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Horse Barn Air Quality: Pathogens Prevalent in Box Stalls

By Christa Lesté-Lasserre
 
Study results revealed that they—especially closed box stalls—have much higher concentrations of potentially disease-causing pathogens in the air compared to run-in sheds.
 
In recent years horsemanship scientists have confirmed that stalls can present significant equine welfare challenges by restricting movement and social interactions. But that’s not all. Study results revealed that they—especially closed box stalls—have much higher concentrations of potentially disease-causing pathogens in the air compared to run-in sheds.
 
Escherichia coli, staphylococci, mold fungi, and other varieties of disease-causing bacteria hover invisibly in the air of our stables, threatening horses’ and humans’ respiratory health, said Katarzyna Wolny-Koładka, PhD, of the University of Agriculture Department of Microbiology, in Cracow, Poland. And those pathogens circulate in much denser levels when horses are kept closed-up in box stalls.
 
“Also the dust, formed during maintenance work within the facilities, contributes to the increase in the microbial concentration of the air,” said Wolny-Koładka said.
 
In their study, the researchers took air samples four times a year (once in each season) for three years from four to five locations within each of three riding stables in Poland:
  • Stable 1, with 15 horses housed in seven indoor box stalls and eight outdoor box stalls.
  • Stable 2—considered “one of the largest and most modern stables in Poland,” Wolny-Koładka said—with 100 horses housed in indoor box stalls.
  • Stable 3, with 30 horses living in groups outdoors with three-sided shelters and a main barn for storage, tack, and rider convenience.
They found very high levels of “bioaerosols”—essentially, organic air pollution—in Stable 2. Average airborne bacteria rates were about 25% higher in Stable 2 than in Stable 1 and about 10 times higher than in Stable 3, she said.
 
The bacteria identified included Staphylococcus spp., Streptococcus spp., Bacillus spp., and E. coli. Average mold fungi was more than twice as high in Stable 2 than in Stable 1 and more than three times higher than in Stable 3. The fungi species they found included Aspergillus, Fusarium, Mucor, Rhizopus, Penicillium, Trichothecium, Cladosporium, and Alternaria.
 
Bedding was part of the problem in Stables 1 and 2, Wolny-Koładka said.
 
“Straw is a source of bacteria and toxicogenic fungi,” she said. “That’s especially true when it is badly stored and damp, because it favors the development of microorganisms.”
 
Because their study focused on comparing housing types, they did not test different kinds of bedding. However, previous studies have already investigated bedding’s effects on stable air quality.
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