Whether you are building a new barn or retrofitting an old one, you need to know stalls are the most heavily used area. This is where your prized horses spend many hours, so keep the safety and comfort of the animals in mind when constructing stalls. High quality rubber stall mats can be part of that safety effort.
Rubber mats have several benefits that make them worth the cost:
• protect a dirt floor
• decrease ammonia, bacteria and mold growth
• provide cushion over a concrete or asphalt floor
• reduce bedding costs and speed up mucking.
These long-term benefits of stall mats make them worth the price.
If you are the handy type or are just trying to keep costs down, you can certainly install mats yourself. However, most mats are very heavy, so it is advisable to have at least one helper, if not two or three. “They’re dead weight,” says Rick Reid, Jr., president of Reid Building Systems, Inc,. in Maryland, “and very clumsy to move around.” Many manufacturers have installation instructions available on their websites, but we will address the basic installation steps here. A list of materials can be found in the accompanying sidebar.
Follow all installation advice as completely as possible. Over the years, Reid has noticed that few people faithfully follow the guidelines. And if you cut corners, it can come back to haunt you.
CHOOSING THE MAT
Experts agree that when it comes to putting rubber mats in a stall, it is best to use those created specifically for horses. These are made with a proper thickness and material content to best tolerate the wear and tear horses will give them. It may be tempting to use old conveyor belts or other types of rubber mats, but chances are they will not wear as well, could curl or even contain harmful materials. Most experts recommend that you should buy the best quality you can afford.
While many mats are textured to improve traction, that really isn’t necessary. Rubber will not be slick unless it is very hard and brittle. On the other hand, very soft mats are not as durable, so it is best to find a happy medium.
Stall mats either have straight edges or interlocking tabs, and most can be trimmed to fit non-standardized stall sizes. Straight-edged mats are less expensive, but the tabbed mats provide a tighter fit.
Other options include stall skins, poured rubber and cushioned stalls. If you choose one of these types of flooring and want to install it yourself, contact the individual manufacturer for its specific instructions—it is best to follow each supplier’s guidelines.
PREPARING THE SITE
The single most important part of installing mats is preparing the base properly. “The base underneath is critical,” Reid says.
Stall mats can be installed over most any type of flooring, but the base must be compacted and level. If your stall floors are concrete or asphalt, you are fine as long as the surface is not badly cracked or uneven. If necessary, you can use Sakrete to repair or level the floor first.
If the floors are dirt, dig down at least three inches from where you want the surface to be. Make certain all old bedding is removed. Bring in four inches of crushed gravel, which will compact to three inches. Dampen the surface and then compact the gravel. You might want to rent a vibrating plate pad tamper to get the job done. This machine is heavy and hard to maneuver when it is shut down, but much easier to control in use. Allow the compacted gravel to dry thoroughly, and make sure the area is level. Even a slight slope will cause accumulation of urine, bacteria and mold.
WORKING WITH MATS
Moving stall mats is no easy task. Depending on the thickness, a 4 x 4 mat weighs around 100 pounds; a 6 x 12 mat, upwards of 250 pounds. Reid warns that you need to lift the mats and place them where you need them: “If you drag them you’ll mess up your base.” Chances are that unless you are Superman or Wonder Woman, you are going to need help with them. Attach “C” clamps to the edges to make moving them easier.
Bring the mats in one at a time, starting with the doorway piece or spot with the most activity. Position this mat, and then place the next mat against the edge of the first. Keep factory sheared edges together. If you are using interlocking mats, tap them into place with a rubber mallet. It will likely be necessary to trim the mats or cut around areas, but wait to do that until all of the mats are laid in the stall.
When trimming, first mark the cut line with chalk, and then use a non-retractable utility knife and straight edge to make two to three cuts to score the mat. Fold on the score line and then slice through the line again for the cleanest cut. Reid recommends notching out around any columns or supports rather than cutting a straight line to avoid these areas. Cutting to fit around posts will tighten the fit and help keep the mats from shifting.
Installing stall mats by yourself isn’t for everyone. But for those who want to take on the task, get the best quality mat you can afford. Take the time to prepare the site properly, request instructions from the manufacturer, and be prepared to put in some sweat equity. Done right, your stall mats will last for many years.