Horse stalls are generally bedded with materials that provide cushion and absorbency and create a layer of insulation between the horse and the floor. Good bedding cushions the hard surface, especially if the floor is asphalt or concrete; prevents bruised knees, elbows, hocks, and hips; and soaks up moisture, which also keeps the horse cleaner.
Factors to consider when selecting bedding materials include availability, cost, freedom from dust and foreign material, and palatability. You usually won’t want a bedding the horse will eat. Choose material compatible with stall flooring that you can dispose of easily.
Before switching to a new bedding product, ask the following questions:
- How much should you use?
- How long does it last?
- What kind of tool do you clean the stall with?
“You need to know how much it costs and how much you have to put in to start with, how much you will have to replace when you clean a stall, and how well it composts,” says Bob Coleman, PhD, state extension specialist at the University of Kentucky, in Lexington.
Types of Horse Stall Bedding
Traditional bedding materials include straw and wood products, but whether these are available depends on where you live. For many farm managers, clean straw is the bedding of choice, but it’s only available in some areas of the country. Wood products (sawdust or shavings) make good bedding, but owners must be aware of the source.
“You don’t want any black walnut,” which is toxic to horses and can cause the hoof disease laminitis, says Coleman. Some cedar shavings contain oil that can cause allergic reactions or be too drying (they pull moisture from the hoof horn when horses stand in them). Try these in small amounts first to see if they work for a certain horse, he suggests.
“Some people (in our area) are using mature grass hay,” Coleman says. “This can work, and it usually doesn’t hurt if the horse eats some.” If you choose this bedding, it’s important to know the grass species because certain types are not suitable for some horses. For example, tall fescue can be dangerous for broodmares and put them at risk of developing fescue toxicosis.
“Cost of bedding will be variable, depending on where you are
, and what is produced in your region,” says Coleman. “Pelleted wood products are available in some areas. Horse owners like them because less material is needed. Once it gets moist and the pellets start to expand, there is more volume. A shovelful of pellets might turn into 2.5 shovels –full of expanded pellets.” Wood pellets come in bags, which makes them easy to transport and store. They might be adequate for someone with just a few horses.
Owners have also used paper as bedding, but it has declined in popularity in recent years. “Part of the reason is that it’s hard to deal with,” says Coleman. “If you take it out in a wheelbarrow and a breeze comes up, it might blow all over. Sourcing was also a problem unless you were close to a place to get it. Some people use cardboard waste from manufacturing plants that cut out cardboard boxes. Small pieces make nice bedding, it’s absorbent, and horses won’t eat it.”
Flax-based bedding sourced from Canada is a fairly absorbent bedding material. You can purchase it in bags and transport it easily.
Straw bedding can be dusty, depending on how dry it was when baled and how the grain was harvested. Horse owners should check for dust and mold in any straw they buy because it can affect horses’ respiratory health.
If you buy bedding in bulk, find a place to keep it dry and out of the weather. “A load of straw can be stacked and tarped, but a load of shavings or sawdust might come in a semi, and you need to have a place to put that material,” said Coleman.
The floor surface also makes a difference–whether dirt, wood, asphalt, concrete, other grid and rock surfaces, or rubber mats. “If you have a grid flooring with rock dust or sand, the base is a lot different than a rubber mat,” says Coleman.
You can find many bedding products on the market for use in horse stalls; however, some might be more suitable than others, depending on the horse, time spent in the stall, desired absorbency, and the property’s waste management system. Each horse owner should choose the best bedding option for their horse’s individual situation, says Coleman.