Stall-cleaning success: 5 tips for horse owners
I once told a family friend that I cleaned stalls a couple of days per week in exchange for training and lessons at the barn where I boarded my horse. He asked how long this process took, and I responded with something to the effect of, “Several very labor-intensive hours.” His reply was, “Wow, so how often do they need to be cleaned?” I looked at him in astonishment and said, “Every day.” He was baffled.
Such is the equestrian life. If you’re anything like me, however, you’re always looking for ways to work smarter, not harder. Below, I’ve compiled a few suggestions to help make stall-cleaning both faster and easier.
- Invest in good-quality, thick, rubber stall mats. Yes, they are expensive and can be a pain to install, but they will change your life. They provide a smooth base for more efficient cleaning, are non-absorbent and easy to disinfect. They can also significantly reduce the amount of bedding needed, which can be a real cost savings. Thick mats also provide cushioning for horses’ legs and feet, which is especially helpful for arthritic horses or those prone to founder or laminitis. And perhaps the best bonus is that they can also help your horse stay cleaner.
- Choose your bedding wisely. Straw and coarse shavings can be a real nightmare to comb through and can significantly increase the amount of time spent cleaning a stall. Finer bedding — such as small wood shavings, wood pellets or even paper shavings — is an excellent option. You will need to carefully consider just how much bedding to use (as previously mentioned, mats can help). If you overbed, you’ll spend a lot more time cleaning and, depending on the type of bedding, you will also face an increased potential for exposure to dust, molds and allergens, which can intensify the risk of respiratory disorders, such as heaves. On the other hand, inadequate bedding or failure to clean stalls thoroughly enough will increase your risk of incurring problems linked to air quality, at the very least. If you can smell ammonia in the barn, you should reconsider both the amount of bedding being used and your stall-cleaning tactics.
- Consider using a bedding conditioner/drying agent. Bedding that has a high moisture content can really hold onto ammonia, especially when combined with humid air, and this can cause respiratory distress in horses. A lot of people think that good old-fashioned barn lime is the answer, but it does nothing to actually eliminate odors — it simply covers them up. NaturClean is a unique dry powder bedding conditioner and drying agent for all animal species. This blend of ultra-absorbent mineral compounds is designed to keep bedding dry, thus reducing the potential for bacterial infection. NaturClean also helps reduce ammonia levels and odors, thereby improving the overall atmosphere of the housing system. It is safe to handle and does not cling to animal coats.
- Pick stalls often. Taking even a few minutes to pick your horse’s stall before you leave each night can make mucking out a much easier task the following day — and will also keep your horse happier, healthier and cleaner. Additionally, it helps cut back on odors and flies. This method is particularly effective for horses who are a bit restless in stalls and tend to grind manure into the bedding.
- Extend turnout time. The less time your horses spend indoors, the less time you will have to spend cleaning up after them. Regular turnout provides a multitude of other benefits as well. Though equine field antics — like bucking, kicking, rolling, snorting and whinnying — may seem potentially worrisome to owners (who are crossing our fingers that our horses don’t hurt themselves), these natural movements actually help to stretch sore, tight muscles, re-align the spine and support the clearing of dust from the respiratory system. Healthier digestion is another benefit of more time outdoors, as continued movement allows the stomach to produce less gastric acid, which can decrease the risk of gastric ulcer development.
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” We can safely assume that, as a gentleman of the 18th century and former postmaster general, Franklin likely owned horses. Therefore, I think a truer statement might have included an add-on regarding stall-cleaning, don’t you?