Wet bedding, droppings, and the smell of urine are uncomfortable and unpleasant for a horse and should be removed as quickly as possible. A stall should be cleaned out daily, and if a horse is in the stall all the time, droppings must be removed and the bedding leveled out for comfort at least three times a day. If the bedding is always damp, it can cause infections, especially to the feet; an infection of the frog known as thrush is a particularly potential danger. Dirty bedding also leads to a dirty horse, making grooming that much more difficult. The "deep litter" system, in which fresh bedding is added to existing bedding, and the stall is cleared out only every few months, should be avoided; the bedding will store fumes and fungal spores which can affect the horse’s health.
Mucking out used to be done with only a fork, a shovel, a broom, and a wheelbarrow. Now there are extra tools to cope with bedding other than straw, and to save time and effort. A shavings fork is essential for wood shavings because it is designed to allow clean shavings to fall through the gaps, while catching any droppings or clumps that are due to accumulating wetness. There are also scoops that can be used to collect droppings and lift them easily into a skip or wheelbarrow.
When Dealing with Dirty Bedding and Droppings
1) First, remove any visible droppings with a fork. Look carefully because some may be covered by the bedding. An expected overnight amount can range from two to four piles of droppings.
2) Tip the droppings into a skip, keeping as much of the clean bedding as possible in the stall. A plastic basket can serve as a cheap, but effective alternative to a skip.
3) Separate the clean and dirty, or wet, bedding. Toss the clean bedding to the sides of the stall, leaving the soiled bedding in the center of the floor. Most horses will usually dirty the bedding in the same place in the stable.
4) Load the dirty bedding into a wheelbarrow. Try to avoid pushing dirty bedding into clean areas.
5) Toss the clean bedding up against the wall. This fluffs it up and allows any further hidden droppings to fall out. Try to pile the bedding against two different walls each day. This ensures that each part of the bank is rebanked every other day.
6) Sweep the remaining dust, droppings, and dirty bedding into a pile in the center of the stall. Leave the rest of the floor as clean as possible and the clean bedding piled up along the walls.
7) Using the shovel, lift the pile of dirty material into the wheelbarrow.
If you use shavings, you will notice that droppings tend to stay on the surface, making them easy to spot. It is easy to collect them with a scoop and small rake. Use a shavings fork to sift the bedding for droppings and clumps, and fluff it up. High banks may not be necessary; unlike straw, shavings will not move around a lot when the horse is lying down.
If you cannot turn the horse out while you muck out its stall, install a wooden bar across the door. This will stop the horse from escaping, and will allow you to duck quickly underneath to enter or exit. Make sure to stay clear of the horse while you work. Use the tools away from the horse to avoid the risk of injuring it. Do not work around the horse’s feet. Move the horse to one side and then the other while you do each half of the stall.
Store droppings and soiled bedding neatly, in an area accessible to vehicles for disposal. Make the pile in layers so that it is easy to build and allows the rain to penetrate and aid decomposition. Spread a layer of manure over the area and walk on it to pack it down. Start a second layer at the back, using a plank on top of the first tier to support the wheelbarrow. At a convenient stage, start a third layer. Complete the layers gradually, packing them down as you go.
Putting Down the Bedding
1) Leave the stall to dry and air out before you put the bedding down. Toss the old bedding on the floor, leaving enough by the walls to form a bank around the walls. Add fresh bedding to replace what you removed. If using straw, mix the new in with the old if the horse tends to eat it.
2) Use the remaining piles of old, clean bedding to form an even bank of dense bedding around the stall. This will help to prevent the horse from getting stuck if it lies down or rolls close to the wall. Work backward around the stall, using the fork to push the bedding firmly up against the wall, and then level the top.
3) When bedding is shaken up, it can look thick but will soon be compacted by the horse’s weight. To test if the bedding is thick enough, drop a fork into it; if you hear the tines hit the floor, add more bedding.