Upgrading Stall Mats

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Credit: Charlene Strickland

Credit: Charlene Strickland

Your old mats are warped. Torn. Frayed. Holes from pawing. When do you give up on those cheap mats, and what products are proven to last? How much does upgrading cost?

What are the main reasons rubber mats wear? In most cases, they weren’t thick enough, were manufactured of lower-quality rubber, or were installed on uneven surfaces.

And the more seams between mats, the more problems with them “walking” or moving from where they are supposed to be. When edges don’t meet flush and level, or corners crumble, a horse can trip on the gaps or bumps. You can trip, too!

To replace old floors—or install longer-lived floors in new stalls—we sampled quality mats. We also talked with barn owners about the durability of their investment.

Return on Investment

Real-life conditions—with horses in stalls most of the time, their weight and movement pound stall floors. At Memorial Park Hunters, Houston, Texas, 48 stalls now have mats from Linear Rubber Products.

“I love them,” said manager Patty Roberts “They’ve been great.”

She installed these mats in phases. “I didn’t finish installing all till midsummer. In one barn, they have been in there almost two years, and I haven’t had any issues with them. I’ve seen a big savings in my shavings, which is great.” She added that her employees like the mats, and cleaning the matted stalls does save time.

Roberts said that she has no weavers that wear holes in mats. “But with 48 horses, at any given time someone is doing something, probably pawing. The mats have held up beautifully.”

Her summary: “I’ve been very happy with them. I would definitely recommend them to other barn owners.”

She’s been so pleased that she bought another set for her show stalls at Wellington, Florida. “I can store the mats there, bring them to the showgrounds, and put the mats down so the horses don’t have to stand on the dirt. Sometimes the show stalls have fungus.”

Linear Rubber Products sells one-piece Deluxe Soft Stall Mats in typical stall sizes, up to 12 by 16. Made of genuine, virgin rubber reinforced with nylon, they are 5/8-inch thick.

The StableComfort flooring, from Promat, Inc., is a two-part system of a mattress filled with recycled rubber crumbs, and a top cover that’s attached to the stall walls. “The top cover is made of polypropylene material that is latex impregnated and ¼-inch thick,” said Erica Allen of Promat. The cover attaches to the stall walls with plastic fastening strips.

Credit: Promat Inc. The Stable Comfort system is shown here.

Credit: Promat Inc. The Stable Comfort system is shown here.

Rick and Carol Aniel of Rolling Rock Valley Farm, Metamora, Michigan, have two generations of the StableComfort system in use in their barn. “The mats were in our barn when we bought it,” said Carol. The Aniels didn’t know what brand they had, but were pleased with the setup. After contacting Promat, they learned about Stable Comfort—they later installed the system in more stalls. After eight years of use, they praise the StableComfort system. “We have an 18-hand Thoroughbred who pivots in the stall. The flooring is perfect,” said Carol. “And a big Percheron is also on the flooring, with no problem.”

She reports the mattress is level and flat, soft, but not “cushiony.” With an even surface, she said, “Urine stays in the spot, and it comes off so easily. Our barn does not smell.”

Starting Over?

When you’re thinking of reflooring, invest in better quality. “No Name” mats from the feed store—what’s their lifespan? Answer: Pricier ones outlast $40 mats.

A solid surface mat—eliminating seams completely—removes the gaps and their problems.Edges are only on the borders, where the mat butts against the walls.

A smooth, level surface simplifies stall cleaning. The manure fork’s tines don’t snag on seams, and shavings stay on top of the mat.

Less maintenance over the years saves you time and money. Smaller-size mats can curl so shavings can get packed under or between mats. Eventually, the edge is higher than the adjacent one, so you must pull up edges to level the footing underneath. Or worse, remove all mats to redo the footing, then put them back!

A larger mat reduces seams to at most one per stall. A custom fit, wall to wall, gives a more level surface.

A cushioned stall mat also reduces shavings needed. “It’s definitely a cost-effective system,” said Allen. “You don’t need to bed so deep, so you spend less time cleanin—often under two minutes cleaning time per stall.”

The softer floor can be therapeutic. Carol Aniel said, “You can use less bedding because there is that more pliable feeling in the mattress. Our horses don’t get hock sores. With our Thoroughbred, when he goes to a show and is two days in a show stall, he has hock sores.”

What about pawing? A determined pawer can wear through the top cover. The solution would be to add a solid rubber mat over the section where the horse paws.

“It’s a pretty durable product,” said Rick Aniel. He added, “It’s a hands-on product. You stand on it to try it out, and you go ‘Wow.’ ”

Material Choices

Substances vary, with different levels of thickness, softness, and surface texture. Genuine rubber (also called virgin rubber) is a compound formed in vulcanization, a process of heat and pressure.

Some mats are made of recycled rubber, formed into rubber crumbs and revulcanized. Those mats could smell more “rubbery.”The scraps may be mismatched, and recycled rubber can deteriorate faster. Recycled rubber is manufactured outside the U.S., with a number of mats made in Canada or the Far East.

Thicker rubber weighs more. Compare weights of ¾-inch vs. 5/8 inch vs. ½ inch mats.

Credit: Charlen Strickland In an examination room, the mats placed under the chute show wear. Notice the hole in front of the chute door.

Credit: Charlen Strickland In an examination room, the mats placed under the chute show wear. Notice the hole in front of the chute door.

You may see mats of rubber blended with polymer. These can be a lighter weight, although still durable.

To order, measure each stall. Stall sizes in your barn can vary slightly, and every 12x12 stall may not be square.

Installation Process

Put mats in place either with your own crew, or pay for a professional job. You’d need at least two people to place mats. For a tight fit, cut rubber mats with a utility knife.

Upgrading begins with removing existing mats. A messy job!

Footing must be hard, flat and level. You may have to rebuild footing with crushed rock, spread evenly and leveled. Then tamp it down to compact the surface. An option is putting mats in place on a permanent surface such as concrete,to reduce any problems with rodents tunneling under mats.

If you’re having a new barn built, ask about mats the company offers. Many offer mat installation as an add-on. MD Barns of Arizona also placed mats in older barns (one that was 15 years old for trainer Wendy Johnson; a 2-year-old barn for trainer Barbara Crabo).

Arizona does have extreme summer heat, which affects rubber mats. Crabo reported, “I wouldn't build a barn without rubber mats. The only problem that we have with them is that in the winter they shrink quite a bit. Then in the summer they expand, so we have to have little sections that we add and take out with the seasons.”

Richard Zarbock, formerly of MD and now with Choice Barns, said, “The Rubberman has good mats. We use them now.” The Rubberman offers solid rubber interlock mats that fasten together for a tight fit.

Quality mats include warranties. For example, Linear Rubber Products has a 10-year warranty on its mats. Long live your stall mats!

Recycling Replaced Mats

You can reuse worn mats in less high-traffic areas. Locations could include a grooming stall, feeding area in a paddock, washrack, loading zone or hay barn. Mats could also raise low spots on muddy driveways.

You may need to scrub mats thoroughly and let them dry completely. Over the years, lower-quality mats absorb odors and may start to deteriorate. If parts are usable, you can cut the rubber to fit into a horse trailer or pickup truck bed.

Price Points

For a typical stall, expect to pay from $400 to $1,000. Professional installation will add to the price, but can be worth the cost. Ask about volume discounts. Or, start with a few stalls and add more to spread the cost over time.

Add the cost of deliver, also. The Rubberman company, based in Lexington, Kentucky, has 16 warehouses across the US, eight in the West and eight in the East.

Company Contact Information

Linear Rubber Products, rubbermats.com

StableComfort, stablecomfort.com

The Rubberman, therubberman.com