How can I get rid of that ammonia smell in my horse’s stall?
We all know that familiar smell - it makes your lungs ache and your eyes water. Sometimes, you only catch a brief wiff, and other times you must leave the area! Now imagine being locked in a room with it, and then eating your dinner off the floor right next to it.
The ammonia that you are smelling is not actually IN your horse’s urine, it is created when the urea in urine is broken down. And it can be dangerous. First, ammonia is caustic - which means it corrodes tissues that it comes into contact with, which would be the mucous membranes of your horse’s eyes, nose, mouth, and even further into the respiratory system. Secondly, it just smells bad. If you suspect your horse's ammonia smell is abnormal, it's easy for your vet to do an exam and a few tests to make sure his urinary system is good. You can also learn more about normal horse urine here.
How can you help reduce and eliminate this ammonia smell?
To start, your stall cleaning process may need to be re-vamped. If you are only cleaning once daily, consider cleaning your stalls more often. If you add in a quick pick at lunch and/or the end of the day, you will have many benefits. A cleaner horse, a cleaner stall for the next morning, and fewer flies, less ammonia, stronger arms, and happier horses. You will also get to know your horses better, and be alerted to possible illnesses and colics earlier as you will be up close and personal more often.
If you have mats in the stall, peel back all of the shavings to reveal the urine spots. Use a shovel to scrape the mats and remove all of the shavings that are wet in that area. It’s key to allow the mats to fully dry before moving shavings back. If you have dirt floors, you may need to leave them bare to air out for several days (do some stall rearranging for the horses) or strip the top layer and add fresh packed dirt. Don’t be afraid to bend over and smell - remember that your horse (whose nose is much more sensitive) has to be on the ground to eat and sleep.
You may also consider adding a stall freshener under your bedding to soak up the urine. In the past, lime (calcium hydroxide) was commonly used for this purpose, although that stuff is horribly dangerous and poisonous. Now there are several name brand fresheners that soak up the ammonia that are much safer. You can also try using wood pellets under bedding, these are super absorbent and create an easy to clean urine spot. (Think of it as clumping cat litter.)
You also have dozens of bedding choices (read more about them here) that may work better. My favorite are the wood pellets to soak up any urine, covered in shavings for awesome cush factor.
This is a great way to store and handle stall refreshers - use an old feed scoop so you don't have to lug the bag all over the barn.
Good ventilation is also a major must have in the barn, and not just for the ammonia. For stalls without windows, or stalls in the back corners, the stalls must be vented for the health of your horse. Consider using swirly type vents in the roof (no rain gets in), fans, and bars on the top parts of the stalls instead of solid walls up to the roof.
Your horse’s lungs will thank you for the efforts!