Today’s trailers are designed to make it increasingly easy for both horse and owner to travel in safety and style. By incorporating breakthrough technologies with the latest in shock absorbent, easy-to-maintain materials, there’s very little on-the-spot preparation you need to do anymore. Just load and go—once you add the bedding, that is, even though it seems contradictory to put low-tech cushioning on your high-tech floor. Which leads to the question: is bedding really even necessary, and if it is, what type would be best to provide comfort and stability?
How Much Cushioning Do You Need?
With older trailers, good mats and bedding are essential. “The key, if you have an older trailer that has leaf spring suspension, which can be bumpy, is in having good mats,” says Neva Kittrell Scheve, co-author of The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer, with her husband, Tom. Good mats “should be at least three-quarters of an inch” thick to provide adequate protection, she says. While she recommends mats for all trailers, bedding is sometimes optional. “With newer trailers,” she says, “the upgraded rubber torsion suspension, which absorbs as much as 98 percent of road shock—and still ranks as one of the most significant improvements in the industry since its introduction fifteen years ago—greatly reduces stress on a horse’s legs, making the question of additional bedding on top of the mats a less important one.”
In fact, for short trips Scheve doesn’t recommend using bedding at all. Her reasoning? “Bedding is known to be a dust collector,” she says, “which can easily compromise a horse’s notoriously delicate respiratory system. Horses typically need to lower their heads to cough, something they can’t do if they’re tied, which they should be. Therefore, if you have good mats for cushioning, why take a chance that your horse will become congested, especially if you’re not going very far?” she maintains. She then talks about rumbar, the most recent flooring innovation. Made of recycled rubber and plastic, manufacturers claim it is so efficient that even mats are no longer necessary. Scheve disagrees on that point and steadfastly believes that mats add more cushioning.
Managing Your Bedding
For long trips Scheve acknowledges the need for bedding. “But it should be managed,” she counsels. She touts the use of kiln dried pine shavings—never straw, which is not absorbent and becomes slippery when wet. The shavings should be piled higher in the back and dampened to keep dust and debris from circulating, and the waste should be removed frequently. Otherwise, toxic fumes quickly build up, “which is why the vents and windows must be kept opened at all times, even in the winter,” she says.
Scheve also counsels that it’s essential to clean the trailer floor thoroughly after each trip whether the floor is wood or aluminum. She warns that urine and manure residues are particularly corrosive for aluminum floors and can easily spell disaster if they are not neutralized. “Remove the mats regardless of the floor type,” she stresses, “and hose everything down, letting the floor dry completely before laying the mats back down.”
Beacon Hill Horse Transportation, known for shipping world-class hunter/jumpers, also advocates the use of kiln dried pine shavings. Their policy is to bed each box stall with at least one bag, and often more when traveling long distances. They, too, mention that shavings stay firm, are less dusty and are easy to clean, especially at night when the stalls get mucked.
Charlie, at Holly Hill Transport, another shavings proponent, contends that besides the aforementioned benefits, “One of the main reasons we use shavings is that the horses we haul are accustomed to being bedded on them. If we were to suddenly use straw, for example, the horses would probably try to eat it.” He adds that he prefers shavings with bigger flakes because they’re less dusty. “Plus,” he says, “on long trips, we hang buckets, which means that the horses tend to drink more, and as a result, urinate more.” He echoes the others in saying that shavings are more absorbent, less slippery, and easier to clean than straw.
A champion of a third choice, Jon Brant, co-founder of Guardian Horse Bedding, suggests the use of specially formulated wood pellets, which are also made from kiln dried and screened pine (before pelleting). “The kiln drying and the high heat from the pellet mill burns off lignin, oils and other naturally occurring allergens,” he explains, making them less dusty than shavings. “They have a spongy feel underfoot and are very supportive; it’s like having an extra shock absorber in your trailer. Furthermore,” he says, “with a two- to three-inch cushion, pelleted bedding is so absorbent, urine won’t even reach the mats or floor. Just add water to activate it,” he recommends. In the end, keeping the horse comfortable and the trailer in good condition is really what it’s all about.