so low as to cause a sense of chilly discomfort to the horses after their exertions, and can be obtained without any of the occupants being exposed to direct draughts of cold air.

In the construction of a stable the grand object to be secured is capacity. The internal measurements should allow a distance of eighteen feet between the front and rear walls, and a width of not less than six feet for each single stall, to provide sufficient air space (about 1,200 cubic feet per horse). If the stable has a loft overhead, the height required is twelve feet; but if it is open to the roof, sufficient capacity may be afforded within the angle of the slopes. Many very good stables are arranged with stalls nine or ten feet wide, to accommodate a pair of horses; thus, saving a length of ten feet in a ten-horse stable.

Where breeding is conducted it is essential that there should be several sheds or loose boxes for the mares and young horses and attached to every stable the provision of a few isolated, roomy loose boxes, for sick horses, is most desirable.

Unless a stable is properly, as well as sufficiently, ventilated, the health of the horses cannot be maintained. There is a vast difference, which the owner should be able accurately to appreciate, between the warm atmosphere of a well-planned stable, and the impure air of a badly constructed and ill-considered one.

Efficiency of ventilation can only be secured by a special arrangement of openings communicating with the external air. All doors and windows should be made as tight-fitting as practicable, in order that they may not destroy or even mitigate the satisfactory results to be expected from the system adopted.

The main points for the architect to consider in devising the means of ventilation, are how he can withdraw the foul and impure atmosphere of the stable and replace it by a constant supply of fresh air, bearing in mind at the same time, that draughts directed upon the bodies and especially on the heels and legs of the horses are highly prejudicial.

To obtain the above object it must be conceded that the most perfect system would be one ensuring the removal of the vitiated air at or near the point of its maximum ventilation and supplying its place by the admission of the fresh air as far removed as possible from such point.

From experiment, I am decidedly of opinion that the exhaust shafts or flues must be more in number, but less collectively in sectional area than the inlet flues; in fact, they must be so proportioned that the flow of air into the stable shall not exceed a velocity of five feet per second. By having a greater number of outlets than inlets, and by fixing them as far as possible from each other, the current on entering the stable is diffused, and so draughts are prevented.

In the case of single stables where the horses stand all one way, a nine-inch earthenware drain-pipe carried in the form of a syphon through the rear wall, and discharging the supply vertically at or near the ground-level, will be amply sufficient whilst the outlet shafts (one for each three horses), which may be six inch iron rain-spouts, should be fixed immediately over the boskins on the front wall, care being taken that the bottoms of these pipes are level with the underside of the flooring-boards of the loft above.

These pipes should be carried through the loft and the roof and should be provided with an inverted cone as a cap to prevent rain entering the pipe; but fixed at such a height above the orifice as not to impede the upward current.

In double stables, where the horses stand back-to-back, the same principle applies; in this case the inlets are carried from the external wall under the stalls and discharge the air in the center of the gangway, both the front and rear walls being supplied with exhaust-shafts.

If this plan is adopted it will be found that a uniformly cool temperature may be maintained during the night, thus obviating the closeness many stables are subject to, especially in the early hours of the morning. If the loft above is used for the storage of hay or grain, all communication with it and the stable must be cut off or kept closed, to prevent defilement of contents of the former by exhalations from the horses and their surroundings.

Next to efficient ventilation, the paving and drainage are essential elements of stable hygiene. Stable floors should be non-slippery and non-absorbent, both which desiderata are secured by a pavement of smooth sets of York stone, or one of the many softer kinds of granite, 6 inches long by “d\ inches wide, laid with narrow joints, rendered impervious by bituminous asphalt.

The hind-legs of many cart horses have been ruined by defects in the levels of stable flooring, too much slope in the anteroposterior axis of the stall, and the provision of a narrow deep channel in which a horse can plant his hinder toes, for relief from undue and prolonged strain, have affected irremediable shortening of the hind-tendons.

From the front or manger wall, for 5 feet, the floor ought to be perfectly level, the declination from that point to the channel not exceeding 1 inch in 3 feet; the hinder half of the stall may be advantageously sloped from each side to the center in like ratio.

The longitudinal channel stones provided for the flow of the urine should be set at least two feet in the rear of the heel post of the boskins, and should be 12 inches wide, and dressed hollow in the cross section from edge to edge, the maximum desirable depth in the center being 1 inch. The rear platform must be level, non-slippery, and allow a space of 8 feet between the wall and boskins.

For all stables surface-drainage is by far the best, a minimum of attention and labor being required for the frequent removal of matters which usually find their way into the drains, whereas underground pipes always become fouled, and unless very frequently and thoroughly flushed are in themselves factors of noxious emanations, apart from the means they afford for the ingress of deleterious gases engendered by decomposing filth which it is folly to suppose any ordinary stench-trap can intercept.

If a system of underground drainage is adopted the drain should be thoroughly ventilated and disconnected from the sewer, emptying itself into a cesspit, or upon a manure-heap. The annexed drawing demonstrates the manner in which gases may be prevented from entering a stable.

The interior fittings should be adjusted regarding the prevention of accidents, economy of space, and maintenance of order. All hooks and pegs for hanging up the harness are most conveniently placed in the rear or end walls, at a sufficient height to guard against injury to the horses in passing, and the provision of a small cupboard let into the wall or fixed under the manger for the tools of each teams man, is a neat and economical addendum to the furnishing of a large stable.

Racks and mangers constructed of iron are more cleanly and durable than wooden ones; upon economical grounds the racks can scarcely be made too small, or the mangers too large. Four pounds of long hay is as much as should ever be allowed at one time, but the manger should extend the whole width of the stall and be sufficiently large in all its dimensions to permit the horse to follow his inclination for tossing his food about without risk of waste.

The measurements of the best cart-horse manger are 6 feet in length by 14 inches wide and 10 inches deep. For the prevention of waste each manger is provided with a semicircular lip, an inch wide, along the upper outside edge, on its inner aspect, and a flat wider one on the wall edge, with two transverse bars fixed at about 20 inches from each end.

A leather head-collar, with rope tag, is preferable to a neck strap and chain, but are admissible. The material and construction of these appendages are of much less importance than the adjustment in the length and the mode of fixing the tie-rope.

The doorways should be 8 feet in height, and not less than 4 feet 6 inches wide, the doors arranged to slide, the quoins rounded and free from projections.

The length of the boskins for a full-size stable should be 10 feet, the height sloping from 7 feet at the head to about 4 feet 9 inches at the heelpost. Boskins should be of strong construction, securely fastened, and maintained in thorough repair.

The granaries and lofts attached to all stables should be absolutely inaccessible to pigeons or poultry, and in towns they should be capacious enough to enable an owner to take advantage of cheap markets to lay in a considerable stock of hay and corn.


With every provision made for good shelter, and a plentiful supply of nutritious food properly prepared, horses will not thrive unless the discipline of the stable is efficiently maintained. If the proprietor himself cannot supervise the management of his team from early morning till late at night, the charge of so important a trust should be given to the head-waggoner, to whom the owner should attach supreme responsibility, and remunerate in proportion to the extent of his charge.

The allowance of a few extra shillings per week to a man fitted by the possession of natural ability, habits of industry, and faculties of observation to occupy such a position, will yield excellent interest to the owner.

I hold it to be an essential that the feeding of all the working horses of an establishment should be entrusted to one man, who will estimate the varieties of appetite and differences in disposition amongst his charges and provide for and humor them accordingly.

To weigh out a weekly allowance of corn to each team-driver and expect him to apportion it with due regard to the wants of his horses, is to estimate the general character and intelligence of team’s men far too highly. If the head-waggoner is held responsible for the proper conduct of the stable and for the condition and cleanliness of the horses and is called to account for the quantity of food they consume and the amount of work they perform, it will be his interest to maintain the stable and its occupants in creditable form, with economy in cost.

It is unnecessary to enlarge upon the details of stable management, the principles of which consist in the establishment of safety, order, regularity, cleanliness, and prevention of waste. There are, however, two or three points to which the attention of horse-owners may be forcibly directed.

In well-kept establishments where the removal of the dung and soiled litter is punctually attended to, it is not necessary to washout the stables very frequently; but during the spring, summer, and early autumn months, the stalls, gangways, boskins, mangers and racks should be occasionally well scoured, to remove impurities which dry sweeping and ordinary cleansing cannot affect.

After thorough washing, which should always be performed on fine bright days, the windows and doors must be opened wide to facilitate evaporation, and the drying process may be hastened by sprinkling sawdust or dry sand over the floors. The operation of thoroughly cleaning out the wet traps and efficiently flushing all underground drains ought to be undertaken weekly.

Once a year all internal walls should be thoroughly whitewashed, and at least four times within that period the front Avails above and below the mangers should receive a similar application. Half a pint of crude carbolic acid, which is an excellent disinfectant and purifier of air, should be added to each gallon of the limewash. After washing the floors or white washing the walls, it is desirable to burn a good coke-fire for several hours, taking care that all doors, windows, and ventilators are left open.

During a continuance of wet weather nothing tends more to the maintenance of health than keeping the air of the stable as dry as possible. The evaporation from the horses’ skins on coming in from work drenched with rain greatly increases the dampness of the ordinary atmosphere, which, under existing conditions of weather, is necessarily saturated with moisture.

This excess of vapor not only renders the air less fitted for the purposes of respiration, but it condenses upon every part of the interior of the building, and even upon the body-surfaces of the horses. I have found that burning coke-fires in wet weather within the stables during the hours the horses are at work is a most beneficial practice for the prevention of many diseases.

The granaries and lofts require constant attention. In storing deliveries of hay and straw for future use, care must be taken that the trusses are quite dry and are so stacked in the loft that their ends do not abut upon an outside wall. All old fodder should be used up at the proper time, and not be covered from time to time by more recent deliveries until it becomes unpalatable or useless from age. Each time the lofts or granaries become empty should be embraced as a fitting opportunity for thorough cleansing and the removal of impurities which necessarily accumulate.

A few words of caution to the responsible horse keeper. Let food and water be supplied in small allowances at regular and frequent intervals; especially let ample time be afforded for the horses to eat a full early morning meal before being sent out to labor. Let the stable be maintained in a condition of purity and cleanliness by the admission of a plentiful supply of fresh air and the frequent removal of dung, soiled litter, rejected food, and filth of every kind.

Maintain good discipline in servants and subordinates, and by example no less than by precept inculcate in them habits of kindness and care towards their charges; and, finally, by careful and constant watchfulness, note the most trivial symptom indicative of a horse being in other than his usual state of health.


It is not advantageous for draught horses, exposed as they are to the influences of weather, to be severely groomed. At the same time, it must not be considered that they are efficiently ‘ dressed ‘ unless adherent dirt of every description has been re- moved from the surface, and also all loose dandruff from amongst the hair.

Farm horses should not be curry-combed but brushed and well wisped over before being turned out to work, and again on completion of their day’s labor. After being stabled wet, from rain or perspiration, the skin must be thoroughly dried, and at suppertime a brisk dry wisping instituted to determine increased surface-circulation and promote a feeling of warmth and comfort for the night.

For hardening the backs and shoulders of colts recently put to work, and of horses having irritable skins, a free application of salt and water to the saddle and collar seats is beneficial. Many people advocate clipping the hair from the legs of hairy horses, a highly pernicious practice, and one to be condemned in the ‘strongest terms.

Hair is the natural protector of the cuticle and is especially required to warm and shield the delicate skin of the heels; its removal from these situations is certain to induce a predisposition to ‘grease 1’ and other equally profound consequences. If the legs are muddy on return from labor, they should be dried as far as practicable, and the adherent clay subsequently removed with a hard brush.

The application of the thinnest possible film of pure neat’s-foot-oil to the surface of the hair of the legs will prevent the adhesion of clay, but it should only be used when absolutely necessary. Opinions vary upon the advisability of washing the legs of cart horses. As a rule, the practice is unnecessary and injudicious; but when the legs have become thoroughly saturated during labor, there can be no further harm occasioned by washing off any mud which may also have accumulated amongst the hair.

It must, however, be regarded as essential to proper management that under no pretext is a horse to be left for the night until all his legs have been thoroughly dried. Nor is this precept exceedingly difficult of execution; a handful or two of light-wood sawdust rubbed for a few minutes well into the hair will absorb all the moisture from the most hirsute legs, affording not only a sense of comfort to the animal, but preventing those undesirable consequences engendered by continued application of cold and wet to the extremities.

Best Wishes

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