As winter sets in, the weather may limit the availability of outdoor activities for you and your horses. Now may be a good time to step back and evaluate your barn's condition and organization and take on some do-it-yourself barn projects to help make your stable as clean and comfortable as possible.
This doesn't have to be one of those huge projects you never get around to. Think of our 10-step guide as a quick weekly reference list. Strap on your iPod with your favorite tunes and check off just one of these items a week. Each one will take less time than you think, and before you know it, you'll have your barn in tip-top shape.
1 Organize the Barn
Barn clutter can be unsightly, dangerous and provide cozy locations for unwanted critters to nest in during cold weather. Pick up large items, such as tarps and blankets, and either hang them up or store them in boxes or on shelves. Small, everyday items should be arranged for convenience and orderliness. Kimberly Kast, owner of Flyn' Hooves Stable in Lubbock, Texas, hangs halters and lead ropes on hooks or stalls to prevent horses from stepping on them and to keep them accessible.
A few well-placed hooks in your barn can also help organize frequently used barn tools. Mounting hooks along a single wall can keep shovels, rakes, pitchforks and other tools readily available yet out of the way. Keep wheelbarrows along walls, in tool nooks, or outside of the barn to maintain clear aisles and maximize safety for horses and handlers.
Drain your hoses and roll them up daily, especially during freezing weather. A hose caddy can help make this process easier and is available at most home-improvement stores.
Clean the drains in your barn to ensure proper water flow. This might be a good time to pop off the drain cover and remove any hair or debris that might have accumulated there.
Dispose of trash that may accumulate in the barn. Horses browsing for loose hay on the floor can easily ingest rubber bands and strings, so make sure you dispose of those properly.
2 Clean Water Troughs
Providing fresh, clean water is an important part of horse care year-round. Ronnie Quest, the owner of Equestrian Stables in Lubbock, Texas, recommends cleaning large water troughs at least quarterly throughout the year. He says the mud and muck on the bottom of a dirty trough will freeze into any ice that accumulates around the trough. By cleaning troughs before they freeze, you can make sure your horses' water remains fresh.
Smaller water buckets should be cleaned weekly, Kast says. In her barn, Kast has positioned heat lamps on the stable's ceiling so they hang in the vicinity of her stalls' water buckets. When the temperature drops below freezing, she turns on the lamps to keep the horses warm and the water unfrozen.
Buddy Knox, a small-scale horse owner, siphons water out of the trough when it's time for cleaning and scrubs the algae in the tank with a mop or brush. He also recommends keeping goldfish in troughs year-round to keep algae growth at a minimum.
3 Streamline the Feed Room
Efficiency is the name of the game for feed rooms. Shelves and containers can be organized so that you can reduce the time it takes for your feeding regimen.
Grain should be kept in moisture-resistant, rodent-proof containers to maintain freshness. Many barns use plastic tubs or metal trash cans for feed storage, but horse owner Susan Maxey prefers using an old appliance in her feed room. "The best thing we ever found is an old freezer we keep our feed in," she says. "It keeps the mice out and the dust out, and the horses can't get into it."
Reorganizing your hay supply might also be a good idea. Knox suggests moving older hay toward the front of your stack, where you will use it first, and backfilling with the new hay. Be sure to check for any mold and toss that immediately so as not to contaminate any new hay. Stacking the hay on palettes will also help keep moisture away from the bales.
Shelves in feed rooms can help maintain organization, especially if you use several feeds, supplements or medications for your horses. To help her manage 16 horses, Kast keeps a chart in the feed room outlining the type and amount of feed and hay each horse receives daily. She says that makes it easy to ensure each horse is being fed correctly, even if someone else needs to feed.
Keep a trash can within reach of the feed room to provide easy access for the disposal of empty feed sacks, supplement containers, de-worming tubes, and other items. Make sure the trash barrel has a secure lid because anything containing feed residue will attract varmints.
You probably already dispose of baling twine and wire regularly, but if you keep them around your barn for future use, be realistic about how much you really need in reserve. Wind it up and place the material in a central location, such as a designated wall hook. That way, the twine and wire are within reach, but won't tangle around unsuspecting legs.
4 Compartmentalize the Tack Room
It is easy for a tack room to become disorganized quickly, especially if you have several horses or lots of equipment. But a few key items can help you solve that problem permanently.
Bridle hooks, shelves, and saddle racks can be homemade or purchased ready-to-use. Often, the only installation involved is mounting them onto walls. Tack trunks, racks, and containers can be used to help organize your tack and supplies in a centralized location, and are "worth their weight in gold," Maxey says. You can buy durable containers at local home-improvement and discount stores, or order equestrian-friendly systems that take into consideration special tack and tool storage needs. They are available in many styles, sizes and colors. Clear plastic containers are especially handy because you can see the contents with a quick glance.
Kast keeps her lesson tack and boarders' tack in separate locations. Her lesson tack is labeled with the correct horse's name and is hung on corresponding hooks. Brushes can be organized on a wheeled cart or in other containers, such as labeled grooming totes, to help keep them in one location. Shelving units can add additional storage space for your tack and equipment.
As you reorganize, take inventory of your grooming and fly-control products and get rid of any empty containers. Safely store those items you'll need for next season.
Keep in mind that your city or county sanitation department may require special disposal methods for fly spray and other pesticide bottles in order to keep potential toxins out of landfills. Check area regulations before simply chucking those items into the dumpster. While reusing spray bottles and other containers is admirable, determine if it's safe or appropriate to rinse and save those bottles for future use.
Evaluate your equine medicine chest before the winter as well. Now is a good time to toss expired or empty medications and restock your medicine cabinet. Be aware that some medications will freeze during cold weather, which could impact their potency, Quest says, so make sure medications are stored in a temperature-appropriate location. If you don't have a climate-controlled place in the barn, move them to the house.
5 Condition Equipment
If the outdoor elements are keeping you inside of the barn, now may be a good time to give your tack a good cleaning and conditioning. Tack benefits from regular cleaning with saddle soap, but it needs to be oiled once or twice annually to maintain leather suppleness, says Cindy McCully, president of Cynron Saddlery. Hair and sweat accumulate on saddle pads while riding, so pads also need occasional cleaning.You can clean saddle pads in several ways, such as with a power washer or by hand washing. But if declining temperatures prevent soap and water treatment, you can use a stiff-bristled horse brush to remove matted hair and dirt on the underside of the pad for a quick touch-up.
Grooming materials should be cleaned and disinfected occasionally as well. Horse brushes can be cleaned daily with little effort by running your hand across the bristles to remove hair and dirt. To disinfect grooming items, dilute bleach in a bucket of water at a 1:10 ratio. Submerge the brushes, combs and other items in the bleach-water mixture and allow them to soak. Remove and rinse the items thoroughly with clean water, and allow them to air dry.
6 Unclutter Barn Aisles
An uncluttered, swept barn aisle presents a pleasant picture of your barn to visitors. Keep aisles clear of items that may inhibit horses' movements or compromise safety. You may be surprised at the things you've allowed semi-permanent residence in the aisle. Take a few moments to find a proper place for anything that doesn't belong and will hinder movement of you and your horse through the aisle.
Barn aisles should be swept daily to clean up loose hay, straw, shavings and feed that may have accumulated - not only to enhance the barn's aesthetics but to help prevent fire. To minimize dust raised when raking a dirt aisle, Kast recommends watering the ground lightly before raking. If it's not too cold, dampening your broom while you sweep a concrete aisle-way may also help keep the dust down.
7 Seasonalize Your Horse Attire
It seems most barns have an abundance of seasonal horse attire: summer sheets, blankets, fly masks, hoods and more. To keep your investments in good condition, store the items you are not using.
While you are using your winter blankets and hoods, take time to clean, repair and store your summer horse items. Fly sheets and masks, stable sheets, and other items can be stored in plastic containers or tack boxes to keep them dust- and rodent-free. When your horses' winter attire is removed - such as during exercise or on a warm day - hang the items on a blanket rack or stall door to keep them clean and ready to use, Jessica Knox suggests. Blanket racks and hooks can be purchased inexpensively from many catalogues and stores, and require minimal assembly.
Blankets can be cleaned several ways. Some people prefer to dry clean them, while others throw them in a washing machine. Buddy Knox says one affordable cleaning method is to place the blanket on a fence or concrete slab and hand-wash using water, laundry detergent, and a stiff brush. Make sure you rinse the blanket well to prevent skin irritations from leftover soap.
8 Search and Destroy Cobwebs and Dust
One of the hardest things to do in a barn filled with horses is keep it clean. Cobwebs and dust are fire hazards, however, so now may be time to give the barn a thorough cobweb inspection. You can easily dislodge and remove cobwebs by several means, including using brooms, mops, and industrial vacuums. Don't forget to wear hats, gloves and jackets to keep the cobwebs and creep-crawlies out of your hair and off your clothes.
A hose with a spray nozzle can be used to dislodge those hard-to-reach cobwebs, Maxey says, but this may not be an option if the weather has already dipped below freezing in your part of the country. Kast recommends using a leaf blower to blow cobwebs and dust right out of the barn. She does this about every three weeks to keep her barn clean.
Cobwebs and dust can also cloud barn windows and accumlate on light fixtures, making your barn darker and dingier than it needs to be. Clean windows and dust lighting fixtures, and allow the light to shine through.
9 Eradicate Barn Pests
Rodents and birds are common barn nuisances, but you can take steps to eliminate or reduce their presence. Barn cats are a traditional means of assistance to reduce rodent populations.
Feed and supplements should be kept in rodent-proof containers: Metal or plastic trash cans and heavy-duty plastic containers work well and are inexpensive. Clean up spilled grain immediately to help keep pests at bay.
Evaluate your barn for the presence of bird nests. If you do not want birds in your barn, remove the nests by hand, with the assistance of a ladder if necessary. According to the Iowa State University Extension, netting placed around barn rafters and commercial repellants can be used to discourage nesting birds. Plastic owls and plastic snakes placed throughout the barn can "trick" birds and rodents, helping to reduce their numbers in your barn.
10 Check Wiring, Hinges and Mats
Take a few minutes to evaluate your barn's overall physical condition. Quest recommends checking your electricity and wires, and making sure you have extra extension cords and electric water heaters.
Check the hinges and running tracks of your barn and stall doors, and gates for rust and debris. Make sure they're in working condition, and clean and oil them if necessary.
"You leave the doors open all summer long," Quest says. "The grass grows up and the dirt piles up and the hinges rust. Then when the storm comes, the doors don't work."
If your barn has aisle or stall mats, pull them out for an occasional cleaning with water and soap. Dirt and small objects can easily find their way under aisle mats, so it's a good idea to move or lift them periodically for cleaning. In stalls, removing mats allows you to check for level footing and eliminate urine spots that may have developed. Lime or commercial stall deodorizers can be used on urine spots, but make sure you read the manufacturers' instructions for proper use.
By evaluating these 10 aspects of your barn, you will be well on your way to having happy horses, happy humans, and a clean, organized barn all year long. PH*