Guidelines for minimum standards for keeping horses in urban areas: Factsheet 16

The horse has enjoyed considerable popularity as a recreational animal in recent years. One of the results of this has been an increase in the number of horses kept in suburban areas, towns and villages. Unfortunately, the care and housing of these horses has sometimes been substandard. Whether through ignorance or neglect, this has had disastrous consequences for the welfare of the horses involved.

Lack of attention to housing and hygiene has also resulted in problems such as odour and the breeding of flies and vermin which have been the subject of complaints made by residents to local councils.

These guidelines suggest minimum standards for the housing of horses which provide fora more functional and easily maintained environment; happier and healthier horses; fewer complaints from neighbours and, consequently, more enjoyable and rewarding horse ownership.

It must be remembered that some councils do not permit the keeping of horses within their local government area. Those which do permit horses, have a horse stable policy which defines minimum standards. Enquiries should be directed to the relevant local council. Keeping of horses is also regulated by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979.

1. Yards

1.1 Size

Day yards or holding yards should be at least 3 m wide and be an area of at least 20 square metres. For working horses, yard size should be increased to 35 square metres. Where a roof or canopy is provided, it should be high enough to avoid injuring a rider or fractious horse. A height of 3.7 m is adequate.

1.2 Fencing

Fencing should be sufficiently sturdy to prevent escape. Wire fencing should be avoided because of the risk of injury to horses. Post and rail fencing using timber, steel piping or steel posts is suitable. All rails should be attached to the inside of posts. Cattleyard mesh with a roll top (reinforced top section) is also suitable.

Suggested dimensions are:

  • 2.40 m or 2.75 m panels centre to centre
  • 1.70-1.80 m overall height including cap rail
  • 230 mm maximum interval between rails with bottom rail 380-460 mm off the ground.

Entrance gates should be at least 3 m wide and internal gates 2.4 m wide to allow vehicular access. Gates to small day yards should be at least 1.2 metres wide. Gates should fit neatly and have secure fastenings to prevent injury to horses and escapes.

1.3 Yard Surface

The fitting of yards and the type of yard surface should allow drainage (by absorption or evaporation) without ponding. Grading may be necessary. Gravel is a suitable material for the yard subsurface, preferably covered with sand or loam.

1.4 Water

Clean water should be available at all times. The trough or other container should be easily-cleaned, resist tipping over, be free of protrusions and situated so as to make contamination unlikely. Placing the trough in a corner and at a height of 1.07 m is suggested.

1.5 Maintenance

Fences and gates should be kept in a good state of repair with yards in a clean and hygienic condition. Manure should be removed daily along with uneaten feed with the aim of discouraging flies, vermin and unpleasant odours. Water troughs should be cleaned regularly to maintain hygiene and discourage mosquito breeding.

2. Stables

2.1 Size

Stables should be at least 3.7 m wide and 3.7 m deep. A size of 3.7 m x 4.9 m is preferable. Height should be 2.75 m.

2.2 Roof

The roof should provide adequate shelter from the elements including adequate insulation in hot areas. Guttering and down pipes should be provided to convey storm water away from the stables.

2.3 Walls

Walls should be capable of withstanding damage. Materials such as flat iron and asbestos cement are not suitable. Walls should be of masonry construction to a height of at least 1.2 m. Above this, other solid materials such as good quality steel profile sheeting may be acceptable. Wall height should be 2.75 m with a waterproof damp course also incorporated. Cracks, crevices and hollows should be avoided because these provide breeding places for pests. Concrete block walls should be reinforced with vertical steel rods and the cores filled with concrete.

The walls may be lined with plywood sheets or rubber conveyor belting to prevent injury to horses and also to protect the walls from pawing and kicking.

2.4 Doors

Doors should be at least 1.2 m wide and 2.4 m high with no protrusions that could injure horses. Hinged doors should open outwards and, where half doors are used, the bottom door should be at least 1.4 m high.

Sliding doors are also suitable.

Latches should be strong and have no protrusions that could injure horses.

2.5 Floor

Floors should be constructed of an impervious material which is graded towards the doorway to permit drainage and with no low spots where urine can collect. The floor/wall junction should be coved to a diameter of at least 50 mm. A drainage apron of at least 1 m width should be provided along the front of the stable.

A 100 mm thick reinforced concrete slab is the preferred flooring.

Clean bedding such as straw or sawdust should be provided daily to prevent foot and leg problems caused by standing on concrete.

2.6 Ventilation

Ventilation is essential for horses to allow the escape of heated and malodorous air and also for the entry of fresh air. Cross-ventilation should be provided by leaving an air passage between the roof and walls or by incorporating a window of at least 0.9 square metres. Windows may be wire mesh or louvres which should direct incoming air upwards.

2.7 Food and water

Feeders and water troughs should be raised to a height of about 1.07 m and placed in a corner. They should be smooth and free of protrusions, resist tipping over and should be easy to clean.

2.8 Shelters

Shelters should be constructed to fulfil the requirements for stables regarding walls, floor and roof except that there should be three walls only to allow the free passage of horses.

2.9 Maintenance

Stables and shelters should be maintained in good repair and should be cleaned daily to remove manure, soiled bedding, uneaten feed and other refuse. Fresh bedding should be provided daily. Feed and water containers should be cleaned and disinfected regularly.

3. Paddocks

3.1 Size

Where horses are to be kept in a paddock and not stables, the paddock should be 1 ha with a minimum size of 0.4 ha.

3.2 Fences

Fencing should be easily visible, well-maintained and escape-proof. As far as possible, the use of wire should be avoided because of it its tendency to cause injury to horses. Post and rail and steel cattle cable fencing are suitable. Barbed wire, high tensile wire (2.8 + 2.5 mm) and prefabricated wire fencing should not be used. Electric fences are suitable but, because of low-visibility, some type of sight barrier should also be used such as a painted tin attached to the wire. Gates should be snug-fitting, have secure fastenings and be large enough to allow the free passage of horses. A width of 3 m is suggested.

3.3 Shelter

Shelter of some type should be provided. This may be a natural shelter such as a row of trees or a hedge or a horse shelter as described in section 2.8.

3.4 Food

It is important to evaluate the quantity and quality of paddock feed, particularly where numbers of horses are involved. Supplementary feed must be provided where necessary.

3.5 Water

It is essential to provide access to clean water at all times.

3.6 Maintenance

Paddocks should be kept completely free of rubbish such as wire, tin, nails and plastic which may cause injury to horses or be eaten. Manure should be removed to discourage the breeding of flies and to aid in worm control.

4. Tethering

Except as a very short-term measure, the tethering of horses is not acceptable. Tethered horses must be kept under proper and sufficient supervision with free access to water and adequate feed provided at least twice daily. Where horses are tethered to provide access to grazing, they should still be checked at least twice daily.

Tethered horses should be fitted with a secure collar or halter attached to a light chain that is at least 9 m long and fitted with a swivel at both ends. The area in which the horse is tethered must be free of obstructions that may entangle the tether.

5. Feed storage

Feed should be stored in containers with close-fitting, hinged lids to prevent the entry of vermin. Materials used also should be water-resistant or waterproof to prevent spoiling of feed. Metal should be the preferred material of choice.

6. Waste disposal

6.1 Cleaning

Stables, shelters and yards should be cleaned daily. Manure, refuse, soiled bedding and uneaten food should be removed daily and placed in a storage bin.

Fresh bedding should be provided daily.

6.2 Manure Storage Bins

Refuse should be placed in a receptacle such as a large metal bin with a flanged-fitting metal lid which is water-proof, prevents access to flies and vermin and reduces the emission of noxious odours. The bin should be emptied and disinfected weekly.

6.3 Drainage

Drainage should be provided by the grading of yards, stables and surroundings to eliminate low spots which can suffer from pooling. Roofing, guttering and downpipes should also be adequate to conduct stormwater away from the buildings.

7. Pest control

7.1 Maintenance of hygiene

Control of flies and vermin can be aided by the use of proper storage bins; prompt removal of spillages; daily cleaning of stables and surrounds; and proper disposal of waste.

7.2 Elimination of breeding places

Walls and floors should be constructed so that there are no cracks or crevices which can provide breeding places for pests.
Proper maintenance should be carried out regularly to keep buildings in a state of good repair. This should include the cleaning, filling and sealing of cracks and crevices.

7.3 Use of pesticides and insecticides

Suitable measures such as the use of fly baits and surface residual insecticidal sprays should also be used if necessary. Safety precautions are also essential when using chemicals to protect both the users and the horses. Keep all chemcials out of reach of children and animals; store away from foods; and read the label and safety precautions.

More information

Further information can be found in the following publications:

Other information relating to horses is available from the horse section of the NSW DPI web site.


Gratitude is expressed to the following councils for information used in thepreparation of these Guidelines:

  • Bland Shire Council
  • Broken Hill City Council
  • Fairfield City Council
  • Forbes Shire Council
  • Gosford City Council
  • Griffith Shire Council
  • Maitland City Council
  • Newcastle City Council
  • Sutherland Shire Council
  • Warringah Shire Council
  • Wentworth Shire Council

The following sources are also acknowledged:
NSW Agriculture Agfact A6.7.1 Horse yards and handling facilities.