Horse Barn Management and Grooming for Healthy Horses
What makes a healthy horse? Sure – it’s grooming, diet, exercise, but it’s more! Your horse barn management skills and daily chores are an opportunity to help your horse’s health be the best it can be. Take a gander at these barn chores that are fantastic ways to improve your horse’s health. It’s more than just riding and grooming.
Table of Contents
You can’t have too much ventilation when it comes to horse stalls.
Your horse’s stall
- Improve your horse’s lung health by paying attention to ventilation and ammonia odors.
- For the best ventilation in your barn, open the windows all year long. During winter, your horse can maintain warmth with his coat and blankets while outside; the same goes for inside. Hopefully, all windows have enough overhang above to remain open during rain and snow. Lots of ventilation keeps those lungs clear.
- Ammonia is directly related to your horse’s urine. Urine doesn’t contain ammonia, but it does have urea that changes into ammonia shortly after it leaves your horse’s body. It’s chemistry at work!
- Ammonia is caustic – meaning it can damage the lungs and respiratory systems. It can also cause burns on your horse’s skin and sensitive areas.
How to get rid of ammonia
- Clean your horse’s bedding (in stalls or outdoor areas and sheds) at least once daily, preferably more.
- Pull away the top layers of shaving to get to the wet spots. Use a snow shovel to scrape the wet shavings. This is remarkably effective at getting urine spots out. You could leave the area exposed to air to dry out totally.
- Another option is to use an ammonia neutralizer to remove the caustic components. Neutralizers come in liquid, powder, and granules. Powder and granule zeolites are excellent at soaking up moisture and neutralizing odor if you don’t want a wet spot from a liquid ammonia neutralizer.
- After you have scraped away any urine spots, cover them with clean bedding.
- You may also want to experiment with bedding options. Use sawdust (if you can guarantee no black walnut) or pine pellets as a base layer and top with other larger flakes for fluffy comfort. The pellets expand into soft bedding and do well to absorb urine, and the top fluff cushions your horse.
- For leg and body comfort, give your horse soft mats, mattresses, and extra bedding where they sleep. Provide a pile of shavings or outdoor bedding if your horse sleeps outside in a paddock.
Slow feeders for the win
How does your horse eat?
Have a forage-based diet available 24/7
- Healthy pasture isn’t available for all horses or at all times of the year. And, some high-laminitis risk horses shouldn’t be on grass at all. It’s ideal to have forage available around the clock and to base your horse’s diet on forage.
- Horses usually want to eat about 17 hours a day; they do have to sleep and move, too. But those hours vary, so forage should be there when your horse isn’t resting. Slow feeders are great for supplementing and replacing pasture.
- There are many slow feeders – from hay nets, baskets, toys, boxes with mesh tops, and even tubs that roll around.
- Ideally, the slow feeder you use is protected from a horseshoe getting stuck and is low enough for your horse’s head to hang as if grazing.
What about grains, feeds, and supplements?
- If your horse gets a ration balancer, grains, pellets, or other bagged feed, offer them many smaller portions throughout the day instead of one large meal. This helps the digestive system operate smoothly without interruptions of densely concentrated feed.
- Offering multiple feedings of bagged foods resembles eating a few cookies throughout the day vs. many cookies at once.
- Eating at ground level is best to help clear the respiratory system, and this follows their anatomy. The head and neck of a horse are ergonomically designed to eat at the ground level.
- Your horse benefits from NOT eating on the actual ground. As they eat, horses are not great at avoiding sand, dirt, and ground-level grossness. Over time, this accumulation of sand in the digestive system can create digestive issues and sand colic.
- Use mats, tubs, or slow feeder boxes to keep grazing from the ground to a minimum. You can find all sorts of slow feeders for hay, cubes, pellets, and concentrated feeds.
Yes, you can slow feed grains and pellets, too!
Mind the water source
- Water is life! And horses are a funny bunch when it comes to drinking preferences.
- According to some research on the topic, most horses prefer to drink cold water but will drink more water when it’s warm. They will choose the cold when given a choice between cold and warm water. This choice of water is significant in winter, as dehydration happens quickly. Warm water may be the best option!
- Bucket cozies, heated buckets, and heating elements for larger troughs are good options for cold weather watering systems.
- Read the study that revealed this fascinating revelation.
- Are you tracking how much water your horse drinks? Like vital signs, knowing your horse’s daily water intake alerts you when there’s a change of behavior.
- Automatic waterers can have attachments added to calculate water intake. Most tubs and water buckets have hashes to measure your horse’s water intake.
- Lastly, is your horse’s water clean? Would you drink from it?
Crystal-clear water, preferably warm, is best.
- It’s harder to monitor water intake in a herd, so tracking your horse’s hydration is essential. This is important for ALL horses.
- You can check your horse’s gums for hydration. When the gums are slippery, that’s good! Sticky or dry gums can indicate dehydration. While you are there, make sure the gums are pink. Abnormal colors like red, blue, and purple necessitate a call to the vet.
- The skin-tent test is also a choice to check hydration. Pinch a bit of your horse’s skin on the neck, and see how long it takes to smooth out. The longer it takes, the less hydrated your horse is. This test is OK, but not as good as checking gums.
Read this for more on your horse’s vital signs
Keep your horse moving
- Turnout and/or grazing is another opportunity for your horse to move around. Grazing horses can walk many miles daily, keeping their bodies and minds healthy. The more turnout, the better for most horses.
- Just like dogs, cats, and people, horses will play! Interacting with the herd stimulates their brains and keeps their bodies moving according to what they like. It’s like exercise, with freedom.
Exercise and riding
- Exercise is how we train and create a relationship with our horses. Riding also contributes to your horse’s daily movement and overall well-being. Going for rides also lets you feel what’s happening in their body from another angle. Sure, grooming and handling give you lots of information, but riding gives you another way to get that information.
- A sour horse may have something physical going on; their saddle may not fit, their teeth may hurt, or they are protesting something about being ridden. Consider this feedback carefully and help your horse love exercise again.
- The footing you ride on matters. Hard or shallow footing creates a lot of concussion in the legs, rocky footing can cause stone bruises and sore hooves, and extra-deep footing can strain tendons and ligaments. It’s as if you are looking for the Goldilocks of footing for your discipline.
- Many a vet and trainer will tell you that working your horse on varying terrain and changing footing is good for them. It is! Within reason, of course. Walking is often the most beneficial gait to explore new ground. You can stop trotting or cantering for a spell if the earth becomes questionable.
- The ground in turnout and pastures matters, too – don’t turn out in an ice storm or when mud is dangerously deep or slippery.
How’s the footing?
Relationships with other horses
- Herd living, full-time or part-time, is vital for horses. You can make herd living safe and fun with a few guidelines.
- Avoid turnout areas with nooks or small sheds for a horse to be trapped. There should always be an escape route and enough room for a horse to evade other horses.
- There needs to be enough pasture or hay to prevent arguments. If the field is sparse and you supplement with hay, provide more piles than there are horses.
- Spend time watching the here. Notice which horses are last to eat and their place in the herd. Are they losing weight or being kicked and bitten in dangerous ways? Or the opposite, is a horse getting overweight because they have the first food choice?
- Some horses are solitary in their paddocks for many health, safety, and available resource conditions. Be sure they can see other horses and have a way to interact with them.
Horses do best with a friend
- And speaking of paddocks and pasture, have horse-friendly fencing. Most importantly, your horse needs to be able to see the fence. Wire fencing is almost invisible to a horse unless wood framing is added to give shape and a physical obstacle. No barbed wire, just no.
- Horses may decide to get tangled in fencing as they reach through to grab a snack. This is a sure-fire way to end up with a vet bill.
- Fencing can be so tempting for horses with vices. Cribbers and wood chewers can obliterate fencing and often their teeth, too. There is also a link between cribbers and colic. Not to mention all of the time you will spend repairing it.
- Electric fencing, or hot wire, is an option to protect your fencing and your horse. It’s not cruel, and the “pow” it delivers is less than a static shock.
Biosecurity for your horse
- Sometimes in the news, we hear about a horse show or barn quarantined due to EHV-1 or strangles. While these two diseases are not the only contagious ones, it’s a reminder to practice good biosecurity at horse shows and at home.
- Strangles is a bacterial infection. Wild nasal discharge and sometimes pockets of infection around the throat pop up, which may rupture.
- EHV-1 is a respiratory virus that can have deadly neurological aspects, too.
- Biosecurity is a set of guidelines to help prevent disease transmission. That’s all! Good barn management keeps all horses safe.
Mind your p’s and q’s at horse shows
Good biosecurity practices at horse shows
- Sanitize your horse’s stall before your horse moves in.
- Don’t touch or handle horses that are not yours.
- Wash your hands frequently, especially if you do touch other horses.
- Don’t share buckets, hoses, grooming tools, tack, saddle pads, or anything between horses.
- Take your horse’s temperature daily. Make it twice a day at horse shows and a few days after a horse show. A horse will have a fever before he seems “off,” and you can address the issue before it worsens.
- Keep your horse vaccinated and the Coggins up to date.
- Avoid nose-to-nose contact between horses. Add a grooming stall next to your horse to minimize neighborly interactions.
Traveling with horses
- When traveling over state lines with your horse, you need a negative Coggins test and a health certificate.
- Coggins tests look for the Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) virus in horses. This highly contagious disease has no vaccine and no cure. Horses with EIA will often be asymptomatic, hence the test.
- Health certificates, also known as an ICVI (Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection) are done before travel. Your vet will examine your horse and declare whether your horse is fit to travel. Many showgrounds require the Coggin’s test for the horse to be on the grounds.
Daily grooming and developing barn management habits that put your horse’s health first are easy! The more you do them, the easier and faster you will be done. Keep practicing, and soon you will have a routine down.
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