Walking Down the Aisle

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Barn aisles are busy places that serve many functions. They can be a grooming area, a transit area, the farrier may work there, and a tractor may have to be driven through. Because barn aisles can be the busiest place in your barn, there are many things to consider when you are looking to update or renovate yours.

For example, the flooring needs to be safe and durable for you and your horses. In addition, cost, ease of installation and aesthetics are other factors. There are many products available, and plenty of building contractors to install them, whether you are building a new barn or retrofitting an existing one.

The best plan of attack is to talk to other people, research online, obtain quotes from several contractors, and request product samples so you can physically compare quality and costs. It will take time and effort to do the initial legwork, but it will be well worth it in the long run.

Stone Dust/Gravel

Stone dust, or even a natural dirt floor, is a simple and affordable option that is good for small barns with limited traffic. Typically the aisle is dug down 8 to 12 inches in depth and the subsoil leveled and compacted. The chosen type of footing is added and tamped down until it is at grade. It’s always easy to add mats or pavers over it later. The downside is that this natural type of flooring will eventually wear unevenly, and it can also become quite dusty.

Asphalt and Concrete

Black asphalt is a durable, economical choice that provides horses with good traction. It is highly porous and dries quickly, but it is not as aesthetically pleasing to some as other options. In addition, the rough surface that gives asphalt traction also can make it more difficult to clean.

Concrete is also durable and long lasting, but easier to sweep than asphalt. However, it is slippery for horses, even when textured, and it is hard on horses’ legs. “Safety is a concern with concrete,” says Rick Reid, Jr., president of Reid Building Systems, Inc. in Maryland. “Any little spook and the horses can hurt themselves.” Concrete is good for putting in the aisle first and then covering it with mats or other materials. “You want to put something over it to make the horses a little more comfortable,” advises Reid.

Mats and Pavers

“The old standby has been [rubber] dog-bone pavers,” says Reid. There are many companies that make these. Rubber makes them flexible to withstand temperature changes and they provide good cushioning for horses and humans. They are durable, UV-resistant, sound absorbing, slip-resistant and attractive. They come in a variety of colors, thicknesses and price, and some are even environmentally friendly, being made from recycled tire rubber. Most will withstand the weight of a tractor or other heavy machinery. Depending on your budget, you can do the entire aisle or just grooming and wash stall areas.

If you are building a new barn, Reid recommends pouring concrete in the aisle first and then coming back with some type of rubber flooring. If money is a limiting factor, it’s less expensive to put stone dust down first compared to concrete. Both choices will work to put pavers overtop, but rodents could eventually burrow into the stone dust and cause maintenance issues you wouldn’t have with concrete.

It isn’t hard to re-do an existing floor, Reid says, as long as you can get it level. In most cases you can simply level the surface and then add your chosen product on top. Rubber products can be installed over concrete, dirt, asphalt, clay, wood, sand and stone dust.

When putting rubber flooring over concrete, 1/2-inch thickness works, but Reid prefers to use something a little more than an inch thick. He feels that thinner pavers don’t stay down as well, even over concrete. If installing over compacted soil, one inch is the better choice.

The biggest drawback to rubber pavers is keeping them clean. They are very difficult to sweep. Shavings stick to them, and small pieces settle between pavers. “They look beautiful when they go down,” says Reid, but they are difficult to keep looking that pristine. People use blowers or vacuums with more success, but that adds to maintenance costs.

To minimize cleaning issues, companies have evolved the traditional pavers into larger, interlocking “tiles.” With bigger pieces, the floor appears more seamless, with fewer openings for shavings and hay to accumulate. They also have a smoother, more solid surface, which makes them easier to sweep.

Rubber pavers come in a variety of colors, and your choice could make a difference to your horses. In 2006, researchers from the School of Animal, Rural, and Environmental Sciences at Nottingham Trent University, and in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham, found that horses react more to yellow, white, black and blue floors. The horses were less reactive to green, red, brown or gray flooring. The test involved 16 riding horses and compared how the horses walked over or past different colors that were on the floor or against the wall. Colors on the wall did not significantly affect the horses.

If you have a concrete aisle, but not the budget to do pavers, rubber mats placed in grooming areas or down the aisle are good options. They give the horse some cushioning and traction over the concrete, but they are heavy and cumbersome to move.

Poured Rubber

If you have a situation where you need to frequently wash and disinfect a floor, you may want to invest in a poured floor. A combination of new and recycled rubber is poured to a typical thickness of ½ inch and finished much like concrete. It can even be added to the walls to bring the floors and walls together. The area is then completely seamless and seals the floor, not allowing anything to get through. This low maintenance option also provides good traction, is durable and is a good choice when biosecurity measures are important to the facility.

The Bottom Line

When it comes right down to it, there are many options available for the aisle of your barn. Your budget, the amount of traffic and your own personal preferences are typically the deciding factors. Shop around with different companies to find what you want in your price range, or talk to a contractor or designer to help determine what is best for your particular situation. You and your horses will soon be strolling down a fantastic aisle!

For More Info

There are many companies that offer a variety of aisle footings. While not meant to be a comprehensive list, some companies are listed below. It is best to gather information from a number of them to compare options and pricing.

• Abacus Surfaces, Inc.; www.abacussurfaces.com; 1-800-821-4577

• Classic Equine Equipment; www.classic-equine.com; 1-800-444-7430

• ComfortStall Stable Supply Co; www.comfortstall.com; 1-888-307-0855

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

• Equustall; www.equustall.com; 1-800-788-6223

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

• Linear Rubber Products, Inc.; www.rubbermats.com; 1-800-558-4040

• SoftStep; www.softstall.com; (301) 733-1121

• Surfacing Resources; www.surfacingresources.com; (260) 432-2515

• WERM Flooring Systems; www.wermflooring.com; 1-800-350-7564