The Hazy Horse Farm
Then there’s the dust in other areas of your horse property. We know that inhaling dust can stress equine respiratory systems—we can hear the effects as our horses cough! The list of diseases associated with dusty conditions is long, including a persistent cough, heaves, and pneumonia.
Indoor dust from bedding, dirt floors or aisleways, outdoor paddocks, and hay can be tough on horses and barn workers. Barn construction plays a big part in dust control, and good ventilation is paramount. Horse facilities, especially older ones, are often underventilated due to the misconception of needing air-tight construction to trap and hold heat. “Older barns tend to be closed up tight, making dust, mold, other particles, and moisture a breeding ground for respiratory diseases,” says Swinker. “In winter it’s even worse.” But aside from a light misting of water on stall bedding, what are your options?
Eileen Fabian-Wheeler, PhD, has written books on agricultural engineering topics, including barn construction and ventilation. A professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Pennsylvania State University and a former horse owner, she specializes in ventilation system design for agricultural operations, including horse facilities. Fabian-Wheeler participated in a study in which researchers outfitted horses with dust monitors on their halters. The results showed that horses experience far more dust exposure in the stable than in a riding arena. “Horses really aren’t in the arena for all that long nor are they always going fast enough to really stir up the dust,” Fabian-Wheeler explains. “But in a stall horses have their face in hay for a large part of the day. Combining that with dusty bedding, they are being exposed to way more dust.”
Here are some options Fabian-Wheeler suggests for reducing dust in stables:
- Keep horses outside in a pasture or paddock during stall-cleaning and aisle-sweeping. Researchers have shown that it takes anywhere from a half-hour to an hour for dust to settle post-stall-cleaning, so don’t move horses back in until after the dust has dissipated.
- Store hay in a structure separate from stables to reduce stall dust; overhead hay storage in horse barns is particularly dusty.
- Do not attach an arena to the barn. “There are all kinds of testimonials as to how much this affects dust in stalls,” Fabian-Wheeler says. If the airspaces are shared, horses end up inhaling the dust that’s kicked up.
- Consider an all-weather surface in your paddocks and confinement areas, such as crushed rock or a similar gravel product that will drain and keep them mud-free in the winter and less dusty in the summer.
- Bring as much fresh air as possible into stalled areas. This includes windows and doors and narrow vents at the eaves, which should remain open even in the winter. Some form of opening is needed year-round to allow stale air to escape.
- All arenas are going to have dust to some extent. Again, the key is to not start with very dusty material. Bigger particles eventually break down into smaller particles, which are problematic. Starting with very fine footing material particles is extremely detrimental. Fabian-Wheeler recommends adding in sawdust to sand-based arena footing as 10% of the mixture to help hold moisture.
- Chose a less-dusty bedding option such as pelleted bedding, which comes bagged. Or, if your horses have rubber stall mats and paddock access, you might be able to eliminate bedding use altogether.
Air quality in stables is of utmost importance for the horses living (and people working) there. Fortunately, you can make many beneficial changes in stable management, including selecting low-dust hay, footing, and bedding and supplying fresh air via ample ventilation. Ideally, horses should spend as much time turned out as possible. The key point is to remember that it’s so much easier to prevent dust than get rid of it.
Back to me and my dusty outdoor arena—what did I do? In their stalls and paddocks my horses are faring pretty well dustwise. I store my hay in a separate building, eliminating all those potential particles proliferating in the barn air. My horses don’t have bedding because they each have continuous access to outdoor paddocks. My barns and shelters are all open year-round, again allowing for good fresh air via ventilation.
But where dust still can be an issue is in my outdoor arena, with the billowing clouds that potentially bother my neighbors and possibly impact my horses—and me. My solution to the dust storm, now that I have recognized I have a problem, is to research and invest in some type of watering system for my outdoor arena. Dust, be gone!