Wash Racks And Stalls

If you board at a big, commercial show barn, you probably have access to a wash rack. Ditto if your horse boards at a racing barn. What a convenience wash racks are. Instead of spending hours brushing off dirt, muck, and sweat, or hosing off your horse in some muddy area outside the barn when the weather allows, you can bathe your horse in minutes in a safe, secure area, protected from the elements, and conveniently located near the stall. Often with hot water right at your fingertips!

Wash racks also are handy for those who hack often, show occasionally, or just prefer spending their time riding instead of brushing, brushing, brushing. Notes Jim Tabor of Waitsfield, Vt., a life-long pleasure rider, former manager of a 65-horse guest riding operation, and a former public relations representative for Controlled Energy Corporation (distributors for Aquastar water heaters), "Although wash racks are more commonly used at show barns, they can be just as useful for any pleasure horse that’s ridden regularly and worked vigorously enough to work up a sweat--in other words, for virtually all pleasure horses."

Wash racks also are a useful place for hosing down synthetic tack and for doing hydrotherapy treatments; an overturned bucket in a wash rack isn’t going to produce the mess it can in a stall.

Nuts And Bolts

Simply defined, a wash rack (or wash stall) is a confined area consisting of flooring and drainage for the purpose of bathing horses. British-born Jayne D. Pedigo, now of Houston, Texas, is a member of the British Horse Society, a dressage and combined training competitor, and a guide for the Horses Internet site at the Mining Company. (Miningco.com is a network of over 600 web sites, each maintained by a "Guide" and providing guidance to the best the Net has to offer in their niche, as well as regular articles.) She has seen all kinds of wash racks, and says that the outside ones "are generally little more than a slab of concrete, usually with posts at one end where the horse can be cross-tied, or a hitching rail of some sort. Inside wash racks are often built in one stall of the barn, or in a separate area at either end of the barn. I’ve seen them with textured concrete floors and rubber-lined floors. Walls can be galvanized metal sheeting or spray-on rubber coating over cinder blocks. Inside wash racks often have a central drain."

Dale Coleman, stall superintendent at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, says that in 40 years as a youth jockey, rodeo cowboy, Thoroughbred trainer, and racing steward, judge, and secretary, he has also beheld a variety of wash racks. "Some contain a drain, solid walls, water hoses, or an overhead bank where the hose comes from the top and pivots from one side to the other. Floors can be made of anything solid--rubber mats, concrete, asphalt, Astroturf, or wood with half-inch cracks between the boards to expel the water."

Overall, Coleman likes asphalt or rubber flooring best "because it’s a little softer, not subject to slipping, and holds up pretty well." As for wall construction, he prefers wood. "Horses can sometimes hurt themselves, and wood is forgiving," he says. "Wood will rot out over the years, but for easy replacement of individual boards, build the walls with some kind of channel where you can slide the boards in and out."

Build It Right

The first consideration for building a wash rack is where to put it.

"A wash rack can be inside or outside," says Pedigo. "Down here on the Gulf Coast where the summers are hot and we don’t have to worry about the horses getting chilled, outdoor wash racks are economical. However, a number of larger barns, especially show barns, have inside wash racks. Certainly in northern climates, inside racks are more practical than outside ones."

Wash racks should be conveniently located. Says Coleman, "Most people place wash racks in between the cooling area and the stalls. After the horses are walked out and cooled, they can come into the wash area, get the sand washed off their feet, and then go into the stall without getting more mud or sand on their feet."

Racks also should be sited close to a water source so you won’t have to run hoses (which horses can step on and split) or expensive underground water lines.

Another consideration is the number of wash racks an operation needs. "Barn owners should take into account the number of horses on the property and provide more than one wash rack, if necessary," Pedigo suggests. "This helps when one horse is having to be treated with hydrotherapy and other horse owners want to hose their horses down after a workout. If there aren’t enough wash racks, horse owners will take it upon themselves to hose their horses down where ever they can, or tensions can rise when one horse owners spends what the others consider too long with his or her horse in the wash rack."

Coleman says that at Lone Star Park, each 50-stall barn has two big wash racks, and they’re constantly in use.

Choose a rack size that is suitable. Pedigo says that indoor wash racks generally are stalled-sized, about 10 feet by 10 feet to 12 feet by 12 feet, while outdoor wash racks are about six to eight feet wide and about 10 feet long.

"They don’t need too big," she says. "The area just has to be large enough for the horse to stand in and for a person to safely and easily maneuver around the horse."

One of the most important elements of the wash rack is the floor. "Concrete should be about eight inches thick," says Pedigo, "with a non-slip surface. This can be accomplished by using rubber stall mats or by texturing the concrete by pulling a broom over the wet concrete before it sets." Pedigo warns not to scrimp on the thickness of the concrete: "That will cause the floor to crack and crumble under the weight of the horse."

Concrete also must be mixed to the correct consistency and be neither too dry nor too wet. "If it’s too wet, the concrete will take an excessive amount of time to cure. If it’s too dry, it will be crumbly and will disintegrate over time," Pedigo says.

Make sure you have an adequately sized grate over the drain. "Too fine of a grate won’t let the water dispel fast enough," says Coleman. "On the other hand, if you have too open of a grate, you’ll get bandages and stuff going down the drain. The drain itself should be properly designed with a trap that is easily accessible so you can pull the grate off and clean it on a regular basis."

Water lines should be buried below the frost line and deep enough, especially if they’re under driveways or areas where heavy vehicles travel, so they won’t crack from surface pressure. Advises Pedigo, "If a water line has to be laid under a driveway, it should be encased in a conduit that will support the weight of the heaviest vehicle that may be expected to travel over it. Concrete drainage pipe can be used for this."

Adds Coleman, "We have 27 barns with asphalt in between each one. Every barn usually has two wash racks, and there’s a drainage system underneath all that. The lines are about three to four feet deep, and we haven’t had any problems with crushing the lines."

Local statutes might dictate where the drainage lines should lead. "In Texas, it’s mandatory that drainage lines go into a separating pond, like a leach field," says Coleman. Elsewhere, drainage, especially for outside racks, might simply consist of grading that leads to ditch.

Although it’s not necessary, it is nice, particularly in colder areas, to have hot water available in the wash rack. "It’s my feeling that wash racks should contain warm water as well as cold," says Tabor. "The reason is simple: How much do you like stepping into an icy shower? Your horse doesn’t like it any more than you do. And the shock is even greater if your horse is warm or hot after vigorous exercise. Yes, we cool hot horses. Your horse will thank you for a bath with water that can be adjusted to just slightly cooler than the horse’s body temperature."

Coleman agrees. "I don’t like bathing horses in cold water. There’s a shock syndrome a lot of times which is not good for horses."

If you opt to install a hot water heater, Tabor warns that most residential style tank-type heaters won’t be large enough to provide enough hot water. "That’s why a tankless, instantaneous water heater (the type often used by car washes and other industrial applications) is preferable," he says. "One of these units will produce an endless stream of hot water at a flow of about four gallons per minute for equine applications." One such unit, the Aquastar 125X, retails for about $500, Tabor says of the product he used to represent.


Proper maintenance of the wash rack will help it last longer and preserve good feeling among boarders. "Wash racks are simple to maintain," says Pedigo. "All that really needs to be done is that the floor should be hosed down after each use. This is a courtesy to other users, especially if your horse was very muddy or, has done as they often do, ‘decorated’ the wash rack with a pile of manure!"

But beware of the amount of mud and sand that can come off in a wash rack and go down the drain: Too much can lead to clogged or slow-draining lines. Suggests Coleman, "To prevent a lot of sand buildup in your traps, sweep the sand up against the side of the stall rather than letting it go down the drain. As it dries out, take a shovel and pitch it back out."

Coleman also advises that boarders and barn help not turn the wash rack into a convenient kitchen sink for rinsing out feed buckets. "When oats and other grains are washed down into the drain, they have a tendency to hang up in there. They actually can start growing a root ball in the drain, making a big mess and stopping up the drain."

Are Racks For Everyone?

While indoor wash racks are a little more complicated to build due to lines and drains and, where necessary, waterproofing the walls so water doesn’t spray or leak into a neighboring stall, tack or feed room, outdoor racks can be fairly simple to construct. However, only you can say whether you’d put a wash rack to good use.

Says Coleman, "If you have horses in training, it does make it so much easier if you have a wash rack set up where one person can take the horse in, tie him in the corner, and bathe him. For some, time is money, and a wash rack does make it a lot handier because it’s a lot easier to bathe the horse without him walking and squirming around or without having to have someone holding the horse for you."

If having a clean horse and a time-saving convenience is important to you, then you might consider a wash rack for your barn.

About the Author

Marcia King

Marcia King is an award-winning freelance writer based in Ohio who specializes in equine, canine, and feline veterinary topics. She's schooled in hunt seat, dressage, and Western pleasure.

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