Ask the Expert: Where Horses Poop. Do We Have a Choice?

Q:

Hi!
I’m wondering if anyone on your team has any suggestions on how to prevent our horses from defecating in a certain area of their corral near the entrance gate? We’d prefer they choose an alternate area that wasn’t so close to the house and we didn’t have to walk through each time we enter the gate. Is there a way to encourage them to use a certain area, or discourage them from using that area (ex. install rubber matting or a wire mesh that they wouldn’t want to stand on)?

Keith

 


A:

Hello:

As much as we love our horses, we can all agree that dealing with their manure can be a bummer.  In the best of situations daily cleaning is a big chore, but when you have a messy one, who treads through his manure without a care, manure removal becomes even more labor-intensive. Messy horses are more expensive to keep due to the destruction and breakdown of bedding or paddock footing.

Training horses to defecate in a certain area of their pen might be possible, but it’s labor-intensive and not always successful. The best thing to do with manure is to remove it daily, maybe even twice daily if horses are in the habit of walking through it, standing in it, and stirring it into the footing or bedding.

Horses in a natural setting like a large field will choose to make manure in “roughs”. These are the spots where the grass grows tall and horses won’t graze.  The problem begins when we confine our horses to stalls or paddocks without grass.  Some horses are still neat and do their business all in one spot in their confinement area, but these gems are fairly rare.  Horses seem to prefer to put their manure in “deeper” footing like shavings and soft gravel or sand, so keep the area you don’t want them to use as their toilet hard-packed. Or, as you suggested, try installing rubber mats in the “clean” area. I would NOT use a wire mesh as a horse could catch a shoe or even a tooth in it, which could result in injury.

Most horses learn their bathroom etiquette from their dams or another important adult horse in their early life.  Stallions are usually very neat, choosing to mark their territory with a pile that is in a consistent spot (or two) in their living area.

Unfortunately, mares and geldings aren’t always so choosy.  I have horses that will go in the same area where they’re fed, mixing manure and hay together, sleeping in it, and even occasionally making a pile in their water troughs or feed buckets.  It’s just part of horse ownership.

For your turn-out area you can try moving all the manure to a different spot multiple times a day and see if your horse or horses “get the hint” about this alternate spot.  Make the pile by stacking the manure on top of itself the way stallions do.  You can also take some manure from a horse that doesn’t live with your horse(s) and include that in your pile. Horses will be inclined to mark their territory if a stranger goes in a particular spot.  I have had success training extremely piggy horses by moving their manure to a specific spot in the paddock over and over, but I’ll say I’m only successful with this technique about 25% of the time.

Try removing all the manure from the paddock.  Take a few of the fresher piles and put them in a pile in the spot you hope your horse will begin to go.  Do this daily.  Keep the area where you don’t want the manure very clean and your horse(s) might get the idea. Be prepared for this to take many weeks or even months.

One final thought: Stressed horses will be much messier in general.  If they’re cold, hungry, lonely, or out in bad weather or bothered by insects they are much more likely to make a mess of their area.  Contented horses are neater. I’ve even noticed that messy horses with ulcers will suddenly become neatniks once the ulcers have been treated.

Good luck!

Kim Roe, Editor for The Northwest Horse Source
and Horse Trainer

 

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