By far the largest number of horses are kept in stables, as in these condition for hard work is best maintained, cleanliness can be easier attended to, convenience in working is greater, and the horse himself is more amenable to discipline and control. It is the fact that, in eastern and southern countries, working horses can stand out of doors for the greater part, or even the whole of the year; but even in these countries shelter from the burning sun is always grateful, if not absolutely necessary, for a good state of health.
Stables have frequently to be made in all kinds of places, especially in large towns, where space and other circumstances interfere with judicious planning. But however this may be, there are certain essentials which should be found in all stables - sufficient dimensions, proper ventilation, fair amount of light, good drainage and flooring, freedom from damp, favourable surroundings.
The construction of stables varies from the simplest to the most elaborate plans, but there is no doubt that so long as horses obtain plenty of fresh air, good food and water, and protection from the weather, the simpler the construction of the stable - having regard to convenience - the better. When possible, the stable should be built on permeable or gravelly soil, open situation, moderately elevated, and advantageous for natural drainage.
A warm, sunny aspect, such as the south or west, is to be preferred. A stable facing the north or the east is generally cold, and, if the windows only look in these directions, dull. Stables surrounded by high buildings are not so good as those which are in open spaces, and arranging stables in a square is objectionable, as some of them must have an unfavourable aspect, and the circulation of air is generally more or less interfered with.
In constructing stables, the plan and elaborateness of finish will depend upon the money to be spent, and the locality and other circumstances. In towns, in establishments where a large number of horses are kept, the stables are arranged in all kinds of ways - downstairs, on the ground-floor, and upstairs, even to a second floor - the exigencies of compactness and economy in space demanding the exercise of ingenuity in making the most of what can be obtained. But in all these, the essentials of good stables, which we have already enumerated, should be secured by every possible means.
As has been said, the site for a stable should be well drained, and the foundations dry. It has been recommended to lay the foundations on slates, or on two courses of hard bricks set in cement, or on asphalte, in order to ensure dryness, as damp stable floors and walls are extremely injurious to horses in many ways, but chiefly from generating rheumatic affections of the limbs. The thickness and the nature of the walls will depend upon the dimensions of the stables. In some localities the walls are simply unbaked clay or mud, or wattle covered with clay; these may answer very well in temporary stables, and especially for those of cart horses; in other localities the walls may be of concrete, when the nature of the soil is favourable for making it; but of course the most durable stables, and those which admit of the most elaborate finish, are built of stone or brick. It is simply a question of cost. Mud or concrete walls, with a felt or thatched roof, and simple wooden internal fittings, make up the cheapest stable; corrugated iron also makes a cheap stable, but these buildings are generally cold in winter, and hot in summer.
Stables built of wood have the same disadvantage, and the additional one of being very dangerous for the horses in case of fire; those built of hurdles and thatch are particularly so.
The situation of doors and windows will depend upon circumstances. The number of doors must also depend upon the size of the stable, with regard to convenience; there may be a door at one, or at each end, or one in the middle, or at each side. The advantage of having doors at each end, or on each side, consists in the easier access to the stalls in the stable if it be long, and also in bad weather, when those exposed can be kept closed. In some large stables there are doors at the ends as well as at the sides. The windows should, if possible, be east and west, to ensure the stable having the morning and afternoon sun. Side windows are often the only kind which can be allowed in stables; but when there is no loft or building overhead, light from the roof is very advantageous, so long as there is not too much glare or heat during the summer. For the maintenance of an even temperature, and especially to ensure dryness - important considerations where valuable horses are kept - the walls should be thick, and lined with plaster or cement; some stables have the inner bricks of the wall glazed, and either white or of a neutral tint; others are oil-painted, which allows them to be easily washed and kept clean, while others again, less expensively finished, are merely whitewashed. When there is no loft overhead, the stable may be roofed with slates or tiles; the former have the disadvantage of allowing the stable to be very hot in summer, and to obviate this a layer of felt has been recommended to be laid between the slates and the boards, or even a lining of thatch inside the latter, or a partial ceiling of boards a few inches from the roof. It must be remembered that too warm or too hot stables are unhealthy, and especially for horses exposed to sudden changes and inclemency of weather, as they feel the effects of external cold in proportion to the warmth of the stable they stand in. It has long been recognised that a cool stable makes a healthy horse, and so long as the temperature does not descend below cool, efforts should be made to keep it comfortable. A high temperature in summer and a freezing one in winter, are to be alike avoided.