Stall Mucking 101

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How difficult is it to muck a stall? You walk in with a pitchfork, and, well, start shoveling.

Sounds simple enough and while this method certainly accomplishes the job, you could be wasting time and money if this describes your current cleaning methods. Worse yet, you could be overlooking easily preventable health hazards to your horse.

Horse in Stall

To Start

The goal of mucking a stall is simply to remove the wastes for the health and comfort of your horse. This begins by assembling the proper tools.

Your stable should be equipped with a manure fork or a pitchfork with tines positioned close together, a good broom, a plastic muck bucket large enough to hold manure from one stall but not so cumbersome you can’t handle it, and a wheelbarrow. In the winter, a rubber-headed mallet is useful for breaking the ice in water buckets. A long-handled scrub brush with which to clean buckets is also helpful, but a hay whisk will do in a pinch.

Stalls should be mucked at least once a day, although twice a day is ideal if your horses are kept in for any part of the day. This usually takes about 15 minutes per horse in the morning, and about five or 10 minutes in the evening. Mucking twice a day keeps your horse drier and cleaner — something owners of grays, paints, palominos and horses with lots of “chrome” should consider, especially if they show. Mucking twice a day will also cut your mucking time, since you begin each session with a relatively cleaner stall.

Cleaning twice with manure picked out at noon is sheer luxury, but most horse owners probably don’t have schedules that allow them to muck three times a day. In pursuing your cleaning regimen, begin by taking your horse out of the stall; either turn the animal out for a daily romp or tie it. While most horses don’t mind people working in their stalls, others seem to take delight in standing directly over their urine spots so you can’t do a through cleaning job.

After you’ve turned your horse out, tackle the water buckets, which yes, do play a role in a thorough stall mucking. While horses demand plentiful amounts of fresh water, dirty buckets lead to health hazards and dehydration. Hanging a plastic bucket with a snap hook is safe and makes for easy removal. Dump the old water far enough away from your barn so frozen or muddy rivulets won’t cause safety hazards, then take some clean water and your scrub brush and scrub out the algae, buts of hay and clumps of grain that invariably collect in water buckets. If you can’t find your scrub brush, make one out of hay. Take a fistful of hay, twist it so it forms a thick “broom,” and use this to scrub inside the bucket.

If your horse has an automatic waterer in its stall, you will probably need to clean it less, but algae can develop in those located in sunny areas. Use this time to check that the waterer is functioning properly, and scoop out any debris that may have accumulated.

With the water bucket taken care of, move your wheelbarrow as near to the stable door as possible, arm yourself with your pitchfork and manure bucket, and enter the stall. Begin by forking large clumps of manure into your bucket. You’ll want to take note of where and how much the horse defecates; if your horse is ill, you’ll be able to recognize right away if the amount of manure varies considerably from one day to the next. Make a note of the state of your horse’s stall in general. If he’s normally very clean, a stall strewn with hay and manure could indicate that he was in distress overnight.

Most horses form a pattern in their stalls, so over time, you’ll be able to clean the stall more quickly if you know the prime spots. Big piles are easy to fork up, but what about those pesky little ones that get away? One method is to shake the bedding through the tines of the pitchfork, working the stall from left to right, back to front. As long as you are systematic, you should be able to pick up the most manure for your time. You don’t have to be obsessive about picking a stall, but the more manure you remove, the cleaner and happier your horse will be.

While you’re at it, save yourself some money. Don’t take out more bedding than necessary. By sifting quickly through the bedding, you’ll be able to pick out the waste while leaving the clean bedding for another day. I was appalled one day while watching a friend pick out her stalls as she removed half the bedding, most of which was dry. Her excuse? “Takes too much time to sift through the bedding every day.” If you’ve got a cool million tucked away for shavings, keep on forking up those dry shavings, but unless you have a very messy horse, this is a big waste of money. As long as the bedding is dry, it can stay.

Next, dig up the urine spot in the stall. Generally, geldings use a spot somewhere near the middle of the stall. Mares are trickier but will often urinate near the back corners. Take out all of the bedding that seems wet or soiled, including any questionable bedding.

Finishing Touches

After you’ve dumped all the waste in the manure pile, take a quick look around the stall. Glance over the walls for loose nails and at the door for loose hinges. Nails sticking out from walls can scrape your horse, or worse, put out an eye. Push against your stall door to make sure your horse hasn’t been loosening it, planning its exit. Spending one minute a day to check the safety of the premises is certainly worth the time if it prevents heartache and/or stacks of vet bills later on.

Now you can put some clean bedding in the stall, raking it through so it mingles with the older bedding. How deeply you bed your stalls is entirely up to you and how your barn is constructed. If your flooring is cement and you do without mats, you may want to bed your horse more deeply. Dirt flooring is easier on legs and feet, and you won’t have to bed the stall as deeply as you would if you had concrete flooring. However, dirt or clay floors hod moisture, and clean-up of this flooring is generally more difficult than cement floors.

If you use stall mats, you will use even less bedding as your horse will have better cushioning on its legs and not need the deep footing. Use your own judgement and experiment according to your climate and your horse.

If your horse has cast itself in its stall in the past (gotten wedged against the wall and stuck so that it is unable to get up), you may want to bank extra bedding along the walls.

Some horses willingly keep their stalls as neat as Felix Ungar’s room. Others are the Oscar Madison type and seem to take great delight in hiding their manure from unwary grooms, grinding it into the bedding. There’s not much you can do with these horses except grin and bear it. Picking out the stall more frequently is about the easiest way to deal with these messy animals; if you can catch the piles before your horse tap dances on them, you’ll be able to remove them with greater ease.

With the bedding maintained, fill the water buckets, leave a flake or two of hay in the clean stall, and, if you have one, sweep the aisle. Nothing is worse than a clean stall and a filthy aisle. Scattered dry shavings and hay on the aisle floor are fire and health hazards, especially when dust and dirt collect with the mess. And speaking of fire, at least once a month, clean out those pesky cobwebs with a long-handled broom. Cobwebs and the dust that collects on them are fire hazards that are often overlooked by even the most careful horse owner.

Intensive Clean-Up

You should occasionally strip your horse’s stall down to the bottom for a thorough cleaning. First, sweep the floor and walls thoroughly, then disinfect them. You can mix your own disinfectant by using a chlorine bleach and water solution. While you allow the flooring to dry, scrub your horse’s feed bin with hot water and disinfectant. Remember to rinse everything completely.

Wet spots in a dirt or clay floor may have to be dug out. Some horse owners sprinkle lime powder (calcium hydroxide) over the areas in the stall that are wet most often. Lime can cause skin irritation, however, so if you sprinkle lime, bed this area well.

Store your mucking tools properly. Hang pitchforks so they cannot be stepped on by a horse or person. Brooms should also be hung so that they keep their shape and remain clean. Keep smaller items with your other barn supplies in the tack room or utility shed.

Now your barn is clean and shining, safe and sound. Go ahead and bring your horse home. The animal will be happier and healthier by far, for now its home is neat and clean, warm and dry.

Read more stall cleaning tips from the experts >>

66 COMMENTS

  1. Really helpful…..I had neveer thought that dry bedding in the aisles and cobwebs can be big fire hazards. This artical really helps!

  2. I would like to add some valuable tips that will tweak the techniques of “Mucking 101”.
    First I would like address the digging out the urine spot. In my years of being in horse experience,I have been to many barns and have always seen stalls that develop a depressed center. This usually occurs in dirt and clay floor barns. This is obviously caused by the removal of dirt from each stall mucking. I know how easy it is to just go in,dig out the spot and then replace the removed dirt with fresh new dirt. Simple right? Not necessarily.
    First you have to determine the source where the replacement dirt is being excavated from. You may think you can just go outside the barn and pick a spot and start filling up your wheel barrow,then bring it back in,dump it and that’s that.
    Well, it is a nice convenient cost effective way to do it. However, unless you know for sure that nothing has been growing in that soil,such as mold spores and other organisms then surely go ahead and use it. Just remember,just because you can’t see them does not mean they aren’t there.
    Bacteria and spores can and will contaminate your horses stall’s base substrate,especially a urine drenched stall which contains high levels of ammonia. The ammonia acts as a growth enhancer to some molds and funguses. This little oversight can be a main source of bacteria growth that thrives right under your horses feet such as thrush.
    I urge you to not be lead into believing that lime alone will control the source of odor and further contamination. Lime will act only as an odor inhibitor because of its PH that neutralizes the acidity in the urine.
    Before you replace the removed soil from the stall,I emphatically suggest that you have a few bags of fresh clean top soil on hand.The bags usually cost no more than $2.00 per bag and you can pick them up at any lawn a garden store. Be sure to not use potting soil.Make sure there are no fertilizers or growth enhancer in it. Read the label and it will tell you of its contents.
    Also bare in mind that top soil is natural and contains its own nutrients and ecosystem. This you cannot avoid but it is safe to use as back fill. The main idea is to minimize the health risks to you,your horse and others!
    Stall soil contamination can transfer bacteria and spores to your horses digestion and respiratory systems. Also remember that horses usually eat off the ground because that is the way they are anatomically designed. It is conducive for a horses digestion for them to forage off the ground due to the way their jaw and teeth function with one another. If a food source such as hay or other tidbits are incorporated with microbes or other organisms from the transplanted soil, then your horses feed will become contaminated also.
    For example,I had been boarding at this one barn for quite some time. There was never a problem with health issues there. The stall substrate was clay and as .
    Some of the boarders were complaining about having to replace the clay with new. They were repeatedly experiencing deep depressions that caused sloped flooring. This a bad thing for tendons and skeletal muscle stress etc.An even,well leveled stall floor can make a significant difference in your horses over all performance.
    So anyway, the boarders at the barn were very experienced horse people in their own right. Little did they realize they had been installing the clay wrong.

    The trick to applying a clay floor is to make sure that you grate it smoothly and then tamp it well. All done right? Wrong! Let it set for a few hours? Wrong again! Some clay may be more moist than other so if the clay that use is dry,then you have to moisten it with a hose set on a very fine mist. This will ensure that the clay will properly compact and cure. If the clay seems too moist,then you have allow for a longer duration to allow to dry and harden. Either way,use your discretion on to determine the proper consistency.
    When you are using clay,you have to remember it has its own natural hardening agent in it. It requires a minimum of 36 hours for curing before putting your horse back in the stall that you just patched. Yeah patched. When you use clay it is like using concrete. You have to allow it to cure. You will find that if you do this it will be way less absorbant. The curing time of course will depend on the climate and weather conditions.
    This is where many people make the mistake by putting their horse back into the stall after turn out. At that point the clay is very susceptible to the absorption of ammonia and bacteria.Clay will absorb the ammonia and bacteria,then dry and lock in the odor.
    So,no matter how many times that you clean your stall per day,you will never remove the entire source of the odor if you don’t follow the steps to replacing the dirt or clay properly.
    If you dont have an alternate stall available to put your horse in while the clay sets, then I suggest that you leave them in the field where there is adequate shelter such as lean too or a run in shed if wether permits.
    I know that many people hate the thought of leaving their horses out in case there is a thunder storm etc. Believe me they will be fine. Some horses actually prefer it.
    If you cannot do either of the two,then go to the farm manager or owner and explain the situation. I am sure if you present the problem to them with the right approach then you will receive a good response.
    Try not to make it sound so accusatory like it is their fault. That will only make them keep you waiting for a solution to the problem. Remember to be tactful! The important thing is to get the problem solved as soon as possible.
    With that being said. The people in my barn was replacing the clay with dirt because it was just easier and more readily available.All they had to do was step out back and take it from the dirt pile that was left by a boarder which was a landscaper by trade.
    It was beautiful fill,but that’s all it was. It would have been great stuff if you were planting a garden. One thing for sure,it definitely was not for horses stalls.
    Two weeks later the stalls and the feed rooms were infested with ants,mold and beetles. Yeah it was pretty nasty.
    What the boarders didn’t realize,they had opened a Pandora box.
    As I said “The soil looked great on the surface”! They didn’t know what was lurking beneath the top five or so inches.

    Horse were getting sick,they were being bitten by several different species of ants. The mold had spread from one stall to the next at ground level under the straw and shavings. It had infiltrated the dirt through the clay. Soil samples were taken to determine this.
    There were over 40 stalls and 38 were affected. All 40 horses had to be kept outside for a week while the problem was being treated. It was a very expensive process for the owner. Thank God it was in the summer and not in the harsh of winter.
    So all I am trying to covey to you is to just be selective where you get your dirt from to back fill the hole in your stall.
    No matter what you use,dirt or clay,be sure to tamp it well and allow it to set during turn out.
    Let me add this while I am at it. Shavings are a perfect source for mold to grow when it is established. Straw was no better. As far as matting? It is worse than the two! This is why it is not just muck and go! You have to be even more aware of what goes on in your horses bedroom than you do in the field where they play.

    Although you may wash your stall mats everyday,rubber is very susceptible to mold because of its porous structure. Washing your stall mats with a baking soda solution and allowing them to dry in full sun for 5-6 hours is optimal for killing mold spores and bacteria.
    The baking soda is environmentally safe,safe for you and your horse,and it is an effective way to neutralize acidity.
    I do realize that there are stall mat washing products,but if you ask me, I suggest to use baking soda. The solution is as follows;
    One pound of baking soda to a five gallon bucket of water,scrub,dont rinse,then let dry thoroughly before replacing back in the stall. This should be repeated at least three to four times per week.
    I just thought that I would pass this on to horse owners and I do realize that there are many of us out here that believe we have all the answers and solutions to proper horse care. On the contrary,we are all students in equine care. I have been in the horse industry for over 30 years and I am still learning new things. I even learn from people who have less experience. It is an ongoing learning adventure. I suggest that horse owners to be more open minded to all suggestions and tips.
    To keep your horses stalls clean and safe will result in a healthier happier companion.
    God Bless!
    TJ Cruise

  3. I love and value the advice given on how to keep a clean barn, but I must point out the fact that some of it is unnecessary. Horses have been evolving for millions of years, and never in those millions of years did they have shelter, soft bedding, or clean water sources. That is, of course, until humans came into the picture. I could go on for pages on the subject of natural horse care and boarding, but instead I will recommend a book that was recommended to me called “A Lifetime of Soundness” by Dr. vet. med. Hiltrud Strasser. If anyone is interested, they may have to buy it online.

  4. the article is very useful for the first time horse owner(which is hopefully me soon!)i would have never thought of cob webs as fire hazards.thank you for informing me

  5. Thank you for your story on Mucking 101. I work in a Arabian breeding farm and have to clean 14-27 stalls 5 days a week. And in top of that the owner wants them done on ten min a piece. I’m novice and have never owned a horses, so I have cleaned seldom stalls. Being through and quick can be tricky. I found your tips to be helpful, I found your tips to be helpful, and agree 100% that the horses should be turned out when cleaning a stall. (my boss doesn’t) I will be trying out a few suggestions when I go back to work.

  6. I really enjoyed your article on mucking 101. I’ve been mucking my small 2 stall barn,(12 x 12 with mats on top of clay floors) for 17 yrs. I do it almost exactly as your article states. Except since my 2 TB’s are skinny-legged and now getting aged I do use alot of shavings. Most people that have observed my husband & myself mucking feel I waste too much bedding when removing the wet spots. Oh well, it makes me feel better. Thanks for a good article. O.H. Culp, Georgia

  7. I loved how detailed your info was. I’m clueless until someone gives me the step by step procedure, and I feel that I got that from this article.
    thanks!

  8. This method works great for me, I have 4 haflinger mares and it takes me about 30 minutes twice a day to clean all four stalls. I have dirt floors with packed coal ash on to covered with saw dust. Even when my work schedule didn’t allow for twice a day cleaning once a day worked almost as good.

  9. I learned a few things from this article that I had never thought of. Some things I think will make my job easier and my horse more comfortable.

  10. i like the tips this article gives. I’m not experienced at taking care of a horse and all the advice I can get is very helpful.

  11. This is what I do on the weekends to subsidize part of my board. “Tossing” a stall is a good way to get all the little poops too. Just throw all the bedding against a wall and they fall out.

  12. This was a great article and was assuring to me to see that I am doing my muck out on dirt floors correctly and also gave me a few more useful hints.
    A job well done!!
    Thanks

  13. I was taught to pile the clean bedding around the edges of the stall and leave the middle to air dry for a while each day. This allows any ammonia from urine to dissipate and is better for the horses lungs.

  14. I like this article, I use saw dust for bedding. My horses are only inside if weather is bad. They then trash the stall. I have very little clean bedding by morning. Any suggestions?

  15. I got in trouble for thoroughly cleaning stalls. When I was told to stop cleaning them, 2 of their fillies passed away. None of their horses got hurt or got sick when I was working for them. I like to make sure that the stalls are thoroughly clean because I know that a dirty stall can create a ton of health problems, especially in foals & other young horses & show hroses.

  16. Great article as I am a new horse owner. I would like to know what I can use to “fill in” some spots in stalls from removing the wet bedding. Also, how is this done? If matts were used, would this eliminate some of the problem? My concern with matts is cleanup. Thank you so much!

  17. As a “newby” Vet Tech in training….this was quite helpful!! I’ve ridden horses but never been involved with their care so it helped me. I may need to volunteer or work PT doing this so…THX!!

  18. This was very informative. Very easy to comprehend. I learned a lot about mucking and still want to work in the barn!
    Thank you.

  19. Just starting spring here in Wisconsin, so clean barn will be the next step, just as soon as I can push the wheelbarrow through the mud outside.

  20. Since so much time is spent cleaning stalls, wouldn’t it be best to find tools that make the job easier. I have tried virtually all plastic forks, duraforks, future forks, wonder forks, fine tine forks, and a host of no brand ones and ALL of them quickly break tines. It seems that once the cheepo forks showed up, the forks that used to be high quality ( and more expensive) dropped their prices and quality. I clean dozens of stalls a day, and with rubber mats I was catchng an edge with a tine and “snap” another useless fork. Sometimes this would happen the first day I used them!! Personally I would much rather pay more for a fork that lasted longer. So I was really happy when I tried the Flex’n forks from Equi-Tee Mfg. After a year of use I have yet to break a tine. I got my friends and neighbors to buy them and not one of them has broken a tine either. Its actually sort of amazing when you think about it. Yes I paid more, about twice as much. But I have yet to break a tine. Considering how many forks I used to buy in a year Equi-Tee forks have paid for themselves many times over.

  21. what I like to do once I’ve finished sweeping the aisles and doing the stalls is sweeping the entrance way into the horses stall. Just the length of about one mat. It’s purely cosmetic, but the boarders seem to think it’s a nice touch…

  22. I am thankful we don’t stall our horses. They live “naturally” out in the pasture most of the year. And we are lucky to have a manure crumbler that picks up the manure and crumbles it so it is great for gardens and such.

  23. I don’t own a horse, but I work at a stable. Mucking stalls is a lot of my job, and it’s not the most fun work. But I put up with it to be with the horses I love.

  24. i have horse, on of which is a pig :~) they live in the corral with a run-in and tack room attatcted. i try to clean out once a day, but i dont always get it done! i’m trying to get dad to put a mixture of stone and dirt in so it doesn’t get so sloppy i work at a stable, doing the water, while two other peple clean stalls, and the lady that cleans knows how to realy good so i learn a lot from her but this was REALLY helpful!!

  25. You know when your horse goes into his freshly cleaned stall, that you spent time making extra nice just for him, and walks around? You look back in five minutes later and the center of the stall is just about bare because he spred all the shavings out to the sides because he was walking?
    Isn’t that just the worse?!
    What I do to solve this problem is put all the shavings, once you’ve cleaned the stall, in the center in a pile. I spread them out just a little bit (so that it’s no longer a mountain) so that it’s flat, but still in the middle of the stall. This way, when your horse walks around, he’s spreading out the shavings like you would, but now, there’s still shavings in the middle of the stall. Clever huh?!
    My Aunt taught me that one! 🙂
    Hope this helps someone!

  26. Mucking 101-Hint to make stall cleaning much easier, less costly and better compost.
    Train your horses to urinate out of the stall, not in the stall. I have trained all of my horses to do this. My bedding cost have been dramatically reduced as my time saved in cleaning my stalls.
    If you think that horse owners might be interested, let me know and I will be happy to share how to get this done.

  27. Interesting………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

  28. I have a daughter that mucks out the stalls, but I wondered if there was a machine that would do the hard work oither than a bobcat? I would appreciate a reply if anything available.

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