Safety should be on the minds of anyone working with or owning horses, especially during the winter, when cold weather, ice and snow make regular daily duties more difficult. Every year, an alarmingly high number of farm-related injuries are reported nationwide; the Rutgers Cooperative Extension reported that in the year 2001, there were an estimated 75,000 work-related agricultural injuries involving adults working on farms and more than 22,000 involving children; and that farm buildings are the site for almost 30 percent of all farm-related injuries. To help reduce the number of accidents and injuries to employees, farm visitors and livestock, adequate care needs to be taken to ensure that barns and the surrounding areas meet common safety standards.
Your barn should have lightning rods, or at least be properly grounded; only UL -approved lighting should be used to ensure maximum visibility around the exterior and throughout the interior of the building. Wiring and switches should be encased in metal weatherproof boxes, and out of reach of curious horses. Light fixtures should be mounted out of reach and encased in sturdy “cages.”
Keep extension cords out of aisles or other areas within reach as a horse can bite or slice through the outer protective covering and shock itself, causing a spook or injury.
There should be no unnecessary items such as buckets, tools, trash or debris lying around that could cause an injury, pose a fire hazard or attract rodents. Keep grasses, shrubs and other vegetation neatly trimmed and make sure no vegetation is growing that is poisonous or harmful to livestock.
Barn doors should be operating smoothly, with the ability to be locked and unlocked easily. Doorways and aisles should be a minimum of 8 feet wide (ideally 10 feet wide) with ceilings of adequate height (10-12 feet) to protect a rearing horse from hitting its head. We recently had work done behind our barn that involved the use of a small excavator; knowing our barn had 10-foot high ceilings we didn’t foresee a problem with the machine passing through the barn, but it was a very tight fit under our 9-foot-high doorway.
Windows should be inaccessible to horses, covered with bars or screening and made of safety glass. Adequate ventilation is important especially during the winter months; keep windows and sliding doors open when possible.
Barn and stall floors should be smooth, non-slippery and in good repair to prevent injury. Replace any rotten or splintered boards and make sure no protruding nails, broken boards or other items are present. Soft floors of clay or sand should be leveled – fill in ‘holes’ or low spots. Check rubber mats for holes or excessive wear and replace if necessary.
Aisles should be free and clear of obstructions; keep saddles, tack and tack boxes stored so they are out of the way when not in use; do not keep any items in the aisle unless it is wide enough to accommodate them without impairing traffic. Riders should avoid being mounted in the barn or while passing through the doorways and overhangs.
“No Smoking” signs should be posted at all exterior doorways. In larger buildings, “No Smoking” signs should also be posted in lounges, bathrooms and in several other conspicuous places around the barn.
A fire extinguisher should be located by the entry and exit doors, in the middle of long aisles and near the electric panel box.
In the case of fire or any other emergency, post emergency telephone numbers for the local fire department, police, veterinarian, farrier, a neighbor and family members including cell phones in an area readily seen. Have a record of each horse’s feed, supplements or medications and health records available in case of injury, colic or other equine emergency.
Keep a first aid kit updated in a location that is safe and accessible. Be sure to include a flashlight with extra batteries, a hoof pick and other necessities. Check dates on medical supplies and be sure that any liquid products do not freeze. Replace first-aid items as you use them.
During winter, many horses spend more time in a stall than during the warmer summer months. It’s important to ensure that the stall is a comfortable and safe place. Box stalls should be of adequate size – 12 feet by 12 feet is ideal; a minimum size of 10 by 10 will work for smaller horses. The stall should allow the horse and its keeper plenty of room to allow for safe movement. Sliding doors are ideal, but swinging doors are often used, preferably one that swings outward so as to prevent a handler from being squeezed in with a horse when entering or exiting the stall. When you are in the stall with a horse, do not latch the door, and make sure you leave an escape route in case you might need to exit quickly. Door latches should be free of sharp edges, should work properly and be horse-proof, as horses can become skilled at figuring out how to open certain door latches. (Our 32-year-old Morgan has opened her stable-mate’s stall door after letting herself out) Keep an extra halter and lead rope easily accessible to the stall and barn doors in case of emergency.
The quality of the air in a barn is directly affected by its cleanliness. Dirty, urine-soaked stalls create an abundance of ammonia, which causes respiratory problems for humans as well as horses. Clean your stalls frequently and make liberal use of dry bedding. An old practice was the spreading hydrated lime of the floor of a stall to help reduce the ammonia odor; however lime can irritate a horse’s skin if he touches it, breathing in lime dust can lead to respiratory distress, and getting lime into the eyes can cause permanent damage. There are a number of safer alternatives on the market today to help reduce stall moisture and ammonia odors, such as products made with diatomaceous earth, clay or zeolites, all of which absorb moisture and reduce odors without causing respiratory or other problems.
Check your stalls for any potential hazards such as protruding nails/screws or broken boards; and stall and window barriers for broken welds, wire or mesh. Walls should be thick and sturdy enough to withstand blows from a horse’s hooves. Water buckets and horse feeders should be smooth, sturdy and secure. Rinse your feed and water buckets out each day, and scrub when necessary – sometimes sediment in the water can build up in the bottom and can add an off taste to the water, that can result in your horse not consuming enough water (which is critical in winter.)
Hay and bedding material should be stored away from heat and electrical sources; if possible in a separate building from where your horse is kept. Ladders or stairways to the hayloft should be firmly attached, in good repair and free from clutter. Stack your bales carefully to prevent toppling over and check for any moisture or heat on a regular basis to prevent combustion that will cause a fire. Purchase good quality, dry hay.
Keep feed and supplements in a separate room with a horse-proof door; feed should be stored in mouse-proof barrels or bins to keep out mice, rats and other vermin that can spread disease.
Your turnout or paddock area should be dry and well drained, especially near watering and feeding places, and areas of high traffic. Consider adding rain gutters and downspouts if you do not already have them on your barn. A dry run-in shed or simple roof overhang will help keep your horses dry in inclement weather if they are not in the barn; be sure the roof of the run-in area is high enough for a rearing horse not to hit his head. Drag or rake uneven areas and install gravel if necessary for level and safer footing.
Horses are large and sometimes unpredictable animals, and by being pro-active as far as utilizing common-sense safety procedures every time you work around your horse, you will help to avoid dangerous situations and make each encounter a pleasant one.