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Strategies to Keep Your Horse Breathing Well This Winter

It’s tempting to button up your stable and keep your horses warm inside during the winter, but this can have a negative effect on your horse’s respiratory health. Instead, making some changes in your stable management can keep your horses breathing easier, even during the coldest winter months.

Stable Management Tips to Support Your Horse’s Respiratory Health in the Winter

Is your horse coughing more than usual this winter? It might be related to your stable management habits. The following tips can help you to support your horse’s breathing and respiratory health even in the winter months.

Maximize Ventilation

It may be cold outside, but your horse still needs plenty of ventilation. Some barn owners close up all of the barn doors and windows to help the barn retain heat during the day, during the night, or both. Barns are naturally full of dust and respiratory irritants, and limiting ventilation in this way can lead to respiratory issues, like coughing.

Resist the temptation to close up your barn entirely, and make sure that your barn always has multiple sources of fresh air, instead. Leave stall windows open a bit, don’t close your barn doors entirely, and let air to circulate. If you do want to close up your barn entirely at night, then make a point of opening up doors and windows during the day to let some fresh air in.

You may even want to change some elements of your stalls’ construction to help ensure that air circulates into the stalls, themselves. Stalls made with solid wood partitions and fronts limit airflow into the stall. Installing stall windows, if possible, can help with this, but consider replacing solid stall partitions with stall grills on the upper halves. You can buy stall doors that are made entirely of metal grate, or you can install a stall guard grate so that you can leave the door open at times.

Store Hay Strategically

Hay can contain large amounts of dust and respiratory irritants, so you may want to change how you’re storing your hay. Ideally, locate hay in another building that’s separate from your barn. (This also has valuable fire safety benefits.) If that’s not possible, try to store it in a stall or part of the loft that’s away from your horse stalls. If you have to throw hay down from the loft, only do so when your horses are turned out, so they’re not exposed to the dust that is stirred up.

When you feed hay, do so from the ground of your horse's stall, instead of from a hay net. This can help to minimize the dust and irritants your horse inhales. Alternatively, you can soak or steam your hay to cut down on dust. If you have horses with allergies or heaves, then soaking or steaming hay can be particularly helpful. 

Choose the Right Bedding

Some types of horse bedding are dustier than others, and they can lead to horses coughing. Straw, rice hulls, and pelleted bedding are some of the lower dust options. Shredded paper bedding is becoming more common and also offers dust-free benefits.

Clean at Certain Times

Keeping your barn clean is an ongoing chore, but choose when and how you clean carefully. Try to only clean stalls when your horses are outside, and then give the barn a few hours to air out and let the dust settle down before bringing your horses in again. The same goes for sweeping your barn aisle – try to only do this chore once a day when your horses are outside.

Prioritizing Your Horse’s Respiratory Health

Horses tend to spend more time indoors during the winter because of inclement weather, making it even more important to make sure that your barn is safe for them in all ways. By focusing on the air quality in your barn, you can help to minimize coughing and other breathing issues your horses may experience, as well as support your horse's overall health. This is beneficial whether you have a horse with allergies or a respiratory issue like heaves, or whether your horse is healthy and you just want to keep it that way.

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