Providing the best stable environment for your horse is high on any owner’s list of priorities. While many of us would opt for extensive and unrestricted turnout for our equine friends given the choice, many horses spend increased hours in the stable this time of year for a number of reasons – yard turnout rules, frozen or poached ground, or even a period of box rest following injury or illness.
While we know that providing our horses with freedom to move, graze and socialise gives them optimal conditions to function healthily, long-term solutions to limited turnout such as paddock regeneration or a yard move, take time to implement. However, there are plenty of short-term fixes you can action now to improve your horse’s stable environment…
1. Clean between the mats
Most of us have morning mucking out down to a fine art and transforming a dung-strewn stable into a well-formed bed takes just minutes. Even in that short time, though, your nose probably becomes desensitised to the pungent ammonia smell that emanates from dirty bedding.
Ammonia, an alkaline gas, is an irritant which is produced when urea in your horse’s urine is broken down by enzymes that digest it. Prolonged exposure to ammonia is linked to irritation to the skin and lungs, which is why removing urine-soaked bedding is so important to stable hygiene.
Soiled bedding loves to congregate in the cracks between rubber matting and it’s easy to miss it sneaking under there and building up. Next time you muck out, push your horse’s bed back, peel back the edge of your mat and see what you can dig out with the end of a fork and broom. Not only is it super-satisfying – TikTok is definitely missing mucking out ASMR – but removing the festering, ammonia-producing bacteria will help sanitise the air in your stable environment, too.
2. Get scrubbing
Cleaning your horse’s water buckets is a no-brainer, but is one of those jobs you miss in a hurry. However, algae can form quickly and some varieties produce harmful toxins, so regular scrubbing is a must.
It’s straightforward to spot and clean a dirty water bucket, but automatic drinking systems can be harder to keep track of. As a rule, the bowl should be emptied and cleaned as regularly as you would a bucket. The easiest method is to let it drain into a bucket below the trough and scrub while elevating the float so it doesn’t refill. Be sure you regularly check the delivery system, too, which should be accessible under the cover. You might need a screwdriver to get into it, though!
3. Rearrange your wall-drobe
Tack room space is often scarce and making several trips to and from it is a chore, so many of us store rugs, bandages and boots in our stables for ease and to reclaim some space. Over time, these items attract dust and hay spores, which contaminate the stable environment. Take them outside today and give them a shake, but also consider whether all of these items are in regular circulation. When was the last time you used that one smelly stable rug? Or the white tendon boots? If they’re not in common use, give them a wash and store them elsewhere. You can even vacuum pack them to save space and keep them fresh.
4. Make forage fun
It’s not just cleanliness that’s important – lack of mental stimulation can lead to boredom, stress and the rise of stable vices. The best stable toys, treat balls and licks work well, but if you’re calorie conscious or your horse is accident prone then hiding fibre nuts or carrots in his hay ration will help give him something to engage his brain. Quarter the carrots lengthwise to make a little go a long way.
5. Take a walk
Perhaps you don’t have time to squeeze in a ride or you’re inadvertently ten minutes ahead of schedule? Use that time to pop your horse in a turnout or lunge pen, even the school if your yard allows, so he can stretch his legs and have a good roll. He’ll definitely appreciate a change of scene. Or take him for a hand walk, on or off yard, and let him investigate verges and hedgerows for a quick snack. It’ll be most welcome if he’s on fewer grazing hours at the moment.
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Autor Bethany Stone