Spring time is the perfect time to do a full and thorough clean of your barn. The days are longer and a little warmer so now is an ideal time to get all those jobs finished that you put off over the winter months. Summertime and competition season is fast approaching, the last thing you need is having to work in an untidy barn. A clean and tidy barn means there is less chance of injury to horse or human, as well as making the day-to-day running of the barn quicker and easier. Not to mention your horses’ health and well-being.
Whether your horse is only stalled overnight or 24/7, it is imperative that their stall is spic and span to avoid health and respiratory issues. Since it is the most important part of your barn and where your horse spends the most time, let’s start with the stall: Stalls should be cleaned out daily and depending on how much time your horse spends in the stall, stripping (removing all bedding), disinfecting and re-bedding should be done about once a week. As equestrians, at some point in our lives, we have probably all encountered ammonia.
Instead of entering a barn and being greeted with the sweet smell of horses, hay and grain that we all love, you are greeted with a pungent smell forcing you to catch your breath – this is ammonia. Ammonia (NH3) is a caustic gas. Caustic means strongly alkaline (the opposite of strongly acidic).
Ammonia is highly irritant to the respiratory tract and eyes of both humans and animals. Inhaling it is potentially very harmful.
A stalled horse may spend most of its day inhaling this unpleasant substance - this can lead to airway inflammation and cause breathing problems. Now for some good news - ammonia build-up in stalls can be avoided by good stall hygiene and proper building design. In a Canadian study, dust and ammonia levels in horse stalls with different ventilation rates and bedding were monitored. Airborne particles and ammonia were examined in horse stalls managed under four conditions. (1)
This study showed that the number of airborne particles generated while the stalls were mucked out was higher with straw than with paper. Particles were more efficiently cleared at the higher ventilation rate in both the straw and paper stalls. Ammonia measurements reflected an accumulation over time. In the stalls with low ventilation, ammonia levels were significantly higher than in those stalls with high ventilation regardless of bedding type. As mentioned in Part 1, good stall ventilation is imperative to your horse’s health.
But the type of bedding you choose for your horse can have a significant impact on the dust levels in your barn. Have you ever considered the type of bedding you use? Dirt floors and deep litter beds are not recommended as these retain urine and droppings and allow ammonia to accumulate. Solid floors, such as concrete, are ideal as long as they are kept clean. Rubber matting can be useful to reduce the volume of bedding needed and provide extra cushioning for horses’ limbs.
However, if urine accumulates under the rubber mats, ammonia levels are likely to be high. Rubber floors either need to be carefully laid to avoid this, or regularly lifted and cleaned, which is very labour intensive. Sometimes it feels as if you can fix one problem – reduce the amount of bedding you need and improve your horse’s comfort – and then you create another: greater chance of ammonia in your stall!
Obviously, you will need to do what is best for you and your horse and if you want to go down the rubber matting route this is fine once you keep up impeccable hygiene. Absorbent bedding is important as it will help soak up urine and help to reduce the volume of ammonia rising into the air. In some studies, straw has been shown to be more effective than wood shavings. In another study, the effect of wood shavings and peat was examined on stable air quality and health of horses and stable workers. The ammonia level in the boxes in which peat was used as bedding was non-existent or very low.
The respiratory symptoms in horses increased regardless of the bedding material at the beginning of the stud. The health status of the horses on peat bedding returned to the initial level at the end of the trial but horses in stalls bedded with wood shavings continued to be symptomatic. The hooves of the horses in stalls with peat bedding had a better moisture content.
The results suggest that peat is a better bedding material for horses and people working or visiting horse stables than wood shavings (2). Good drainage is also very important. Stalls should be built with a slight slope in the floor so that excess urine can drain away. Damaged or uneven floors may result in the accumulation of urine in puddles, making bedding less efficient at absorbing it. Ammonia gas is lighter than air so it can be removed as fresh air enters a building.
For this reason, stalls should never be fully closed up. Ideally, each stall will have a back window to improve ventilation. Barns that are divided into individual stalls by open partitions or walls that don’t reach the ceiling can also improve ventilation. It’s important to avoid having a well-ventilated central passageway with stuffy, enclosed stalls on either side.
Good ventilation and hygiene is not the only thing you can do to improve your horses’ respiratory system. For a horse to have their lungs in top health, they may require regular nebulisation to treat lung inflammation from constantly breathing in dust particles in their environment. Get your horse’s respiratory system in top health by treating your horse with Flexineb’s innovative equine nebulizer.
Flexineb is an equine nebuliser made to help horse owners alleviate respiratory issues in their horses. The use of equine nebulizers is considered a very effective method for treating respiratory issues in horses. In addition, equine inhalation therapy is considered the preferred method for treating mild to severe equine asthma and Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO).
Here is a step-by-step guide to doing a full clean of your horses stall:
Firstly, remove all bedding and buckets. If you have rubber matting, remove this too. Make sure you remember which piece goes where. It is a good idea to use duct tape to remember where each mat goes. Start from the top left and stick one piece of duct tape in the top left corner, then two pieces on the next mat and so on. Wash the mats thoroughly with a hard brush, warm water, and disinfectant. Do this on the front and back of each mat.
This will help kill off any unwanted bacteria. Leave your mats to dry outside and get to work on the inside of your stall. Work from the ceiling down. Look up – are there any cobwebs or a large build-up of dust you should clean first? It is important to wear a mask when doing this, especially if your stall is particularly dusty. Next are the walls. If you have access to a power washer, this is a quick way of washing your stall walls. If you don’t have a power washer, warm water, washing liquid and a hard scrubbing brush will do a good job of cleaning the wall. Although this is very labour intensive. Then do the same on the floor.
Wash it either with a power washer or a stiff brush and disinfectant. Once your stall has dried out you can now give it a fresh coat of paint before putting your rubber mats back in. Masonry paint can help prevent the surface growth of algae and fungus. Don’t forget your stall door too, wash and disinfect the door and apply a fresh coat of paint or oil. Lastly, make sure to clean out the feeder and drinker. If you are using disinfectant or paint, it is a good idea to leave the stall to air out for a few days before putting your horse back in.
You will need access to a temporary stall or leave your horse out in the paddock. You can now add a nice clean bed with the bedding of your choice before putting your horse back in. Next stop on our spring clean is the tack room Taking stock of what you have in your tack room is a good place to start. Throw out any products that are out of date and take note of what is nearly empty and will need replacing soon. Organise your products in a way that will work for you – make sure the products you use on a daily basis can be reached quickly and easily. Products that are used less frequently can be stored away.
With leather, prevention of damage is key. It is good to get into the habit of cleaning and oiling your tack on a regular basis to prolong the life of your equipment. This will also give you a chance to spot any damage or stitches that need re-doing. Make sure all tack fits your horse correctly. If you have any doubts, get a professional saddle fitter to check. If you are planning on storing away some tack that you don’t use regularly, it is important to clean, condition and oil it to prevent damage from dirt, sweat, mildew or dryness.
This should be done every few months to maintain good condition. After conditioning, leather should be covered with a fabric cover so that it can breathe and be stored in a cool, dryl environment. The storage area should also be free of insects and rodents, which often chew on leather. There are many different saddle covers on the market which zip up to cover all of the leather, these are ideal as most saddle covers only cover the top of the saddle. If you don’t have one of these covers then an old, clean towel or sheet will work perfectly, but make sure to cover the underside as well.
Bridles, martingales, reins, girths and whatever other leather you have can be stored in small storage containers. If leather is going to be stored for a long time, it should be checked and reconditioned regularly. Leather strappings such as stirrup leathers, bridles and reins should be unassembled and stored flat if possible. Saddles should be stored on a saddle rack so that they maintain their original shape. Give your tack room a thorough clean, look up - clean out all the dust and cobwebs.
Grooming equipment Grooming brushes and equipment can harbour all sorts of bacteria and dirt. Take the time to clean and disinfect all grooming brushes and equipment. This is especially important if you have been using your equipment on several different horses over the winter. Filling a large bucket with warm water and disinfectant and leaving the brushes to soak for a few hours can make the cleaning process easier. Health care Take stock of what health care supplies you have and replenish where necessary.
Repurchase any summer veterinary essentials such as fly spray, electrolytes, and sun cream. Check that your worming and vaccination programmes are up-to-date. Feed room Make sure all feed is stored in a safe, dry area. If any feed supplies have become damp or damaged, dispose of them. Go through all storage areas and check that there is no evidence of rodents.
If you do happen to find that rodents have made themselves at home, put a programme in place to get rid of them. If they persist, it is worth considering getting a professional in to deal with the issue. There are a range of different storage options available, especially for storing feed. If you are dealing with large amounts of feed then heavy duty plastic containers work very well.
For smaller amounts of feed, use clean metal dustbins. These are all generally rodent proof.
References Curtis, L., Raymond, S. & Clarke, A. Dust and ammonia in horse stalls with different ventilation rates and bedding. Aerobiologia 12, 239–247 (1996). (1) https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02248160 Saastamoinen M, Särkijärvi S, Hyyppä S. Reducing Respiratory Health Risks to Horses and Workers: A Comparison of Two Stall Bedding Materials. Animals. 2015; 5(4):965-977. (2) https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02248160