$30,000 stall cleaning tip

Cleaning stalls is a never ending job. If your horse stays in…your going to have to muck stuff out.

stall cleaning techniques vary by bedding material used

stall cleaning techniques vary by bedding material used

How you clean will also depend on what you bed with. Sawdust, straw, shavings, newspaper, pellets? Each one has its own pros and cons. Location and availability will also play a part.

I try to keep my horses outside as much as possible but there are times that they end up in stalls. Over the years we have bedded with almost everything out there.

Cleaning a stall that has been bedded in straw vs one bedded in shavings is the same in one respect; we are removing all soiled bedding, but it does differ in technique. Metal pitch forks excel in straw and flop in shavings.

One thing that stays the same is that I like to make sure to rotate the bedding as much as possible. Many horses have one area that is dirtier than the rest and I start by removing that. Then I pick through the bedding that can be saved. If I am adding new bedding, I first pull the leftover bedding into the area that is normally bad because it is likely to be on the way out of the stall tomorrow. And the cycle continues.

When I attended the University of Findlay I returned home and joked that my tuition had largely been spent on teaching me how to clean stalls. During the equine class they really did do a ‘stall cleaning demo’ complete with the technique shown here to the right which involves moving all clean bedding into the middle. This technique works well on shavings, especially with the horses that tend to mix the manure in, making it difficult to separate. Just to be sure we mastered the school had us clean four stalls a day and yes, we even were tested and graded on it!

What do you bed with? Why?  Do you have a cleaning technique that makes stall cleaning easier? A special tool?



  1. Carol on May 12, 2015 at 2:49 am

    Another boarder and I use pelleted bedding. The barn owner uses pelleted for some horses and corn cob bedding for others. I love the ease of mucking the pelleted bedding, but the main reason I don’t use corn cob is because it does nothing for the odor and urine fumes in the stall and barn as a whole. Corn cob also doesn’t absorb as much urine, causing the urine to collect under the bedding, on the mat.
    I clear out the poo and wet spots thoroughly every day, and add a bag of the pelleted bedding when needed. I don’t wet the new bedding because it seems to cause the bedding to pack into my horses’ hooves more. However, on very dry days, I mist the stall before the horses come back in at night. I hardly ever have to completely strip the stall.
    Pasturing 24/7 is not an option for us. Urban sprawl has moved in around the farm, and horses must be in the barn at night for security reasons. Also, our winters always include lots of freezing rain, large ice patches from compacted or melted and refrozen snow, etc.. Sometimes our horses are indoors for a week or more at a time during the winter.

  2. Patrick Thomas on July 23, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    I no longer use a barn except to store hay but years ago I tried using our shredded paper from work. Bad idea! It rolled and tangled and it all had to be removed at once! Dry part blew off the pile outside and I had paper shreds decorating the trees like a bad Christmas nightmare.

  3. Loren Schumacher on July 23, 2014 at 11:14 am

    Just as an afterthought, not all pellets are created equal. I tried using corn based pellets, but I can’t tell you if they are absorbent, or dusty or anything else about them,
    because my horses ate them.

  4. freerein@wyom.net on July 23, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Pellets is the only way. Half the waste. Been using it 12 years.

  5. Loren Schumacher on July 22, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    Like many of you I use pellets because when it comes to urine, they soak it up like kitty litter. On the other hand, I don’t want to move soiled bedding more than I have to, so I pick or clean the stalls as I find them and then move the bedding to the center of the mats for the horses to redistribute as they will.

  6. Lor on July 22, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    I’m with Lori lorio. I bank the walls to help in case a horse is cast. Of course my horses have access to go in or out of the stalls at will, so they don’t get used that hard. I’m not a believer in stalling horses.

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  8. Carolyn Essex on July 22, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    I use pellets, and yes I do wet them down so they fluff into damp sawdust. They clump well with the urine and manure is easy to pick out. Less waste to the shavings. I use a fine tine manure fork that was made for either sand or pelleted material. The bonus is that the pelleted material decomposes very quickly which is fantastic for gardens, flower beds, or local nurseries. The down side is that they can become quite dusty if not maintained. I usually just spray/mist with the hose once/day to keep them slightly moist and it controls the dust perfectly.

  9. Lori Iorio on July 22, 2014 at 9:09 am

    I do it in opposite. Pick out large piles, then pick a wall in a section of the stall that is used the least and throw the shavings against the wall. Bedding piles up along the wall and apples roll down into a neat little line along the bottom. I cleaned stalls at a race stable in my early 20’s. Had to do 30 stalls by 9am and they had to be perfect!!!

  10. Fay Seymour on July 21, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    I also use shredded newspaper, sometimes mixed in with shavings, but i’ll skip the shavings if I can. Makes for great composted manure…worms love it, and that’s the secret to success with composted poop.

  11. Katlyn on July 21, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    For my horses I use fine shavings, I start at one side of the stall and work my way around to the other side, sweep the old dirty shavings out from under water and feed buckets put a new bag in and done in less then ten min,

  12. Sherri VanTassel on July 21, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    I have always taught the same method and said it proves manure rolls down hill 😉

  13. sandra on July 21, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Im leaving my horses as much out on pasture.
    It’s nice to have a barn. I’m spoiled and the horses have two stalls. Its amazing how clean my 18 hands mare is
    I love my pellets of sawdust
    Works great for me
    in earlier life in Europe I loved the wheat straw. Because the horses have not so much freedom to roam on pasture so they had time to munch

  14. Sara Bryce on July 21, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    Pine pellet base, without adding water, in the spots that he typically urinates, covered with shavings. The shavings are less dusty and more comfortable to lay in. The pellets keep the urine spot more contained and easier to remove from the mat. Urine spots are removed, PDZ powder is applied to mat and rubbed in followed by pellets and shavings again distributed. He defecates in one corner so that corner only has a light dusting of PDZ and shavings so as not to waste shavings. The rest of the stall is maintained in roughly 12″ of shavings rotated as you describe so the oldest end up in the urination areas. He spends approximately 8 hours a day during the Summer and 12 hours a day during the winter in his stall. We find the cleaner we keep his stall, the neater he is and therefore, the easier it is to clean.

  15. Mary MacLeod on July 21, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    We use shredded newspaper-very absorbent and no dust. People save them for us and we shred in a large office shredder. Draw back is that the strips blow around and would be annoying to neighbours, if we had any close by, which we don’t. Wet spots are heavy but easy to remove, and manure rolls away easily. We only have four horses so this works for us. This also composts well.

  16. Heather on July 21, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    I use corn cob pellets. The corn cob pellets are less dusty than sawdust and much more absorbent and helps cut down on smell from urine. It also helps the soil in regards to the acidity compared to sawdust. As for the pile clean up, I do this a lot but my mare tends to do her business in the same area so it is really easy to clean in general. Only issue I find with the pile is that her mess is right next to the base of it and she likes to roll the pile out – not cool if your horse is white (thank god mine is a chestnut)!

  17. Ilene Roberts on July 21, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    Our horses are kept in unless the weather is nice. The barn owner doesn’t want muddy trashed paddocks. We use a deep litter method we found online. First we started with the granular stall dry, then we use a bag of the pelleted bedding in each stall, then we used 6 or so bags of really fine pine shavings. We pick daily, you take off the poop on top and any visible wet spots. You will find the shavings pile up against the wall, you can just rake it in over what you’ve taken out. Then every few days or so you add another bag of the fine pine shavings depending on the ‘wear and tear’ in the stall. You don’t sift all of it, you don’t disturb anything other than the little bit of wet on top.
    You only take it all out every 6 months or so, again, depending on how used up it is. We have had ours in since last November and it’s still going strong. We have 3 horses.
    Next time we start we’re going to do the stall dry, the pelleted and then a couple of the bags of the BIG chunks of shavings, then we’ll do the fine shavings.
    There’s not really any smell and the stuff on the bottom mulches up and is already breaking down which makes it nice out in the field or wherever you’re going to dump it.

  18. Kelly Millay on July 21, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    When I had 16 stalls to clean daily I used the methond above but in reverse. If you clean and push the piles up agaisnt the stall walls you get the same effect and allows you to get to those hidden “pee spots”. Mine always had 2 or 3 in their stalls in the winter months (because they were inside more).

  19. Sue on July 21, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Pine shavings
    Isolate the wet spot first. Remove with a broom and a snow shovel, lime when needed. Fork out all visible manure, then toss a fork full of shavings against the wall. The hidden pieces will fall and can be easily picked out. Sweep the cleaned shavings halfway back and add a strip of new fresh shavings across between the old shavings and the floor. The front third of the stall should be bare where water, salt block and hay can be served.

  20. Marcia Siers on July 21, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    I use a “cocktail” of bedding! My husband thinks I’m – well, out there! I have geldings, but I’m sure this will work for mares as well.. If you feed & water your horse in the same place in the stall they will usually pick another spot to “go” in…

    For urine, I use straw first topped with a bag of pellets. Do not disturb until totally saturated, then strip. (~1 week)
    For remaining of the stall, I use fine shavings or sawdust and pick the manure daily or as soon as seen. It’s a given, after eating their grain, they will relax and ” do their business!”

    Teach your horse to “poo” in the same general area! It’s easy!! Observe where he “does his business” in a two – three day period..the spot that is frequented the most, will be “the spot!”
    Next, pick the stall a couple times a day, placing the “poo” in “the spot!” He will soon learn what “the spot” is!

    If a horse is a stall walker, spreader, mixer, etc.. He probably needs more outside exercise.. If this is not an option, teach him to stand in his stall tied… Gradually increasing the tie time. Horses are generally more relaxed and less nervous during the night. So allow him to wonder about the stall all night. He will move less and make less mess!

    I hope this is helpful. I dislike messy stalls. It’s not “hoof smart!”

  21. Ray Corkum on July 21, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    I have alway had my horses in stalls,and prefer,a straight stall but you have to be using the horses six days a week.It is a lot less work compared to a box stall,and the horse learns a lot,loads in trailer,ties up anywhere,and you theower and care ggiver learn so much more about your horse that you will never know about him if you keep him outside.

  22. Flo on July 21, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Shelley those pitchforks can be found at either of the two big do it yourself home repair stores.
    I have just recently become a fan of pellets, although sawdust is still the most economical.
    Throwing the bedding onto a pile aka the Cheech & Chong method… lol figure it out.
    Go to college to learn to clean a stall…. that blows my mind.

    • Shelley S on July 22, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      Flo, I just checked Home Depot, Lowes and TSC (Tractor Supply) and none of them have the one I’m talking about. ::sigh::

  23. Kim Van Drisse on July 21, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    I use the pellets that you rehydrate as well. So absorbent and super easy to pick. I put 2 40lb bags in the wheel barrow and add 3 – 5 gallon pails of water to it as well as a good glug of pinesol. Let it sit for 30 minutes and it will have fluffed right over the top of the wheelbarrow. Its amazing how much liquid it will soak up. I have a indoor run in for 3 mini donkeys and a horse – its about 30 x 18. Initially I put down 10 bags – rehydrated – floors are cement but I have rubber mats down as well. I pick the area every other day in summer and add 1 bag of fresh bedding each week. I also rotate… the dirtier clean bedding goes in the area that will be removed the next day… the cleanest bedding goes where they lay down. This bedding is a challenge in Wisconsin in winter – I’ll put down 15 bags before it gets really cold and then I start to bed with chopped straw – which is a royal pain. But its dry, fluffy and makes a nice warm bed in winter.

  24. Breanne on July 21, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    The last barn I had a stall at had mats with a center drain because the owner is allergic to shavings. Everything was scooped out, then a shop vac was used to suck up leftovers, a bucket of water was used to “flush” the drain, and the process was done. Downside was the extra cost of a septic system that needs maintenance, in Iowa, even in the winter. Barn smelled kind of like a sewer some days.

  25. Shelley S on July 21, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    I *WISH* I could find the tool I used at the barn where I kept my horses before getting my own farm. It was a tighter tined metal pitchfork, similar to the plastic forks, but really heavy duty. We’ve had 3 of the cheaper knock off ones, and the head where the tine connect is too feeble. I’ve looked everywhere! Then again, we don’t have a barn right now, horses are out 24/7. We drag the pastures a few times a year to break up the manure. I wish I could afford one of those pasture vacuums!

  26. Lesley Harvey on July 21, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    I do it the opposite way round, I pile the shavings against the wall and the droppings run down into the middle.

  27. Brenda on July 21, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Pellets ! Less waste , absorbs urine & odor better.

  28. Deb Gress on July 21, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    Similar to the pile in the middle, I pick the dirty areas then bank all of the remaining around the walls of the stall. Then I use the pick to go around the walls and fluff the banks. Manure will roll to te bottom of the bank. Learned this great technique while cleaning stalls as a side job in college. Only wish I had learned it sooner, but still use it to this day!

  29. Anne Hunter on July 21, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    I use pine pellets because they are partially composted in the process of pelletizing(not sure if that’s a word, but I think you get my meaning). We are a working farm and wood shavings will fix nitrogen in the soil, which is not good for growing crops. Horses are my hobby and I can’t have it effect how well crop production is. I use your method of making a pile in the center of the stall after removing the soiled bedding. I think it also keeps the majority of the stall drier, thereby reducing the amount of thrush I have to deal with.

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