You’re on the road with your horse and going to be staying overnight. You’ve just arrived at the show grounds, or race track, or lay over farm and look into your horse’s quarters. You’re horrified to see a large diarrhea stain on the wall. Is it safe to use this stall'
That stain may be due to an episode of stress diarrhea, but there’s no way to know for sure by just looking at the stall. Viruses and bacteria are microscopic and nasal secretions, even pus, can be invisible when dried. Fortunately, viruses typically have a survival time of only a few hours or less when outside the animal’s body, but many bacteria can survive for days, weeks or longer. You may feel like you’re being obsessive, or worry about hurting someone’s feelings, but disinfecting temporary quarters before using them is good idea unless you know the facility routinely does it between horses.
Get Organized.We’ll get to the actual process of disinfecting the stall in a moment, as well as products you can use, but making this process easy on both you and the horse takes a little bit of coordination. Pack your stall preparation equipment where you can get to it easily, not buried under blankets and tack. Take care of your horse before you tackle the stall. Even though it doesn’t take that long, if you ignore your horse he’ll be stomping and shaking that trailer like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.
Unload the horse and walk him around a bit to stretch. You can take him into the stall to urinate, but don’t turn him loose or let him touch anything with his nose or mouth. If he won’t urinate on the end of a line, put him on cross-ties. Offer water, then put the horse back on the trailer with the doors open (if safe) and a hay bag or net to keep him busy. Now you’re ready to get his home away from home in order.
Stall Prep. Remove buckets and troughs. For disinfectants to work well, they have to be able to come into direct contact with the organism. Don’t expect them to work through a layer of dirt, manure or bedding. Step one is to use a stiff push broom to remove any manure or dirt clinging to the walls or stall bars. Next, remove all bedding and rake down to dry dirt. If you were doing this at home, you would then wash down the walls with a power washer or soap and water, but you’ll have to skip this when you’re away from home. If you do decide to at least spot wash a portion of the stall, you’ll have to be careful to rinse it free of all cleaning materials/soaps. These may react negatively with disinfectant solutions.
Walls.Walls should be done first. Using a disinfectant (see chart) and a spray bottle, saturate the walls with the solution. Safety glasses and a mask are advisable, even if the product doesn’t call for them. Sprays are typically applied from a distance eight to 12 inches off the wall, and it’s very easy for spray to get into your eyes or be inhaled. Some disinfectants, like Nolvasan, are dangerous if they get in your eyes. Also disinfect any portions of the door and stall exterior your horse could reach when hanging out a half door.
Keep windows and doors open during disinfection but avoid a direct breeze/draft. The solutions are maximally active when wet and need to stay wet for three to 10 minutes to do their job. You don’t want them to dry out too quickly. Allow to dry thoroughly before putting the horse in the stall.
Floors.Your approach to the floor — where your horse will do a lot of exploring and nosing around — depends on the surface. If matted, concrete or wood, a floor can be treated the same way as the walls after thoroughly sweeping. Dirt is more of a problem. It can’t be disinfected without removing the top few inches, which obviously is out of the question.
You can use a layer of stall lime, followed by fine shavings or sawdust. A stall-treatment product with high moisture-absorption capacity can also help. Another option is to bring along a lightweight, easy to install and remove floor covering (see chart).
Sanitary Dining.Never use troughs or buckets that may be at the facility. Bring your horse’s buckets from home. The stall prep above should make it safe to feed hay from the floor for all but the toughest organisms, but if you want extra protection consider using a hay net or bag when away from home. Another option is pelleted or cubed hay that you can feed from a bucket.
Bottom Line. All these items must be EPA-registered and pass disinfection testing by methods approved by the Association of Official Analytical Chemists. In short, they all disinfect, as claimed. However, they’re not all convenient to use or worth the time it takes to use them.
If you only disinfect when away from home, the Absorbine Stall Safe system is a convenient all-in-one product and our No. 1 pick. $25 is a good price for easy infection prevention. They also offer refills for this system in small amounts more suitable to the single horse owner or occasional barn disinfectant user.
If you do stall-disinfection regularly at home, you might save a little money by assembling your own spraying system ($13 to $18) and using the Trifectant tablets. Trifectant is a broad-spectrum virucidal, bactericidal and fungicidal disinfectant.
Concentrated disinfectant solutions in large/gallon amounts may have a shelf life as short as one year and often present a safe disposal problem if you have excess left beyond the expiration date.
Note: The disinfectants in this story are examples of products we particularly like. However, there are multiple brands on the market with similar efficacy. Although the marketing on some products may be directed more toward kennels, small animals, poultry, pigs, dairy, etc., any product that is approved for use in animal facilities can be used with horses.
Products vary in the precautions that must be used during application, but we advise you to always use caution and read labels carefully. Disinfectants are widely available at farm-supply stores.
Article by Dr. Eleanor Kellon, Horse Journal Veterinary Editor.