Maintaining a clean pasture and keeping the area clear of droppings is an important step in ensuring the wellbeing of your horse. With an average of 15-20 bowel movements per day, generating up to 50lb of manure, cleaning up after your horse can quickly become a labor-intensive activity, making manure management feel like a never-ending clearance chore!
To recognize horses’ poop habits, it is useful to understand their behavior in their natural habitat. In the same way that dogs urinate to mark their territory, stallions in the wild use ‘stud piles’ as ‘elimination marking behavior’. By leaving droppings on top of other piles, they mask other horses’ smell, leaving their own as the most prominent.
Similarly, there are a few steps you can take to ‘potty train’ horses by encouraging them to leave droppings in one or several designated areas. The trick is determining which areas are appropriate while respecting the horses’ natural habits.
1. Choose 2-3 designated poop areas
First and foremost, you should pick 2-3 designated poop areas and find a distance that is neither too close to ‘high traffic areas’ (where horses eat, walk, or sleep), while remaining relatively close to the rest of the herd. Horses will usually not travel very far to leave droppings, as their natural instincts to stay grouped will override this behavior. Having several designated poop areas ensures that horses always remain within a short distance to the rest of the herd.
2. Move fresh manure to your designated area and clear other areas
Leaving enough manure in the desired areas will help enforce a pattern, which will be especially important at the beginning of training. One or two piles may not be enough initially for them to understand this is a ‘designated spot’ over another area. Make sure to frequently pick up all other droppings and only leave them in the designated poop area. If you see a horse poop outside of the designated area, it may even be beneficial to remove it right away and relocate it to the designated poop area to lead by example.
3. Praise and reward desired behavior
Remember: this will take time and require consistency, so using positive reinforcement by rewarding desired behavior will go a long way. If you happen to notice your horse leave droppings in one of the designated areas, don’t hesitate to walk over and reward him with a treat while praising him. It’s important that you do it as soon as possible after you notice the desired behavior, so that your horse can learn to associate the two events.
While training horses to leave droppings in one designated area can save you a lot of time when cleaning up fields and paddocks, keep in mind that this training is not full proof. For example, when new horses are introduced to the herd, they may not immediately pick up on pattern, and may leave droppings in other spots. If these are not cleaned up quickly enough, over time, the other horses may get confused and go back to leaving droppings in non-designated areas. This will require a refresher course and perhaps starting the training cycle over again.
Bear in mind – some types of terrains may benefit from having horse manure, as it helps regenerate grass in that spot. If you own a large parcel of land in a mild and relatively dry climate, you may be better off leaving the piles where they are and only removing the ones close to feeding areas. Horse manure piles are a great way to fertilize soil and help regenerate the land as nature intended!