After the Flood: Cleaning Your Horse Farm

Flooding presents a unique set of problems. Flood water is laden with mud and debris that ranges in size from small, relatively harmless items to large, heavy objects such as vehicles.

Photo: Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

Your arena is not meant to be a water obstacle. Your barn is not a kiddie pool. And your fences should be high enough to keep your horses contained, not lost under quickly rising water. But Mother Nature doesn’t always play by the rules, especially when it comes to flooding.

You’ve survived a flood and have surveyed the damage, and now it’s time to clean up. The home is where many people begin. But horse farm owners have another task at hand: getting their facilities back to normal so horses have a safe and comfortable place to, once again, call home.

After the waters subside, you’ll likely be stunned by the extent of damage—it’s not just water rising and falling around stationary objects. Flooding presents a unique set of problems. Flood water is laden with mud and debris that ranges in size from small, relatively harmless items to large, heavy objects such as vehicles. The water can carry debris for some distance throughout the affected area.

First Steps

The initial steps to take when faced with the often monumental task of flood cleanup are centered around personal safety. Make sure you’ve turned off all electrical circuits and breaker boxes, especially if you are working in any amount of standing water. Also ensure gas lines and propane tanks are off. Wear protective clothing, shoes, gloves, and eye gear when working, and keep your tetanus booster up-to-date. Remember that people upstream might have lost their septic systems and leach fields, and water could be contaminated with infectious microorganisms.

Next, survey changes in your property resulting from the flood. In some cases, the flood might have deposited extra material on your property, while in other cases it could have eroded topsoil and ground. You might have to move substantial amounts of mud, sand, gravel, rocks, and other materials to re-level your barn and paddocks. Additionally, remove any scattered horse manure and drag the paddocks, where possible, to expose the land to air and promote drying. Ideally, you’ll be able to start this project as soon as possible before the debris material completely dries.

Collect all debris into one area as far from your horses as possible (don’t let them explore it, as you might not know where the material came from and what it’s been exposed to), and check the ground in and around your barn and pastures thoroughly or nails, wire, boards, and other hazards that could injure horses.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

Once you’ve cleaned up the debris, pressure wash barns and other structures with a detergent solution to kill any infectious materials that might have arrived via floodwater. Before disinfecting, make sure surfaces are free of mud, silt, and other debris—it does no good to disinfect a dirty surface! When it’s time to disinfect, use a commercial disinfectant or a solution of 1:10 concentration of chlorine bleach to water (so, for every gallon of water, add about three to four ounces of bleach). Ensure the bleach contacts a wet surface for at least 15 minutes.

Check Structural Integrity

Have a professional inspect your barn and its roof (along with other buildings such as run-ins, storage buildings, or indoor arenas) for structural integrity, especially if it appears to have shifted or moved at all. Also ensure any wood—especially plywood—is still structurally sound and hasn’t been saturated to the point of coming apart. It is best to hire a structural engineer to evaluate buildings on your property so you can know right away how much work needs to be done and get an estimate on cost.

Many barns are made of wood, and wet wood is prone to rot. Exposing the wood to air as soon as possible can help limit mold growth, which can take hold quickly in certain temperature and humidity conditions. Also, consider using fans and dehumidifiers (but only if it’s safe to use electrical appliances) to remove moisture from the environment. Another option to help squelch mold growth is to spray everything with undiluted vinegar. Clean and disinfect tack and equipment to minimize mold spore spread. Also, remove any insulation that has gotten wet from walls. Always wear a protective mask when working in confined areas where there could be mold.

Water Testing

In addition to checking and repairing buildings, posts, gates, and fences, be sure to check your horses’ water sources. Send a sample to a certified laboratory for water quality testing to ensure it hasn’t been contaminated in the flood. Your local health department probably offers this service. Purge the water lines, where possible, and check for breaks or leaks that could cause further problems.

Similarly, have an electrician examine electrical wiring carefully to avoid shorts and potential fires.

Feed Disposal

Also, be sure to discard any hay or feed that’s come in contact with floodwater. Not only is it at risk of molding, but it also could have been contaminated with infectious or toxic substances.

Above all, remember to cultivate your patience. Take baby steps with every repair, but stay focused on the ultimate goal. Prioritize your to-do list, taking care of the most emergent things quickly and efficiently. Finally, expect that it will take time for things to return to normal. Flood cleanup is a long and laborious process that takes dedicated manpower and time, but the end result is, once again, a safe and mold-free facility for your four-legged family members.

About the Author

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care. She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More