It's a Dirty Job: The Art of Stall Cleaning

There I was, on my third stall of the morning, when Manuel came around the corner already finished with his allotted 6. He came over and said to me, "Sophie, what are you doing? Why are you making it so much harder on yourself?"

I didn't really know what he meant. WAS there an easier way to do it? Every piece of poop and muck and dirty strand of hay needed to be extracted, and after the horse spent the night stomping all over it, I felt like a strange archeologist, slowly picking through and excavating with care and precision. Problem was, this method (or non-method) took me about 20 minutes to do one stall - too much time to be efficient, and also pretty backbreaking.

"Here, let me show you."

He worked with such amazing directness and speed that at first it was hard to see what he was doing, but in a little over 5 minutes, he had the stall cleaner than I knew possible without starting over with fresh shavings. He also was extremely adept at only removing what needed to be removed, without wasting anything that was still perfectly good.

He handed me back the pitchfork with a little wink and smile at my open, agog mouth, and went to start haying and watering.

Slowly, I tried to replicate what I saw, and as I did, I eventually got the hang of it. While I could never get down to 5 minutes, I could get down serviceably under 10, and ended the mornings much fresher for the rest of the day. With great relief and some surprise, a task that I used to dread turned into an almost zen experience, now that I attacked it with focus and direction. Plus, Manuel taught me tips throughout the day to keep things fresh, making the afternoon cleaning that much easier.

Here then, is my method of stall cleaning, as taught to me by Manuel:

  1. Get ride of any obvious manure piles and ALL of the pee spots (this will be important later).
  2. If the hay is good (it rarely is), set it aside under the water buckets. Otherwise, into the wheelbarrow it goes.
  3. Starting from the middle of the stall and working outwards, vigorously toss the shavings against the wall in a shoveling motion. All of the poop, even the deeply hidden flattened chunks, should roll towards you if you're doing it correctly, while the shavings stay fluffy and stacked against the wall. This is the part that takes practice to get the hang of, and you really have to commit to the motion of shoveling while also being careful not to simply churn everything up.
  4. Do this in two or three sections at a time, one right next to the other from left to right like you're reading a book, before putting the pile that should be at your feet in the center of the stall in the wheelbarrow.
  5. Continue around the entire stall until every section has been shoveled against the wall. The sides should be steeply banked, while the center should be relatively bare.
  6. * Pull down shavings from the sides into the stall so that the banks are less severe, and the center has about 3 inches (fluffed) of shavings. If your stall doesn't have mats underneath, then up this number a little bit. (It will also depend on what kind of shavings you use.)
  7. As a finishing touch, take your broom and sweep about a 1.5-2 foot area at the very front of the stall clear of all shavings. This is where you place the hay. 
  8. As the day goes on, pick out the stalls about 2-3 times to ensure they stay relatively clean before the afternoon's deeper clean. If you don't have time to actually pull around a wheelbarrow, pick up the poop and place it in a neat pile where the horse has a slim chance of stepping in it. That will at least prevent it from getting strewn around the stall. This step can REALLY come in handy at horse shows, where time is scarce but you still want to leave at a decent hour as possible at the end of the day. 
This method, of course, is only one of a myriad of methods, and in a lot of ways, how you clean a stall can be one of the most personal parts of horsemanship. If you have another way, or another tip, please feel free to share it in the comments below! I also happen to think this is one place where the more you know, the better your life will be. 

* Some people bank 3 sides of the stall, while others only bank the back. I've worked at place where both is the norm. I personally like to do 3 sides, but I think either is fine.

This is an extreme example of a banked stall....but that's one happy horsey!

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