Simple topic, right? Just shovel. Well, no. First we begin with the WHY---
We clean out our horses’ stalls for a number of reasons. The first, really, is aesthetic. We like to see t hem looking all fluffy and pretty and inviting, it makes us feel like good and virtuous horsekeepers. The second reason is also partly aesthetic. We want to minimize bugs and smell-causing bacteria. What about the horses? Well, they like their stalls to smell familiar. Many horses will pee the moment they come into their nice, clean stall. Most have a preferred spot for poop and for pee. Now, in nature, they’d have lots of room to wander away from those spots, but instead we take the spots away from them… So- what does a horse really need in a stall? They need it to feel fairly flat, level and smooth, with nothing hidden underneath to poke or bite or startle them, and no deep holes to put strain on tendons. They need it to be dust free enough and ammonia free enough and well enough ventilated not to irritate their respiratory systems. While good air flow is important, drafts can be uncomfortable, so nicely banked shavings along the walls can help protect feet from the cold and from getting stuck in the very corners. That’s really about it. Horses do NOT need a foot of big fluffy shavings in which to get lost. They don’t need aromatic wood. They don’t need bug spray coming out of the sky, there are simpler forms of bug reduction that don’t add poisons or particles to the air.
So, what’s the procedure? First, remove and dump your water buckets, and let them drain. Saves a lot of scrubbing and reduces dust collection. Put left over clean hay in the feed tub. If it’s convenient, remove the feed tub, too, and any toys. Now there’s nothing to work around. Um, your horse is turned out, right? I generally place my barrow across the front of the stall. It gives me a nice big target for flinging manure, keeps the door from swinging shut if there’s no hook to keep it back, and keeps wandering horses from coming in or out if I’m forced to clean a tenanted barn. Now to begin. First pick up the obvious piles and random poops. I generally use the tips of the pitchfork tines, rather than digging right in, so that I don’t have too much bedding to shake loose. That was the easy part. Next, working around the outside of the stall and gradually in toward the center, lift the clean shavings and toss each forkful at the wall. As it falls down, any manure that you missed will roll out so you can dispose of it. You wind up with nice, fluffy, re-useable shavings banked against the wall. Any thing which offers weight or resistance, leave alone. One of your goals at this point is to discover the pee spot(s), but not to remove them yet. Once you’ve got some clear floor, turn your pitchfork over and use it as a rake. Gently and lightly pull away from the heavy/wet spots any shavings which are still light and clean enough to hold liquid. Then add those shavings to the ones banked along the walls. You are trying to be frugal here- shavings cost money and take up space. The less we remove, the longer before having to add bedding to the stalls or drag away the manure pile. Finally, scoop up any soiled hay you have discovered, and whatever shavings are too wet and heavy to hold more moisture. You’ll recognize them by the ammonia smell… Turn your pitchfork back over, and rake up the wet spot, then gently scoop it out. By using the fork more like a rake than a shovel, you minimize the deep hole in the center of the stall, making it more shallow while still removing the mess. When you have raked out as much of the wet spot as you are able, if it’s really nasty, you might need to sprinkle on some slaked lime, also known as “Sweet PDZ”™. Don’t use too much, it dries out hooves, too. If you can, you might want to leave the stall to air for a little while.
As you re-bed the stall, once again work from the outside, around the walls. Turn your pitchfork over, tines down, grab a spot along the wall (I work from beside the door around the back), and sweep toward the center. As you go around, slide some shavings sideways and some toward the center, until you have a fairly level, fluffy bed about two or three inches deep, with no obvious holes. Leave the bedding banked a couple of inches higher along the outside nine inches or foot of the wall, for warmth and padding, if you are able. The result of this procedure is that all the shavings will get circulated throughout the stall, remaining loose, fluffy and absorbent, catching any remaining moisture or odor, and generally being useful. The color becomes darker over time, but not the deep brown or red of sopping wet nasty bedding. If you are going to add more shavings (I generally put in one heaping large barrow full twice a week), bank it around the edges, don’t just drop it in the center. That way all the bedding gets used to its fullest extent, rather than the same stuff staying put and getting packed down, while the new shavings get used and tossed. I also like to leave a “vestibule” without shavings at the entries of the stall if I can, to keep the horse from dragging that bedding up against the door and thence outside. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Another useful chore that you might want to do while cleaning stalls is to knock down spider webs with an old ratty broom. Besides keeping a tidier appearance, it reduces the danger of fire. Best to do this job when there is neither horse nor water for the dusty cobwebs to land on. Now look around- I think you’re done. Doesn’t this stall look inviting?
At long last, put your buckets back in place, toss in a flake of hay and fill up the water buckets. It’s almost as nice as the turn-down bed service at a fancy hotel, but without the chocolate….
Oh yeah- manure management. Right, you can use it to mulch the trees. Some folks say to leave a hollow right around the trunk for water to gather, I’ve seen it done with or without. Or, you can use the manure to fill in low spots in the pasture. If you do that, spread it out so the bugs die. Or, you can set up a composting system with your manure pile, turning it over as each section gets full. That’s a great way to create rich soil, if you have the space and patience for it. I don’t recommend using the used shavings to add depth to your arena footing, as it can be slippery especially when wet. Don’t forget to put the wheelbarrow away against a wall so it doesn’t collect water, and the pitchfork where no one will step on it Finally, it’s time for a well deserved break.