Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The Full Monty

I have been thoroughly absorbed in tales of how horses are kept in different countries. I had an Australian penfriend years ago who said it was always so warm there, her horses never came in and never had rugs on. So I thought I'd go into a bit of detail about how we do it here.
First of all, it's quite acceptable in England to have horses that live out all year, but I think I'd want a stable in case my horse ever got ill or injured, which has certainly been the case with us, as Barnaby broke his pedal bone in 2008 and Zak got a tendon injury. They were both on box rest for a year. Plus lots of people, especially on the Your Horse forum say their horses love to live out in all weathers. Well that's fine, but my horses are kicking the gate from 2pm, to let me know they want to come in!
So all my horses have a stable each. Our stables are quite unusual because the building was originally designed, by the previous owners, to house a swimming pool. Then planning permission was denied, so they had to fill it all in. So it looks like a giant lean-to from the outside,
and the inside was built by Pongo and Missis' dad to hold six stables. We are having new stables built in the barn, but it'll be a while before we move in there. The partitions have to be really strong, as the horses will get down and roll, and the walls have to be strong enough to cope with this.
The stables are nice and big, bigger than the ones we had at the old place. They get plenty of fresh air, but no draughts, and the shutter goes down at night.
At our old yard all the horses were on shavings. I really liked it, as it made a very clean bed, but now our horses are all on straw (much cheaper and very warm, but you're not supposed to use it if your horse has a tendon injury, as they shouldn't be dragging bedding around on a bad leg, which is inevitable with straw). Obviously it's a lot more dusty than shavings, which is why I always turn my horses out when I muck out.
But I've got used to straw again since we've been here, and there is an inexhaustable supply, so I can make a deep bed, at least a foot high for each horse. I love knowing the horses are knee deep in bedding. We know they lay down to sleep, as they leave a massive indent in the bed, which is clearly visible in the mornings.
So the horses go out into the field straight after breakfast, and the task of mucking out begins.
First of all, everything comes out, haynets, feed buckets and water buckets.
In order to muck out properly, you'll need one of these for straw:

one of these:

and one of these:

My horses are all slightly different, but the basic routine is the same. Firstly you take out all the droppings on top of the bed, and put them in the barrow. Then you go through the whole bed, taking out any further droppings, and throwing all the clean bedding up against the walls, by which time you are down to the wet bedding, which you fork up and put in the barrow. Then you sweep the floor and by rights you should leave the bed up to air while the horse is out. I think it's a brilliant idea, but the floor very rarely dries in this weather, plus you've got the job of coming back later on to put the bed down before the horse comes back in, which is a pain. Missis has got rubber matting, but I can't stand the stuff, especially if you don't take it out every so often and clean underneath it.
Next you've got the bit that lazy people like to skip! You have to go round the banks, against the walls, and turn all the straw over onto the centre bed. You find loads more droppings by doing this, and really fluff the bed up. You can look at the bed before you start and think it will need another bale of straw in it, but by the time you've done the banks you find you've got tonnes of straw to make the clean bed with.
So that's the next thing. You have to fork all the bedding back into place to make a nice, deep bed, full of clean straw. I put a new bale of straw in every other day, to keep the bed topped up to a decent depth. Most people put nice high banks round the three sides, to stop the horse from being cast, and to prevent capped hocks. I now know from experience that banks will not stop a horse from getting cast. Let's face it, a few wisps of straw are not going to stop half a tonne of horse from rolling over, are they?
So your finished bed should look like this:

(The cat isn't absolutly essential, but if you've got one in your bed, it's a sign that you've done it properly!)

For some reason, we are obsessed with sweeping the front of the bed into a dead straight line, and I smile when I do it, as I know Max will be coming in very soon, and will totally ruin it, but there we are. Self discipline, I guess.

Then the horse's haynets go in. We put them at the back of our stables, so there is no mess outside the stable. When the dust settles, you can put the (scrubbed) water bucket back in and fill it.

And while we're on the subject of waste, each full barrowload has to be tipped out onto the muckheap here. We burn ours when it gets too big.

So that's it. Each stable takes me about 45 minutes from start to finish. I'm not half as fast as I used to be, but I am still thorough. I can't turn a blind eye to droppings, they have to come out. So my stable is clean and dry and ready for my horsey to come in and trash it again. And tomorrow I'll be back out to do it all over again. The horses are in at night from November until very early May. Everybody loves May. We get a lay-in then!


  1. i am reading this with interest as we are horse shopping right now. hopefully this spring we will have a few in our pasture to ride.

  2. So glad I am fortunate enough to have my horses on pasture all year long. Good old sunny Southern California! I did work at a barn once that put straw in their foaling stalls. I HATE straw. It is such a pain to muck out, but I agree with you, it does make great bedding. Hat's off to you for doing all that work every day!


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