Horse Stalls

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How to Bed, Clean, & Disinfect Stalls


Bedding helps to give traction, prevent slipping and provide comfort when the horse is lying down. Good bedding choices will absorb urine and reduce the level of ammonia odour in the stall. The more absorbent the bedding, the less is needed and potentially wasted. 

There are three basic choices for bedding materials:

Straw is a traditional choice and should be used in the stalls of foaling mares, as it will not stick to newborn foals. Straw must be clean and dust-free but can mould. There may be more waste generated with straw, which has to be disposed of properly. However, straw will decompose in compost.

Sawdust can provide better absorbency. Mucking out can be easier, as it will slip easily through a sieve or manure fork, leaving bedding in the stall and reducing wastage. However, sawdust can be dusty and aggravate respiratory problems in horses.

Wood shavings cut down on dust and are usually easily available, but must be made of the proper type of wood shavings designed and safe for horses. Shavings not meant for horses can make them ill if consumed. Wood shavings do not absorb as much moisture and are slower to decompose. 

Shavings and sawdust can dry a horse’s feet. Damp or wet bedding can soften the horse’s feet and promote the growth of bacteria. Bedding should be kept clean and dry through regular cleaning. Rubber matting stable floors can reduce the amount of bedding needed, as they provide a softer base.

Horses need bedding material in their stall to provide comfort and promote healthy hooves and overall health.

What does the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines say about bedding?

“Well-managed bedding provides comfort, warmth, dryness, traction and protection against abrasions.

Examples of bedding include straw, shavings, shredded paper and peat moss. Each type of bedding has advantages and disadvantages.

Horses prefer to lie down in bedded areas in the stalls; therefore, providing ample clean bedding also helps ensure horses get enough rest, which is important for their well-being and performance.”

The following requirements are identified in the Code of Practice:

Ensure stalls are kept clean. 

Horses must be provided with a dry lying area. The area must also be of a design or texture that will not bruise, cut or otherwise injure the horse. Concrete or hard rubber mats without bedding are not acceptable surfaces. 

Bedding must be non-toxic. 

These recommended practices are also provided in the Code of Practice:

  1. Ensure stalls have a depth of bedding sufficient to absorb urine and encourage the horses to lie down.
  2. Remove wet and soiled bedding at least once a day. For deep bedded systems, add clean, dry bedding daily.
  3. Provide disposable bedding on top of stall mats to help absorb urine and provide extra cushioning.
  4. Use bedding that is as dust-free as possible.
  5. Where possible, remove horses from the building when cleaning stalls and allow airborne particles to settle before letting horses re-enter the stalls.


Mucking out means removing manure and other dirt from a horse’s stall or stable.

A horse’s stall should be cleaned daily by mucking it out. The goal of mucking the stall is to remove manure and soiled bedding so the horse is kept healthy and comfortable.

  1. A good time to muck out is when the horse is turned out. Feed and water containers should be removed before cleaning the stall. Have your cleaning tools and a wheelbarrow ready. 
  2. Separate and pick or sieve out manure droppings and remove bedding with wet spots. 
  3. Start at the door and move around the stall in a circle.
  4. Sort the bedding as you go. Toss what’s clean enough to keep along the walls or into corners. Pile the soiled stuff in the centre. Ensure wet or manure-soiled bedding is not left underneath. 
  5. After making a circuit or two, depending on the stall’s size and efficiency of your efforts, scoop out the soiled bedding in forkfuls.
  6. Pull the reserved bedding into the centre of the stall.
  7. Add a layer of new clean bedding if necessary. 

The stall should be stripped completely, cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis. This may include putting down an odour control solution or stable disinfectant and drying the floor before laying down bedding again. Any chemical solutions used for cleaning stalls should be safe for horses. Good ventilation is necessary to prevent a build-up of fumes or particles expelled during stall cleaning.

“Keep in mind the following points when cleaning and disinfecting equipment, barns, pens, or stalls:

  • Read all labels thoroughly for use, directions, safety requirements and toxicological information.
  • Cleaning and disinfection should have a protocol just as vaccination and medication programs that stable staff are trained on. In the protocol, record the following information:
    1. Product used
    2. Rationale for selection of that product
    3. Concentration used (include calculations)
    4. Mixing procedure
    5. Volume used
    6. Area covered
    7. Application method (spray, fog, etc.)
    8. Safety precautions suggested by the manufacturer
    9. Drying conditions
    10. Cleaner used
    11. Validations for all of the above.

Disinfectants have strengths and weaknesses. For example, disinfectants that are effective against bacteria may not be the product of choice against viruses. Ease of application and safety are major considerations. 

Consult your veterinarian for recommendations.”

Information adapted with permission from "Equine Biosecurity Principles and Best Practices", Alberta Veterinary Medical Association and Alberta Equestrian Foundation. 
Excerpts from the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines (2013) have been used with permission, Equine Canada and the National Farm Animal Care Council. The process for the development of Codes can be accessed through the National Farm Animal Care Council.

Watch this video to find out more about bedding and mucking out stalls:

Watch this video to find out more about turnout practices:

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