Here are some practical ideas you can share with veterinary clients for housing their horses indoors during the winter.
Housing for horses has not changed significantly in decades. The majority of horse stalls are still mucked out using a wheelbarrow and pitchfork. There are, however, other ways of doing things, many which lead to healthier horses and more spare time for the handlers. Here are some practical ideas from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs that you can share with clients that should take some of the work out of the day-to-day chores. Part one covers indoor housing.
Indoor housing is often used for a horse that is being ridden every day in the winter. The old two-story bank barn design is still commonly used in some areas, but it’s not well suited for horses without a number of renovations. There is the added danger of fire when a large amount of hay is stored above the stalls. Newer single-story barns are easier and cheaper to build and maintain. Hay storage is cheaper when built on the end of the barn rather than on a second story. If hay storage is planned for inside a barn, consult with your local fire department for advice on fire prevention and fire barrier placement.
Individual box stalls are commonly used for indoor housing. However, they require a considerable amount of daily manual labor for manure removal. Plan a mechanization system to decrease the labor cost of manure removal. Examples of mechanized systems include:
• A barn cleaner, which can be installed in the floor (as seen in a tie-stall dairy farm). It’s installed either at the back of the stall or in the alleyway and is covered with grates that are lifted at convenient locations to facilitate dumping of the manure. A mechanical stable cleaner works well, although it requires extensive cement work and the daily lifting of floor panels.
• A dump station, which allows manure to be dumped into a small pit located inside the barn. An auger or elevator removes the manure to a storage area.
• Sliding partitions or gates, which move out of the way, will allow a tractor to come through an end wall door and facilitate the clean out of a line of stalls all at once. This makes stall cleaning easy. The gates are hinged to the wall and swing out of the way while the sliding partitions are built to slide into the alleyway.
• Garden tractor and dump wagon or a manure spreader, which is driven down the alleyway going from one stall to the next. Manure is dumped into the wagon and removed to storage or directly onto the land. Carbon monoxide and exhaust fumes can be both irritating and a danger in a closed barn.
Standing stalls have been used to house horses, especially of the draft horse breeds. Horses, which are exercised daily, get along well with standing stalls. The horse can be tied forward with a chain or rope tether that passes through the manger and is attached to a weighty block of wood. As the horse moves forward, the weight maintains some tension on the tether, which helps prevent the horse from getting caught in it. Horses can also be allowed to stand loose in a standing stall with two chains across the open end. If the stalls are wide enough, horses can go into the stall and turn around. They can then be fed and watered facing the alleyway.
Free-stall, open-sided housing works well to maintain horses in an open-air atmosphere while providing some protection from rain. Free-stall buildings are often used to house a band of mares or a group of horses that get along well together. They are often used as run-in sheds. Turkey curtains can be hung in the open sides or ends of buildings, and in arenas, to increase ventilation in mild weather while providing the option to roll the curtain down in inclement weather. The turkey curtain operates on a winch and can be adjusted for different weather conditions. Open shed rows are basically box stalls in a row with doors that open to the outdoors. The doorway is often a split or Dutch door design to allow the upper half to be left open, which provides good ventilation. These are often used in mild climates and in some racetrack facilities.
Indoor exercise areas are an excellent addition to a horse facility, especially when the horses are housed indoors for lengthy periods of time or during inclement weather. Regular exercise is essential. On pregnant mare urine farms (PMU), mares are turned out as a family group into an indoor exercise area. The family group consists of horses that are housed closely together in the winter and are herd mates during the summer. Some horse owners use their indoor riding arenas as an indoor exercise paddock during inclement weather. However, be aware of the danger of using oil products on arena surfaces to control dust and, then, feeding the horses on the ground in the arena. Use only new or virgin oil. Contamination of feed and poisoning of horses can occur when old oil is used; using contaminated products for arena dust abatement can create an environmental problem.