Spring Clean Your Barn!
Breathe New Life Into Your Horse Facility.
It's gorgeous out -- it's spring! Birds are nesting, bees are pollinating, and the horses are shedding out those winter coats. It's far too pretty out to spend the day indoors doing your household spring cleaning -- but it's the perfect time to spring clean your barn. Clean up, touch up and do some maintenance to kick off the new riding season. You may even extend the life of your facility and your horse equipment with these easy tips.
If you're like me, you'd rather be out mucking stalls and oiling tack than indoors doing laundry or sweeping floors. Now's the right time of year to do those "deep cleaning" projects in the barn. It's warm enough to dunk your hands in the buckets of soapy water and it's not so hot you can't bear to be exerting yourself. Let this list serve as a prompt for some cleaning and maintenance you might not have considered. It's like a lube, oil and filter for your horse facility. Labor-saving tips and videos included!
Scrub Railings and Barn Walls.
Before we begin …for you language purists, you'll notice my "barn" is a shed-row style mare motel -- a covered row of galvanized pens without closed-in sides. I will use the term "barn" for the sake of conciseness. Besides, saying "I need my mare motel time," just doesn't have the same punch as "I need my barn time!"
Start with scrubbing down any galvanized railings and walls. Horses are notorious for garfing up those once-shiny rails and walls with slobber, snot, eye goobers and even worse. Cleaning up those cruddy railings isn't just a matter of aesthetics: horses with parasites often rub their rumps against the rails because they itch. When they do so, they transfer eggs or larvae to the railing. Invariably, they'll later rub their noses or mouths along the same goopy rails and pick up those same larvae, often reinfecting themselves with the parasites. I try to give the railings a quick wipe-down each time I worm them. It won't eliminate re-infection, but it will help.
I've used several different products to scrub the metal, from Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap to Barkeeper's Friend -- and the best one I've tried is Simple Green Heavy Duty Cleaner. It cleans quickly and with minimal effort and has no discernible fumes. It's biodegradable and rinses easily. It's also concentrated so a gallon will go a long way.
Start by making your Simple Green solution in a bucket of water (preferably warm, but cold will still do the trick). Don your heavy-duty rubber gloves to protect your hands. Bust out the Scotch-Brite scouring sponges. Starting at the top rail, scrub the entire rail, all the way around, and then rinse with a clean-up sponge and fresh water. If you start at the bottom, you'll double your labor. Let the run-off from the top rail soften the gunk at the bottom so that by the time you work your way down, it's already trying to leap off the rail. That scouring sponge is essential, by the way. I've tried using the clean-up sponge instead of the scouring sponge -- fail! Remember … I do things the hard way so you don't have to!
Although Simple Green is a safe and environmentally-friendly product, rinse those railings well and, if you have the time and patience, use a towel to dry them as you go. They'll even feel nice to the touch when you finish -- and no more gremlins lying in wait to infest your horse.
It's warm, it's spring, it's time to strip! The stalls, that is. If you aren't diligent about doing so on a regular basis, now's the day. Tote those shavings out and, if possible, let the stall dry out completely before rebedding. If you use products to neutralize urine odor, sprinkle them on wet spots before bringing in the new shavings.
While the stall is stripped, check around the lower railings or wall surfaces for any hazards -- rusted out spots that a horse could punch a hoof through, sharp edges, bent flanges that can cut them. Spot-welding those damaged areas is much safer when there are no flammable shavings to catch sparks.
Touch Up Rusty Post Caps with Spray Paint.
Anyone who knows me is familiar with my love affair with Rustoleum. One can of spray paint can do wonders in reinventing your surroundings. The barn is no exception. A fresh coat of paint can also greatly lengthen the lifespan of metals and woods -- that translates to more money to spend on hay, and what horse owner can't appreciate that?
I've noticed that even here in the dry desert, and in a covered barn no less, the post-caps on galvanized panel tend to rust. There's no need to replace them; fortunately, there's a quick and easy fix. Wash and dry the post caps in place. Grab a can of chrome Rustoleum -- the one with the shiny silver cap -- and have at it. Voila!
Check your hinges while you're painting post caps. They may need a touch of WD-40 or silicone spray if they're squeaky, creaky, or stubborn (like me). The welded area around latches may also need a touch up with paint. This is the time to inspect and correct.
While You're At It, Paint Over Those Rusty Cross Rails!
If you're the detail-oriented sort, use a wire brush on the rust first. If you're as impatient as I am, spray right over it. Make sure you wear your gloves when spraying or you'll be touching up your fingertips, too. If, however, there's a chance that the weakening integrity of the metal may cause a safety issue in the future because you might rely on it when it is actually seriously degraded, leave it visibly rusty and consider having a professional repair done. If it's safe to cosmetically enhance that rusty pipe, though, go for it. A fresh coat of paint will have your barn looking spiffy in minutes.
It's amazing what a simple can of spray paint can do.
Show Some Love to Your Barn Tools, Too.
Your stalls are clean and rebedded. Your rails are scrubbed and the caps have been touched up. Now take a look at your implements -- pitchforks, rakes, shovels and apple-pickers. Are the wooden handles splitting and splintering? Are the fiberglass handles shedding those horrible fibers? How about the workin' ends -- are they rusty or loose? Time for some maintenance.
For wooden handles, you've got a few options. On my heavy-duty handles, such as on shovels, I like touching them up with standard (non-spray) enamel paint. They'll be easier on your hands and they'll last longer. The thinner rake and apple picker handles like a coat of spray-on polyurethane now and then, especially here in the desert sun.
Those fiberglass handles fading and leaving prickles in your palms? Don't despair. Pick up a can of spray-on Plasti-Dip. When properly applied, it will preserve those handles and keep you from getting fiberglass fibers in your hands. Coat thoroughly and leave ample time to dry before use. Special tip: use as much of your can of Plasti-Dip up on your projects shortly after opening it. I've found Plasti-Dip doesn't store well once it has been used. Go wild!
Break out the WD-40 for the metal business end of your tools. An occasional application will retard rust. Take time to tighten up loose bolts (Tite-Lok will keep them from continually working loose) as necessary.
De-Clutter … and Stock Up.
Spring's a good time to see your barn afresh. Walk through with eyes peeled for old gloves with the fingers chewed off, half-empty tubes of wormer, and the usual barn flotsam and jetsam. Toss it. Spring's perfect for visiting your emergency veterinary supplies and eliminating those with long-expired dates. While you're decluttering the medicine chest, make a list to restock on emergency items you need. Hey, while you're at it, make sure you have a first aid kit for yourself or fellow two-legged types somewhere in the vicinity -- ideally, clearly displayed and marked.
As part of my annual spring-cleaning this year, I designed some tool holders for the rakes and apple pickers and had them custom made. (Yes, I got to use the spray paint again!) I can't stand having tools leaning against rails or posts -- they're a hazard to horses and humans and they never stand up to the wind. I now have them neatly stored within easy reach -- and they're safe. Consider a tool rack or, if nothing else, a polyethylene bucket to stand yours up if you find your tools like to get in the way.
Are your halters neatly stowed but easy to get to in an emergency? Think about installing hooks where they're handiest. By my turnouts, I use plant hooks -- the kind Home Depot sells in the garden section -- to keep halters near the gates, but out of reach of horses.
If you like having brushes or other supplies near at hand, hardware and garden stores sell a variety of plastic storage benches. I have one in the barn that is just being enough to fit a brush tote and keep it dry and shaded. By the arena, I've placed a larger storage bench that accommodates everything from fly bonnets to saddle pads and surcingles. It saves me a lot of footsteps.
Do You Spring Clean Your Barn?
Do you plan an annual clean-up and maintenance day for your horse facility?
Are your brushes looking a bit neglected? Maybe they're all mushed in on the sides where your fingers grab them, or they're gooped up with hoof conditioner that spilled in the brush box? Whether they're synthetic or natural-fiber, you can do a lot to restore them.
For natural-fiber brushes, I like to use Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap to clean them before I reshape them. Make a dilution of hot water and castile soap (it's concentrated) and soak the brushes, top side up so they float, and leave them for a couple of hours. Rinse well and reshape the bristles with your fingers, then rest them bristle-side up on a ventilated surface or drying mat until thoroughly dry.
For synthetic brushes, I suggest using dry laundry detergent. Dilute in a bucket of hot water and float the brushes overnight. Rinse well. The oily goop will often flake off before you even rinse them.
For metal curry combs, sweat scrapers, and hoof picks, clean with a wire brush and wipe down with WD-40 to retard rust. If you like the black rubber curry combs, as I do, they respond well to a quick spray of car tire conditioner and will look like new. For new-looking metal hoof-picks, spray the handle-end with spray paint -- you can color-coordinate your picks with your barn colors and clearly mark them as your own. (Hey -- that turquoise one is mine!) Plasti-Dip makes for a comfortable, durable hoof-pick handle-coat as well. For that use, I prefer the dip-type can rather than the spray-on variety.
Don't forget the brush backs. Wooden brush backs will be restored easily with the can of polyurethane spray you used on your tool handles. Make sure they're completely dry before spraying. (Insert the bristles into a plastic bag first and tape the edges with masking tape so you don't glue your bristles together.) Give them two or three coats, allowing drying time in between. They'll feel better to your hands when grooming and they'll last a lot longer.
Clean all brushes at your own risk. I've used these products and techniques countless times but my brushes aren't your brushes and I cannot guarantee that your brushes will respond as well. Mine have had their lives extended many times thanks to regular cleaning -- I hope you'll have the same success.
You've worked hard spring-cleaning your barn. Hopefully, you've been inspired to make your barn the inviting place that makes you want to sit back with your cup of coffee and enjoy the company of your horses after you've ridden. I look at the spring barn-cleaning as even more: a time to celebrate the new season, to plan for the safety of my horses, and to ponder my riding and training goals for the coming months. Spring cleaning reminds me to order the psyllium, start the horses on their feed-through fly control, and to give them their first parasite-control treatment of the year. I schedule their spring check-ups for the following week.
That indoors spring cleaning? I just can't quite commit yet. Spring fever, anyone?
Thank You for Riding Along!
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© 2014 Marcy J. Miller