Should the stall doors stay open or closed when the stall is empty?? Good question!
One of my big pet peeves is half open (or half closed for you pessimists out there…) stall doors. But the key here is make a decision in your barn and stick to it.
But before we go into that, we should talk about all of the types of stall doors out there. A very popular type is the dutch door, which is really two separate doors on top of each other. Often romanticized in movies and some kitchens, these doors swing out and must be done one at a time. The top door is typically slatted for ventilation, sight, and style. Some top doors are solid, which I don’t like if the whole stall is solid, as this give the horse inside no way to see out to look for buddies. Other top doors have yokes, which allows for a bit of head and neck to poke out, but not too much.
A dutch door. Notice the latch that holds the top open so it's not swinging in the wind.
A small latch keeps the top window snug against the barn, so no flapping in the wind.
Any door that swings into the barn aisle can get rammed by a passing horse or human or even dog. The upper door, which in many barns is left open, can provide for some swinging entertainment by your equine friend, or you can secure it open (the safe way). You can see in the photo below that this half of the door is secured with the same latch, just into a different mechanism to keep it open and not swinging into the barn aisle.
A yoke door upper on a dutch door.
A slide bolt mechanism to secure a dutch door to the wall.
I have heard of, but not seen, barn doors that swing into the stall. You must be vigilant and careful when opening and closing as the stall size is reduced as the door opens.
You also have the sliding doors, my favorite type. These do not swing at all, simply slide to one side. Some of them have a dutch door modification, in that there is a “window” on the top that you can open so your horse can poke his neck into the aisle. Again, be sure to secure the window when open. (See photo below).
This is a sliding door! Safe to leave open. Also note the chalkboard paint on the panel. (Clever, right!)
For the most part, it’s very easy to also take care of the “hardware” issue that we must deal with for stall doors, and that is moving all the hardware out of the door frame. When you have hardware that is in the doorframe or pokes into the door opening, you horse runs the risk that your horse will catch his shoulder or hip on it. This is more critical if the horse passes though an opening at liberty to an outdoor run. We shall assume that most horses going into the barn aisle have a person to lead them. It’s really easy to do some creative hardware shopping for your stalls if you need to. Most big box hardware stores have several aisles dedicated to hardware.
So - the big debate. When the stall is empty, do you keep the stall door totally shut or totally open?? And why does it matter?
It matters because of the very nature of horses - their unpredictability. Horses sometimes get loose, and most of them run home - where they know it’s safe. So here you have a panicked horse, running down the barn aisle, and where does he want to go? Home - in the stall. If the stall door is partially open, he can ram it if it swings, and he could smash up his shoulders and hips if it’s a sliding door that's not fully open.
So now the question becomes - all the way open or all the way closed?? I have seen a loose horse try and trot back into his stall. The door was closed, so after thinking about things for a second, he decided to RUN. Down the road, over the fence, to the neighbors. At great risk of road founder and traffic! I have also seen a horse run into any empty stall with open doors, even if it wasn’t his stall, just to find a safe spot.
If the stall is empty, I keep the door ALL of the way OPEN. Loose horses can run home and find safety, and the stall can air out.
I know there are lots of examples where the stall doors should be kept closed, those are just my experiences. If you do choose to leave a swing door open, it must be flush with the wall, so no blankets and stuff making it pop out. Sliding doors are easier, as they are already flush. You and your barn mates will need to decide what works best for your barn and horses. Just keep in mind - open or closed. No wishy-washy on this one!