A Walk Down the Aisle

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Your clients’ first impression of your barn is often made when they walk down the aisle. A safe, clean and attractive aisle speaks volumes for your horse management practices. Aside from aesthetics, what you choose for flooring demonstrates how you value the safety and comfort of your horses and the people who work with them. A safe floor has good traction and has a level surface to prevent tripping, slipping and falls. Keeping dust down to a minimum is important in preventing respiratory and allergy symptoms.

Of course, from a business standpoint the maintenance and economics of the surface are also important considerations. Compare the cost of maintaining the floor to the initial cost and installation. Ask questions: is the product one you can install by yourself? Will it require special equipment? Will it need professional installation? What is the average life of the product? All these questions must be answered before you can determine the actual cost.

That said, an attractive barn aisle does not have to be expensive. Any flooring can look neat and orderly if the aisle is swept daily and kept free of obstructions and trash. But if you want your barn to be a showplace, there are products that will make your barn aisle look fit for all the king’s horses.

While a consumer might like the clip-clop sound of horses’ hooves on a hard surface, the sound-absorbing properties of the aisle flooring can be a point to consider. Not only will a soft surface muffle the noise of hoof steps, it will also absorb the noise of voices, machinery and the normal whinnying, bumping and banging sounds of horses in their stalls.

Dirt Cheap

Dirt is dirt cheap, and the most economical flooring from the standpoint of initial cost. A variation is rock quarry screenings or stone dust, which have excellent drainage properties. On the negative side, dust and uneven wear make dirt or screenings a higher maintenance choice, requiring daily watering to keep the dust down, and raking to keep the surface even.

Dust suppressants reduce the time needed to water a dirt aisle. These products are added to the water and can be sprayed onto the floor with a garden hose attachment or water truck. An organic substance coats the dirt particles and slows evaporation.

Another solution to minimizing dust is to cover the dirt floor with shavings. The shavings also act as a deodorizer and cushion that absorbs concussion and sound. Dirt, with or without shavings, also rates high among some horse owners because of its excellent traction.

A Hard Surface

Concrete is economical, attractive and requires little care other than daily sweeping or hosing. But a concrete floor can be slippery, especially when it is wet. And if a horse falls on concrete, it is more likely to have an injury than with other surfaces. To solve this problem, the concrete should be textured. Another drawback is that concrete is hard on the feet and legs of both horses and handlers if they spend very much time on it. To offset the lack of cushion, some horse owners lay rubber mats or tiles over the concrete. This adds to the expense, but otherwise better meets the requirements of safety and comfort.

Asphalt is attractive, low-maintenance and relatively cost-effective. It is similar to concrete in that it can be slippery. But asphalt cannot be textured; therefore, it does not meet the same safety standards unless rubber mats are installed over it.

Artificial Products

Plastic grid systems are a new floor-covering option. Plastic grids are fairly inexpensive, easy to install, have good traction and are long-lasting. The grids can be laid on existing ground or a stabilizing layer of sand.

Rubber mats, tiles and bricks have become popular choices for covering the barn aisle. These rubber products are the most expensive way to go—they average $5 to $6 per square foot—but meet the safety, comfort, low maintenance, and aesthetic requirements with flying colors.

Theresa Stephenson, who owns Chadale Farms in Cary, North Carolina, installed rubber pavers in March 2005. She is very pleased with them. “They are also nice on all of us ‘old timers’ because they are so cushiony,” she notes.

But Stephenson adds that pavers are harder to clean than concrete. “We have found that if we sweep or blow (with a leaf blower) and then wet them down daily, it keeps them cleaner and less dusty,” she says. “The water soaks straight through quickly, and it also helps keep the barn cooler.” The cracks between pavers are filled with screenings and the watering helps keep it settled.

In heavier traffic areas where the pavers have settled, she says, “We are going to just pull them up, add more screenings underneath and grade, and then put them back down.”

Dennis Marion of Innovative Equine Systems recommends three products to cover barn aisle floors. Interlocking pavers with beveled edges can be installed over a compacted surface like concrete, asphalt, or even dirt and screenings, at a cost of $5.90 per square foot. A second option:?7/8-inch split pavers, for large spaces or long aisles that need a drainage system. These are glued onto a concrete or asphalt base, and are easy to hose off. The third product, a seamless floor covering made of synthetic rubber with a self-leveling compound sealed with polyethylene, is extremely expensive and best for veterinarian hospitals or other environments where sanitation is especially important. A seamless covering must be installed professionally. Most of these products come in different sizes and colors.

Before choosing any flooring product, visit some barns in your area, horse expos, and farm supply stores to look at the various options—and ask questions. Look for the flooring that best meets your needs and your budget, and remember that safety is the most important characteristic of barn aisle flooring. Safety always makes a good impression.

Product Contact Information

Ace Rubber Mats 1-800-348-9543 garrol127@c.s.com

Agromatic 1-800-800-5824 www.agromatic.net

Comfort Stall 1-888-307-0855 www.comfortstall.com

Dandy Products 1-888-883-8386 www.dandyproductsinc.com

DustLoc by Environ Mist, Inc. 1-866-387-8562 www.dustloc.com

Equestrian Solutions 1-206-963-9797 www.equestriansolutions.com

Equi Turf 1-877-378-4887 www.equiturf.com

Groundmaster Stall Flooring 1-800-411-2530 www.groundmasterstallflooring.com

Humane Manufacturing Horse Mats 1-800-369-6263 www.humanemfg.com

Innovative Equine Systems 1-800-888-9921 www.equinesystems.com

North West Rubber 1-800-663-8724 www.northwestrubber.com

Quality Rubber Resources 1-770-641-9311 www.qualityrubberresources.com

Stable Master Products 1-303-841-8545 www.stablemasterproducts.com

Summit Flexible Products, Ltd. 1-800-782-5628 www.groupsummit.com

Surfacing Resources 1-260-432-2515 www.surfacingresources.com