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We have 100 stalls that we rent out for horse boarding. 50 of them on the inside of the structure and 50 on the outside. They are 10 X 10 stalls. My question is the lighting. There is a row of lights down the middle of the barn. The groundskeeper out here keeps the lights off. Gets down right nasty if they are left on. I am looking for an answer on horses staying in the dark. There is no outside light coming into the barn and they stand in the stalls all day in the dark, except for the times that people are in feeding and cleaning out the stalls. They do take their horses out to the round pens for exercise but only like an hour a day. I am sure that they need light more than this. Do you have an article or something about this problem?

R. S.


The light situation probably isn't as bad as it seems to you. In fact, the Merck vet manual even suggests light deprivation when humans aren't around as a behavior modification tool for aggressive horses. Since our eyes aren't designed the same as a horse's, we tend to assume that a dark room is just as dark to the horse. The equine eye contains special light collectors that actually allow it to see fairly well in the dark.

Also, darkness promotes growth of the winter coat, and may help the horses deal better with cold weather. On the flip side, some horse owners try to keep their animals blanketed and in stalls with long exposure to artificial light as a means of maintaining the summer coat for late-season shows.

If there is anything about the situation that would be of concern to me, it's the matter of restricted SUNlight and turn-out time. Like us, horses need exposure to sunlight for production of vitamin D. The Merck Manual comments, "Prolonged confinement of young horses offered only limited amounts of sun-cured hay may result in reduced bone calcification, stiff and swollen joints, stiffness of gait, irritability, and reduced serum calcium and phosphorus." Merck suggests something around four hours of sunlight per day and/or feeding sun-cured hay as preventive measures. Also, being confined to a stall for 23 hours of the day doesn't do much toward keeping the critter in good physical condition. Taking a horse that spends almost all of its time standing in a 10x10 stall and then suddenly asking it to spend an hour running around a round pen seems to me to be just asking for a serious injury.

I don't know anything about how your barn is constucted, but I'd be rather worried if it has no skylights or windows. Again quoting the Merck Veterinary Manual, "Stabled horses are exposed to numerous respiratory and GI [Gastro-Intestinal] pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, mold spores, dust mites, and parasites. Stable environments affect disease transmission in terms of air quality and ventilation, population density, and general cleanliness. Barns should be constructed to optimize ventilation and light, minimize exposure to dust and molds, provide temperature regulation, facilitate cleaning and disinfection, and provide ample space for each horse. Windows and skylights provide sunlight and natural ventilation. Sunlight is a potent killer of many bacteria and viruses; it also promotes coat shedding and regular estrous cycles."

This may not be exactly what you wanted to hear, but hopefully it will give you a balanced understanding of the pros and cons of the situation.

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