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Clean Stalls, Healthy Horses

The idyllic living environment for our horses begins with creating a clean, safe space for them.

Whenever animals are kept in confined areas, cleanliness becomes synonymous with healthiness. Horses are no exception to this rule. Whether our equine buddies spend their time in stalls, paddocks, run-ins, or sheds, they deserve to reap the benefits of a well-maintained and healthy environment.

Aside from smelling and looking unsightly, a poorly kept stall or enclosure is potentially harmful to its inhabitants. Urine and particles from dust, hay, and bedding can accumulate over time and compromise your horse's respiratory system. Damp, soiled bedding can contribute to hoof ailments like thrush. An improperly placed water source can become contaminated by fecal and hay debris.

Luckily, there are many techniques available to help horse owners combat these problems. From the type of flooring you use to the type of bedding you choose, weighing your options carefully and adjusting them according to your own personal needs can have a large impact on the time and effort it takes to maintain a safe, clean living environment.

Flooring Options
The basis of any structure is the foundation, and the same applies to the flooring of your horse's stall or enclosure. Joey Errigo, former owner and operator of Canterbury Farm and Tack Shop in Binghamton, New York has dealt with many types of flooring in her years of keeping horses. Errigo has had experience with wood, dirt, and concrete floors. "The absolute worst is concrete, since it's hard on the horses' legs and hooves," she states. Concrete is also very cold in the winter and doesn't drain well.

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• Cleanliness and healthiness are equivalent when you're talking about your horse's living quarters.
• Choose flooring that will be easier on your horse's legs-something with a little give.
• Stall mats help to keep your floor surface level and clean.
• Bedding options abound, even including some newer, "green" choices.
• Cross ventilating and using stall deodorizers can help eliminate odors and dust.

Wood floors are another option. "I had 40 wood-floored stalls at Canterbury, and I liked the fact that they do give under the horses' weight. They also stay drier since the urine oozes through the cracks and out a drain." The down side of wood floors is that they require regular maintenance and are expensive to repair.

Most owners have dirt/clay floors, which are both low cost and easier to maintain than their wood or concrete counterparts. Earthen floors have quite a bit of capacity for urine drainage. Unfortunately, they can become dusty, muddy, absorb urine odor, and develop uneven spots.

Stall Mats
If these are problems that you've encountered, then investing in stall mats may resolve your issues. Although the initial purchase is sometimes a bit costly (you could end up spending a few hundred dollars per stall), the money and time they save you in the long run may well be worth the price.

Aside from reducing the need to even out annoying indentations in the floor, stall mats also reduce bedding costs. Mud and dust become less of a problem, and the time it takes to muck out the stall is reduced. The time-saving factor may be especially attractive if you own several horses.

Lisa L. Hoteling, owner and operator of Harmony Hills Ranch in Binghamton, New York, has dedicated over 20 years to the care of horses. She uses mats as a first line of defense against dust and odor. "I mat the stalls, and that's huge because it cuts down on the time of cleaning and keeps the horses cleaner too," she says.

However, be aware that even if you have mats in your stalls, debris can still become lodged in the seams as the mats shift over time. If so, it may eventually become necessary to clean under them. Interlocking stall mats have edges that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to reduce shifting. Yet even without the interlocking feature, the scenario of pulling mats back to clean the area beneath should be a relatively rare occurrence.

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