Barn Management Tips to Defend Against Dust

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By Equine Guelph

Equine Asthma or “heaves” can cause exercise intolerance, difficulty expelling air, inflammation of lung epithelium and narrowing of bronchus, persistent cough, and nasal secretions from mucous production. All of the above can turn a riding horse into a pasture ornament and or in worst case scenarios, bring about important quality of life decisions. Don’t wait for these signs or a tell-tale heave line to appear before taking steps to reduce dust, mould, and particulates in your horse’s environment. Two of the top sources of these are hay and bedding. These management tips will help you minimize dust and provide a healthier environment for horses and people.


  • Purchase hay that has been tested for quality. It will also help stretch your feed dollar!
  • Store hay on pallets (to reduce moisture from ground) and in a separate building away from the barn, but not in the indoor riding arena. Doing so provides the benefits of a fire prevention measure as well as dust reduction in the horse’s environment.
  • Hay should be sufficiently dried before storing, and then monitored for moisture content. Storing damp hay provides an environment of moisture and heat for mould to thrive and multiply, and also creates a fire hazard. 
  • Visual evaluation of hay is important, but not all mould and particulate can be detected with the naked eye. A hay test for mould contamination can be done. 
  • Feed from the ground when possible. If you use a hay net, wet it down just before hanging it.
  • Round bales are not recommended. Horses that spend their day buried neck-deep in a round bale are inhaling a copious amount of mould, mycotoxins, and dust. This can double the risk of developing equine asthma. 
  • Consider wetting or steaming hay, or feeding hay alternatives such as hay pellets, cubes, or haylage if the horse’s breathing is negatively affected by the hay.

Related: Reduce the Risk of Exposure to Crystalline Silica Dust in Riding Arenas

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Horses that spend hours a day with their faces buried in a round bale have an increased risk of developing equine asthma. Photo: Shutterstock/Tamara L Sanchez

In the Barn:

  • Consider wood shavings over straw, and always choose low dust, absorbent bedding. 
  • Turn horses out before mucking stalls.
  • Keep ammonia smells at bay with daily stall cleaning and control products as needed. If you smell it, the ammonia is at a level which can put your horse’s airways at risk.
  • Proper drainage and the use of a non-porous flooring reduces odour retention.
  • Keep windows and doors open to improve air flow and ventilation.
  • Ventilation is a primary concern when building a barn, but many stables lack adequate circulation of fresh air. A combination of inlets (e.g., vents) and outlets (e.g., cupolas) help provide ventilation, especially once barn windows and doors are closed up to provide warmth in the winter. 
  • Mechanical ventilation is another popular option (e.g., ceiling fans, exhaust fans).
  • During stable design consider bars on the stall fronts, instead of solid boards, to improve the flow of air.
  • Proper insulation helps avoid condensation problems and damp conditions. 
  • Do not sweep dust and debris from the barn aisle into your horse’s stall; in fact, don’t sweep at all when horses are in the barn. Wet down the floor before you begin and wear a mask for your own respiratory health.

In the Arena:

  • Choose footing wisely and replace as needed. Fine smooth particles are more prone to suspension than heavier angular particles. 
  • Footing in the arena must be regularly maintained to remain moist and prevent dust from rising into the air.
  • Additives and environmentally friendly oils help bind particles and slow evaporation.


Keep horses outside as much as possible unless medical conditions require stalling or the horse has an equine asthma issue associated with the pasture. If your horse begins to cough, call the vet right away to investigate the cause. When dealing with respiratory ailments, early diagnostics, aggressive treatment, and environmental management are of paramount importance.

Related: Footing the Riding Arena

Related: Dust Management in Horse Facilities

Published with the kind permission of Equine Guelph.

Main Photo: Shutterstock/Artzum