Tag: stable

The Shocking Truth About Stable Air: What Is Your Horse Breathing?

For a period of time my office was located at an equestrian establishment, just a couple of feet to the right of my desk behind the wall was a stable, and a string of stables beyond that. An ideal location for someone as fanatical and passionate about horses as myself. I thought so also at first, but it quickly became apparent this location was detrimental to my health. The itchy eyes and coughing fits started from day one, although at the time I put it down to being slightly off colour, these things happen.

I also changed from wearing contact lenses to glasses as I thought perhaps staring at the computer screen was straining my eyes, unfortunately the glasses made no difference. Over the next few weeks it occurred to me I was not having the same coughing fits and itchy eyes when at home.

The situation became awkward for me as my boss would come into the office to discuss work, and I would either cough all the way through the meeting, or have to leave to get some fresh air. So that was the second thing that occurred on me, when I left to get some fresh air, the coughing would diminish. I found that over time the periods of having to leave the office were becoming more frequent. It’s really not a good look for an employee to be walking out the office every 30 minutes. I became quite worried that I must appear lazy. Truth is, I just couldn’t breathe.

I’ve been on yards my entire life and not suffered like that, but in hindsight I realise sitting next to a stable is not the same as walking out to paddocks, checking horses, grooming and riding etc because I am moving about in the fresh air, as opposed to breathing in stable air over an entire working day.

So what is in the air?

While researching equine respiratory problems recently for my articles concerning soaking hay and using particular types of bedding, it would appear the air in stables can contain excessive concentrations of airborne dust, moulds, viruses, bacteria, spores, aeroallergens, and endotoxins (Saastamoinen M et al 2015). Rather worryingly, and if anyone thinks it’s ok not to muck out thoroughly, and very frequently, this report also states that the levels of ammonia detected in the morning were high enough to be considered dangerous to both humans and horses.

Would you want to eat in a toilet?

NH3 (ammonia) is extremely irritating to the mucous membranes that line the mouth, eyes and respiratory tract. Breathing in NH3 could cause chronic and acute respiratory disease which is one of the leading causes of wastage in horses used in high performance athletic endeavours and commonly recognized in pleasure horses as well (Hernandez and Hawkins 2001). Concentrations were found to be higher below 2 metres, and highest at ground level, now consider the height of a haynet, manger or even feeding the horse from the floor. Ammonia can rise and dissipate, but not when exposed to moisture and/or humid conditions, the two things stables have an abundance of.

This report also discusses something I have pondered over for a very long time which is, even if you are buying the best bedding money can buy, if your neighbour isn’t, then your efforts could be for nothing. Your horse will still be breathing air that could be considered harmful.

Gunky eyes? Herbal treatments and eye drops wont solve the problem

Ammonia

So what can be done?

There is going to be a level of dust and particles small enough to enter the lungs in hay, haylage, bedding and feed. Also dust in general, look at the filth that gathers on rugs and lines the stable wall. Stable yards would benefit from being kept clean with minimal or no paraphernalia such as liveries belongings, spare rugs, boots etc. Keep it elsewhere such as a tack or rug room. Hanging gear on the stable walls promotes the collection of harmful dust and bacteria. Also buy the best quality feed and bedding that you can afford. Feed could be sprayed with water and hay soaked for one hour in cold water.

Ideally if the environment can be kept clean, then removing urine and droppings immediately could minimise the build-up of harmful toxins. Hosing down the floors and walls daily would also create a far cleaner environment.

Personally I feel equestrians are between a rock and a hard place however.

While rubber matting may have its benefits it’s too heavy and cumbersome to pull out every day to hose off manure. If you have ever flipped over a mat, you will agree its filthy and it stinks, well that stink is what your horse is breathing in. In my experience shavings absorb urine more efficiently than straw, with straw it tends to spread across the floor surface, rather than being contained in one area. Yet both straw and shavings contain dust. What we need is better bedding and mat options. But all this sounds time consuming and expensive? Yes but perhaps it should be if it benefits the health of our horses.

Maybe I am asking the impossible. But the best course of action in my view to guarantee your horse is not breathing air which has the potential to damage its health is to limit the amount of time it spends in a stable.

Looking back I feel positive about working in such close proximity to stables, this was a walled office also, yet the level of airborne particles and ammonia were still enough to irritate my lungs and eyes. Quite literally coughing my guts up gave me a good level of understanding in how horses must feel.

I was able to remove myself from the situation, horses cannot.

 

 

 

References

Saastamoinen M, Särkijärvi S, Hyyppä S (2015) Reducing Respiratory Health Risks to Horses and Workers: A Comparison of Two Stall Bedding Materials. The National Center for Biotechnology Information, Animals (Basel). 2015 Dec; 5(4): 965–977 [ONLINE] Available at:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4693198/

(Accessed 3rd October 2017)

Hernandez J, D.L. Hawkins (2001) Race-start characteristics and risk of catastrophic musculoskeletal injury in Thoroughbred racehorses. J. Am. Vet. Med. Ass. 218:83-86 [ONLINE] Available at:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11149721

(Accessed 5th October 2017)

Image: photos on Pexels are free for any personal and commercial purpose and are licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. Attribution is not required.

Passenger versus Partnership

Laura considers herself an experienced horse owner and rider. Laura is the person you go to if you require something from her extensive and always stocked first aid kit. She is the one with 27 rugs in her stable and every type of equine boot that was ever invented. The knee boots admittedly hang on a hook in the corner as they fell out of favour in 2011. Laura has rented her stable at this particular yard for the last 17 years and in that time has owned 3 horses. Every yard has a Laura, they become part of the woodwork. As a new livery you soon learn no-one upsets Laura because of the sometimes fraught, but mostly amicable relationship she has built up with the owners of the establishment, she has reached the status of ‘I’ve been here longer than anyone’. This gives the impression that if you do not like Laura, her 17 years makes it apparent that if you fall out with her, you will be the one that leaves. There-fore even if you dislike Laura, it’s beneficial to always greet her with a heart-warming ‘Good morning!’ while continuing to raid her extensive first aid kit as and when required.

Everyday at 9 a.m Laura breezes onto the yard clutching a bag of apples, flap-jacks and sometimes the latest copy of Your Horse. You duck down in your stable because you are terrified Laura will insist on feeding your horse 7 or 8 flapjacks while pointing out why your horse must have gastric ulcers because he is showing all the symptoms that are listed in the magazine. You breathe a sigh of relief only when said magazine and flapjacks are safely in her storage cupboard and only then emit a totally fake, and an overly high pitched ‘Good morning!’

After 2 hours of coffee drinking and educating the obviously grateful liveries that all their horses have gastric ulcers Laura decides it’s high time she gave her horse some much needed schooling.  After-all, her horse has spent 2 hours kicking the stable door and throwing his head about, which has nothing to do with the fact his stable is an oxygen-deprived stink-hole or that he’s fetlock deep in poop and hasn’t had his hay-net filled since last night. No, it’s because he’s an attention freak.

stable

Laura leads her horse out of the stable, puts his bridle on and ties him up to get her saddle. At this point Sarah the yard owner strides across the yard and Laura must tell her how some of the riding school ponies must, yes you guessed it, could have gastric ulcers, and rushes to retrieve the now battered, somewhat soiled copy of Your Horse. After yet another coffee, 3 cigarettes, a pair of snapped reins, and finding spare reins, Laura finally gets the saddle on the horse.

Been somewhat rushed for time now Laura enters the school and does 2 laps of walk around the arena. The horse is lazy this morning and chooses to ignore Laura’s constant tap tap tap of her heel. This does not deter Laura however as perhaps the horse will choose to listen on the 800th tap. She doesn’t count, but she stays optimistic that although her horse ignored the first 2 taps he might miraculously pay attention when the tapping gets in the high hundreds. Laura decides a trot will wake him up so kicks just that little bit harder, unfortunately the horse has already squirreled this particular type of pressure away into his brain under the file name ‘ignore’.

Equestrian Competition Horse Riding Horse Jumping

All is not lost however, Laura has a special friend she can rely on called ‘Mr Schooling Whip’. 2 or 3 asks on the flank of her horse and the lazy walk becomes something of a lethargic trot. After one lap consisting of a lethargic trot, breaking back into a lazy walk, then back into a lethargic trot Laura is exhausted and decides it must surely be time for a coffee break. On dismounting, her horse gets the most gloriously grateful pat and 4 flapjacks for being such a good boy. Laura, now feeling ecstatic that she has finished riding for the day, can resume breezing around the yard telling everyone else how to look after their horse, and if you are especially lucky, she may help you with transitions in the arena while sipping her coffee and pointing out why your position is incorrect.

There are many Laura’s probably on every livery yard the world over. Not much is asked of the horse, in-fact it’s the horse that is in control. This supposedly ‘dumb’ animal has trained the human. It’s an advantageous situation on the whole. The stable isn’t much fun, but no energy is been expended while being supplied with hay, and he does eventually get turned out to pasture some 47 coffee’s later. The situation becomes serious however when you have a dominant horse that in time learns to ignore the owner completely when in the saddle, when leading, when loading and all manner of handling.

But for now, let’s just address the riding. Riders make the fundamental mistake of changing gait when the gait they were in remains far from perfect. No-one should be asking for trot when the walk is not perfect, and at all speeds i.e. slow, medium, fast walk. No-one should be asking for canter when the trot is not perfect, and again at all speeds. People need to just slow down the rate at which they train their horses. If your horse is ignoring your leg aid at walk, you are not ready to trot. Take an hour or take 2 hours concentrating on keeping your lower leg still and when you do use it make sure the horse knows it means something. It doesn’t matter if it takes 3 weeks to achieve walking around the arena in a medium walk, this is hands down better than the flappy whip yielding exhausting way that Laura rides. Laura is a passenger because her horse ignores her and this is potentially a dangerous situation. Far better to develop a partnership with your horse and this can only be done with patience and understanding. Fitting in a quick ride between Tesco and the school run should not exist in your brain. Have a monthly plan on what you would like to achieve and make time to make every schooling session count for something. Forget the coffee and chitter-chatter, attend to your horse. Lastly, unless you brush your horse’s teeth, leave the flap-jacks at home.