Considerations When Choosing Horse Stall Flooring & Bedding

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Posted: July 30, 2010

Horses that spend the majority of their time in horse stalls should have a comfortable, cushioned surface as their flooring. A horse that is kept on hard floors like concrete or wood, and even some earth surfaces will require more bedding to provide the comfort that the horse needs. Even then, the development of sore spots on the horse's body from laying down in the stall, as well as joint pain and stiffness from standing on the hard flooring, are fairly common ailments. This can sometimes lead to more serious health conditions and increasing lameness. One way to minimize this is to consider a rubber mat floor for your horse stall.

Rubber mats have many positives as a solution to many of the pitfalls of 'traditional' stall flooring. Regular timber or concrete flooring can be a hazard to your horse's health. When wet, these surfaces can become slippery. Both horse and handler can slip under these conditions. Adding more bedding to absorb the wetness can become costly over time. More bedding may be needed as an insulator also, as winter months can render the hard floors bitterly cold. Additional bedding also requires more time to clean when it comes to mucking the stalls. Rubber mats are a great alternative as they can provide a non slip surface even when soaking wet and are also a very good insulator for the colder months. Less bedding is needed in stalls that have rubber mats fitted as the horse can find comfort and warmth while the wetness can drain away.

Choosing the bedding for your horse's stall is something that should not only be based on cost, but also the health benefits. Straw would be the most economical bedding that is available, and even on rubber matting it is recommended that each stall still receives a thin layer of bedding. This is because many horses won’t lay on a bare rubber floor, but will happily take time off their feet if bedding is included. Whilst straw is economical, it is also a dust hazard. Dust and mold spores are evident in even the best quality straw bedding and these can be bad news for your horse's health. Sawdust and wood shavings are also popular choices and have a lower dust content than straw. Whilst sawdust is a relatively easy to muck out material, it is not recommended for horse's that have respiratory problems either. Wood shavings can be the better alternative as a bedding option, although it is recommended that it is placed on top of a rubber mat surface. Whilst the wood shavings may be more costly than the straw, it is worth noting that the amount used would be far less if used with rubber horse stall mats.

Many stalls offer the perfect environment for growing bacteria. Because of the nature of a horse stall being dark, with often wet or damp bedding and urine and fecal deposits throughout, bacteria can thrive under these conditions. Bacteria in stalls can be a deadly combination with your horse. Ammonia is a gas that is released from the deposit of horse urine. If left trapped in bedding, under flooring or within earth surfaces, it can harbor bacteria. One of the problems with ammonia is that it will affect your horse's respiratory system, as well as the handlers. Horses have a relatively sensitive respiratory tract and should avoid dust from bedding like straw and sawdust, as well as have reduced exposure to ammonia.

Wet bedding under foot can lead to softened hooves. Your horse's feet are one of the most important parts of your horse. There is a saying “No Foot, No Horse.” Soft hooves mean that your horse will be more prone to thrush and other bacterial infections that can determine your horse's soundness. Once a horse has thrush it can be a difficult infection to treat as this bacteria thrives in dark, damp places. Keeping your horse stall as dry as possible at all times, as well as cleaning any soiled bedding as soon as possible will ensure that your horse's foot health is kept priority.

Rubber matting can be disinfected if a horse has a contagious infection. All the bedding can be removed daily and the stall can be disinfected with a liquid or spray. Because of the durability that rubber mats possess, scrubbing it with a brush in warm soapy water will not affect the mat surface. Bacteria cannot breed or thrive on rubber mat flooring. This makes it a particularly good choice for stalls that have multiple horses using different stables. Veterinary clinics and racing stables find many benefits from a rubber surface stall. Choosing a design that allows the urine to drain off or through the rubber mat is the best solution to ensuring that ammonia is not trapped and bacteria able to grow.

NOTE: When it comes to proper cleaning & disinfecting of stalls, it is important that you do it correctly. Here is a great article on stall disinfecting that is definitely worth a read.

When choosing your stall flooring, it is important to weigh up the costs of an initially cheaper solution such as limestone, concrete or timber, against the added cost of rubber mats. Certainly, the best case scenario would be a horse stall with a compacted limestone or granite fines or concrete or asphalt base and a rubber mat fitted to the top. This can prove expensive for many horse owners and therefore an alternative is sought. Sadly, the damage done to many horse's joints and ligaments, as well as injuries obtained when the stall is wet, can far outweigh the cost of making the investment in a safe, rubber mat stall to begin with. Many horse owners find that fitting out one stall at a time is the better alternative to their cost woes.

As equine enthusiasts, I believe we are all interested in creating a better world for our horses and ourselves to live in. Choosing environmentally friendly bedding can help cut down on landfill and can be used again as mulch on gardens. There is no end to waste when it comes to horses being stalled. Straw breaks down well and can be used on gardens quickly. Although there are problems with the dust content of straw, it does seem to be the most compost friendly material. Sawdust and wood shavings take quite some time to break down in the compost. Rubber mats are eco- friendly as they are made from recycled car tires. Because the bedding requirements are minimized when a rubber mat is used, you can be satisfied that you are contributing to a more environmentally friendly world, to be shared with your horses.

Click here to see our rubber horse stall mats.