How important is air quality for my horse? Very. I could stop there but I feel like I can give you a few more tidbits of information.
I’m sure that many of us that also have our horse in a stall at least part of the time are familiar with the ammonia smell that can sneak up on us. There are a few guidelines about the air your horse breathes and a few circumstances where you need to be proactive about the air quality. Poor air quality can also sneak up on you in a few other places! Some factors that can contribute to bad air quality:
- Pollution and smoke from fires
- Ammonia from the breakdown of urine
- Dust from bedding
- Mold and mildew from hay and barns and bedding and stuff everywhere
Windows give your horse some fresh air!
-Wildfires produce many things - including loads of smoke. Even dozens of miles away you can see, taste, and feel the smoke in the air. For horses, and humans, smoky air results in irritated eyes and lungs. Exercise is at the bottom of the list as long as there are particulates in the air, which can remain long after the fires are extinguished. When in doubt, ask your Veterinarian and take a day off.
-Ammonia in stalls is also a concern. Contrary to what many believe, ammonia is not actually in urine, it results when urine is broken down outside of your horse’s body. And it burns. The smell of ammonia is greatest near the source, which is coincidentally the ground and where most horses eat and where their cute muzzles rest when they snooze. Gross. More about taking care of the ammonia smell here.
Windows and vents keep the air flowing!
-How well ventilated is the horse trailer? Ammonia can build up in the trailer, especially on long rides. You also need to be concerned about the dust that can fly around from the hay and shavings that you pop in the trailer. Even during bitter winter days those vents needs to be opened to allow for air circulation.
Vents are great on a trailer - but I would still add a screen to prevent debris and rocks from coming in.
-How well ventilated is the barn? As tempting as it is to create a heated space for your horse in the coldest cold, blocking all of the air flow creates a perfect climate for trouble inside the barn. Condensation is a problem if the barn becomes too humid - which is easy in certain climates and compounded by breathing horses which expel a lot of humid air when the breathe. Condensation creates the perfect petri dish for mold and bacteria, and can rot your barn’s structure and damage your tack.
Dutch doors are a great way to let you horse hang out and get his nose away from any ammonia.
-How dusty or dust free is your horse’s riding area or arena? His nose is much closer to the ground then yours, and a dusty arena will end up in his lungs. Keep manure out of the arena. If you have to, ride only when it has been watered. More tips on riding arena care are here!
Some ways to keep your horse in the freshest air possible!
-Monitor the outside air for pollution and other natural sources of “bad air”. Hopefully, these days are far and few between.
-Keep stalls super clean, removing urine spots twice daily (or more) if you need to. Experiment with bedding types and use an ammonia absorbing product under bedding. Bedding ideas can be found here!
Keep your horse's stall fresh (no lime allowed!)
-Keep air moving! Vents up high in the barn and trailer allow moisture and hot air to escape. Vents down low and at window height allow fresh air in. Use the breeze, add fans, keep doors open. Give your horse a window to stick his head out of in the barn to get some fresh air.
-Take care of the arena! Water if needed and make manure pick up easy with a tub and fork.
On demand sprinkling!
-Add blankets before you seal up the barn. The only top priority area to keep warmer is where you stash your horse’s temperature sensitive medications.
-Utilize turnouts as much as possible! On days when the horses are inside longer, step up the stall cleaning frequency.
-Find the lowest dust bedding you can. Sometimes you may find that finer bedding on the bottom layer soaks up the urine well, and you can add some bigger flakes on top to keep the dust at bay.
-Rinse the hay with water to remove dust before feeding time. There are dozens of ways to do this!
-Feed your horse far away from his favorite pee spot. Many barns don’t even put shavings in a corner of the stall where the food sits, to avoid this problem! Hay nets may also help with this.
Things to look for if you suspect the air your horse lives in air that isn’t so good for him:
- A change in his respiration rate at rest or during exercise. A fever is an indicator as well. Learn about checking your horse’s TPR here.
- Signs of heaves.
- Runny, irritated eyes or nose.
- Coughing when being ridden (or any other time, really). It’s not normal for a horse to cough when warming up.
- Unusual sounds when he’s being exercised. Sometime these happen at rest, too.