Whether you’re building a new barn or renovating an existing stable, the flooring material you choose will have long-lasting implications for maintenance and horse comfort. “No flooring solution is perfect,” said Eileen Fabian, PhD, a professor of agricultural engineering and environmental biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania.
She said that rather than searching for the “perfect” solution that doesn’t exist, it’s important to determine which disadvantages you can live with.
For example, a natural soil floor will absorb urine and is relatively inexpensive, but it is not a durable surface. A horse that paws or paces can easily disturb the flooring, meaning it will need frequent repair.
While there are numerous choices and considerations, Fabian encouraged stable owners and managers to evaluate each type of material with durability, traction, comfort and budget in mind.
Repairing stall flooring isn’t something barn managers have time to do on a regular basis.
“You don’t want a flooring material that horses can paw up,” Fabian said. “Uneven flooring can be hazardous and can become a maintenance nightmare.”
Topsoil and clay materials are often popular because they are inexpensive and easy on a horse’s legs. However, depending on how much time horses stay in their stalls, these materials will likely need to be repaired and re-leveled frequently.
Safety is as important as maintenance. The flooring should be able to tolerate some moisture without becoming slippery.
“Horses will inevitably spill water out of their bucket, and of course they’ll urinate in the stall, so it’s important to choose a material that isn’t slick when wet,” Fabian said.
Comfort for the horse is another key consideration. “Leg soundness and fatigue are affected by the flooring material, with more forgiving surfaces generally being preferred over hard floors,” she said.
Rubber mats, soils and wood floors provide the most cushion and might be the best option for barns that offer limited turnout time.
Cost is a concern for nearly every barn. Native materials, meaning those readily available in your geographic area, are the most budget-friendly options.
“Packed dirt and well-graded stone dust are economical,” Fabian said. “Concrete, asphalt and stall mats add cost.”
Many options are available for suitable flooring materials in horse barns and stables. “Selection will most often depend on what characteristics are important to the stable owner or manager and local availability of materials,” Fabian said.
For a more in-depth look at the variety of footing materials available and a comparison chart to help you decide what’s best for your facility, visit http://extension.psu.edu/animals/equine/horse-facilities/horse-stable-flooring-materials.