Everything You Need to Know About Horse Run-In Sheds

Run-in sheds are popular shelters for horses and offer many benefits over enclosed barns. A run-in is an open shelter that enables the horse to escape the elements while also giving them the option to come inside and go outside as they please. The idea is that the horse can “run in” and out at his discretion.

How are horse run-ins made? Run-ins can be very simple or quite elaborate – or anything in between. They typically have three walls and a roof and are made from a variety of materials including wood and metal. Run-ins should be sturdy enough to withstand both storms and bored horses, and they should be large enough for every horse in the herd to move around comfortably.

I appreciate the convenience of run-in sheds for both humans and horses. Below I’ve laid out the basics of run-in sheds, including the different kinds of designs and materials you can use, structure requirements, and how much you can expect to pay for one.

How Large Should A Run-In Shed Be?

You will want your run-in to be large enough for every horse in your herd to comfortably stand and move around during inclement weather. A run-in for a single horse should be at least 12’x12’ – in other words, about the size of a single horse stall. For each additional horse, you will increase the length of the run-in by 10’-12’. This means that a run-in for two horses should be at least 12’x20.’

Some run-in designs have three walls and one completely open side, while others have four walls with a large opening or doorway at the front. If you have a structure designed for more than one horse, I would advise either leaving the entire front side open (aside from your support posts) or having two or more openings your horses can enter and exit. This will prevent a particular horse from becoming trapped or cornered by a more dominant herd member.

You will also need to consider the height of the structure in addition to the length and depth. Most exterior structures have sloped roofs so that nothing accumulates on the top. The lowest point of your roof should be at least 8’ tall, sloping upward from there. The degree of the slope will depend on your climate needs – for example, a large amount of snow will require a steeper slope.

Purchasing A Run-In Shed

If you don’t have the time, tools, or experience to build a run-in, there are many different options for you to purchase your own. If you are more crafty, you can purchase a run-in shed kit that you assemble yourself. You can also purchase one of these kits and have a contractor or handyman install it. 

Other options include pre-fabricated run-in sheds that will be delivered on a flatbed and are immediately ready to house your horses. Surprisingly, this seems like the cheapest option. The only qualm to this is that shipping will be more expensive, and often times, these prefabricated buildings can only be 10′ wide so they can fit on the trailer. Lastly, your most expensive option will be hiring a contractor to build one from scratch.

In early 2024, here are the price points I found for these different options:

  • $5700 for a 12’x12′ pre-cut kit
  • $4500+ for 10’x12′ prefabricated shed
  • $8000+ for a contractor to build

Before you can buy a run-in shed, whether you’re buying a kit, having a fully assembled one delivered, or paying a contractor, you will need to prep the area you want to shed to go on. You may need to level and grade the land. If you want ample drainage, you may want to put in a French Drain. Lastly, if you want the shed to have electricity, it costs between $1000-$2000 to run electrical lines between buildings. These are all additional price points to think about.

Building A Run-In Shed

There is no one “correct” way to build a run-in shed. The main requirements are that it has a roof and at least two walls, though most have three. Before you even get started, map out where you will be assembling the structure. You will want the opening of the run-in facing away from the prevailing wind; usually, this will be south-facing. A shelter is not much of a shelter if the wind and rain are blowing into the open side.

You can use a variety of materials for your run-in, keeping in mind that it will need to be strong enough to withstand the weather in your specific climate. If you are building a run-in from scratch, you will want to first build a wooden frame, using pressure-treated posts that are sunken into the ground. You can also find plans online for mobile run-ins, but consider carefully how you will keep it secure in the wind before going that route.

Regardless of how you build your run-in, you will want it to have adequate ventilation. When it comes to airflow, the more you can add without compromising the “shelter” aspect, the better. You can do this by either adding openings at the very top of the run-in at the rafters or by making “windows.” I make windows in my animal structures by cutting out openings and using hardware cloth as screens. I then make very simple shutters out of fence pickets that can be opened and closed, depending on the weather. 

Because of the endless options that you have in creating your own run-in, there will be a vast cost range associated with the DIY method. Your overall budget will largely be determined by the current price of lumber, which can vary drastically.

Cheaper Horse Run-In Shed Alternatives

If you need a run-in shed in a pinch or you’re saving up to build a nice one, there are some cheaper temporary options to consider.

  • Corral Enclosure Kits fasten a tent-like roof over round pen panels. Average cost would be around $650 for three corral panels altogether and $200 for the roofing material and tarp.
  • A Run-In Tent is a metal frame with a tarp-like fabric placed over it, making it look like a tent. You can purchase kits at Tractor Supply Co. for around $900.
  • Carport kits can be purchased for around $2000. 

Please remember that for any of these options, they will have a much lower rating dealing with inclement weather than an actual lumber-built run-in shed. While they may work as a temporary fix, they can also pose dangers to your horse in windy or snowy conditions.

Does A Run-In Shed Need Three Sides?

Most run-in sheds are three-sided, but don’t feel confined to this design. If your climate and circumstances allow, you may decide a two-sided structure works better for you. For example, you may decide that your mild weather, or your claustrophobic horse, needs only walls that face the North and the East.

The main purpose of a run-in shed, or really the only purpose for most horses, is to protect the animal from the elements – whether that is snow, rain, wind, or the hot sun. How you do that will depend on your specific climate and needs. One of the benefits of run-in sheds is the versatility of the structures, making them highly adaptable to individual needs.

The Benefits Of Run-In Sheds

I could probably write an entire post on the advantages alone of run-ins, though of course, this will be highly dependent on individual circumstances. Here are some of the benefits that run-ins can provide both horses and their owners.

Why Horses Appreciate Run-Ins

There are many reasons why it may be necessary to keep a horse stalled overnight, but when given the option, most horses prefer spending their days and nights turned out. Giving your horse access to a run-in shed instead of keeping him contained in a barn will make him happier and more content.

Horses that are turned out 24/7 also get more exercise than their stalled friends, and they receive the digestive benefit of constant grazing. Overall, horses that are turned out with the benefit of a run-in shed for protection from the elements can have both mental and physical health advantages.

Why Humans Appreciate Run-Ins

Run-in sheds are also great for horse owners. In my opinion, the biggest advantage to run-ins is the easier clean-out. You will not have to muck out a run-in as often as you do a stall, meaning less work for you, and less money spent on bedding. Another advantage is your schedule – you won’t need to be home by a specific hour to bring your horse in, or up by a certain time in the morning to turn him out. There is also the economic benefit – if you are starting from scratch, a run-in shed is a lot less expensive (and is a lot easier) to build than a barn.

Do All Horses Need Run-Ins?

Not every horse will require a run-in or a barn. There are some regions where a horse will be perfectly happy with only a large and dense tree canopy as protection from the elements. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as horses have survived thousands of years in the wild without any man-made structures to protect them from the weather. Depending on how hard it is raining, my own animals sometimes prefer hanging out under the trees during the wet weather, ignoring their large and cozy run-in. Whether or not your horses would benefit from a run-in or not will depend on several different factors, all specific to your own circumstances.

Run-Ins Are A Great Alternative To Stalls When Appropriate

Some horses need to be stalled for purposes of health or safety. Some horses require limited activity due to an illness or injury, and keeping them turned out would prolong or prevent their ability to heal. Others may have specific dietary needs and must eat alone, without the company of their equine friends.

Some horses may even prefer being stalled for a period of time – this may be especially true for a sensitive horse that is in an over-stimulating environment. That said, for horses that do not require the use of stalls, run-ins can be an easy solution to designing and creating a shelter that is exactly what your horse needs. Most horses appreciate the ability to come and go as they please, and you will appreciate the flexibility of allowing them to do just that.

To learn more about how much space horses need both in their shelters and in turnout, check out my article How Much Space Do Horses Need? Horse Care Guide.

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My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

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