Five quick tips for horse stall maintenance

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Editors Note: Friday’s Opinion appeared on Wednesday of this week due the timely (and scary) nature of the issue addressed. So, this week’s usual Wed. quick tips feature is a bit delayed.

Whether you are housing horses in a stall 24/7 (a tough life for a horse unless injury layup is an excuse), offering limited daily time in a paddock, giving horses ample pasture time during the day or night (depending on the season) or operating with a primary turnout situation that has horses in stalls only during severe weather, vet appearances, blacksmith visits, foaling times or training preparation activities, you need stalls. These quick tips assume your horse spends daily time in the stall, but could also apply to those who don’t (and run in sheds).

Quick tips for stall maintenance

  1. Know your flooring and address the issues. Wood and mats when wet can be very slippery. Make sure you have enough bedding (sawdust provides better footing on these surfaces than straw) to ensure foals can get up (we bed foaling stalls with straw, but have found that it’s necessary to put a thin layer of sawdust under a bale or two of straw for some less coordinated foals), excited horses don’t fall and periodic accommodations are made to dry these areas out. Wood rots too, so keep an eye on deterioration and fix it before a collapse results in a vet bill. Cement is too hard on horses that spend a lot of time in the stall. Invest in mats if this is your only surface option and bed deep. Dirt encourages digging and urine will produce holes too. We put mats in our dirt stalls (sans one for our mare who has a proclivity for producing slow foals) and pull them out annually to level out the dirt. Still, dirt, although high maintenance, is probably the best solution for your horse. If you’re building from the ground up, put stone down about seven inches for good drainage.
  2. Picking stalls saves time and bedding costs. It’s relatively easy to remove manure at feeding times and doing so makes the full stall clean a lot quicker, keeps the stall a lot neater and makes a great impression on visitors. We have a couple of churn machines in our barn and staying on top of the deposits reduces bedding and labor costs dramatically.
  3. There are ergonomic tools you can put to the task, but we’ve found a standard plastic pitchfork to be the most durable and easiest tool for the task (even on the straw stalls – so much sold in our area today is so chaffy, standard metal straw pitchforks just don’t work well). We also use a broom in stalls to clear wet spots thoroughly.
  4. We’ve found the best stall construction material to be 1” X 6” rough cut oak. It’s tough and affordable. If you screw (vs. nail) the boards in, they’re easy to remove when broken or chewed through. Having cordless power tools (circular saw, drill, etc.) makes it’s simple to render quick repairs and keep your barn in pristine shape.
  5. Inspect stalls (and run-in sheds) daily for loose screws/nails, eye-hooks that may have been mangled, boards that are loose, items that may have been pulled in by the resident and other potential injury issues. It’s amazing how some horses are magnets for trouble. Save yourself the heartache and headache of injuries and vet bills by striving to prevent potential mishaps.

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