Do I need a Stall mat for my Horse?
Have you ever heard the expression, “the foot makes the horse?” It is true in so many different ways, not the least of which is the comfort and footing usual to your horse. A horse’s body is a delicate and well-balanced machine, and any one piece that is thrown out of alignment has a massive effect on the entire body. The footing under your horse is absolutely vital to her health, fitness, and ability to perform. However, many other factors contribute to whether or not you might choose to use stall mats for your horse.
What is your horse’s living situation?
The most important question is how your horse lives day to day. Many owners are abandoning constant stalling in favor of more freedom and pasture board. In outdoor living set-ups, the horse still needs a shelter, but the flooring may not be as critical to the horse’s well-being. However, stall mats can still be a good idea, and may be the best option for keeping a clean, consistent surface.
Considerations for outdoor/pasture set-ups
Of course the cheapest and easiest flooring to use in an outdoor shelter is the natural ground. It is absorbent, relatively easy to clean, and costs nothing to “install.” However, there are several key disadvantages to using a natural dirt floor. After a certain length of time, if the earth is not the right consistency and/or your horses are far from tidy, the floor may become saturated with urine and fecal run-off and be impossible to get clean and fresh. Additionally, removing excrement from a dirt floor inevitably removes much of the floor over the course of months and years, leaving the shelter in a depression and susceptible to flooding from heavy rain or snow melts.
Finally, if you feed in your shelters, loose dirt and sand can be very hazardous to your horse, likely to cause colic if too much sand is ingested. If using dirt flooring, try to keep the feed from direct contact with the ground through the use of a feed bag, hay net, or slow-feeding device, and be sure to regularly feed your horse Sand Clear or another psyllium product to move the sand through and out of his digestive system. You may also want to consider a stall mat in your shelter.
Despite the move to outdoor pasturing, many barns are still not able to accommodate this, or it is not the best set up for a particular horse and discipline. If your horse is going to be confined to an indoor stall – whether overnight or much of the day – the flooring is even more important. Poorly constructed floors can unduly stress a horse’s muscles and joints, cause cold temperatures that the horse cannot counteract through movement, and create hygienic nightmares if not properly constructed, cleaned, and maintained. Some owners still prefer wood, though it is a harder surface, will cause more impact on the horse, and can become slippery if it is wet. Though concrete and asphalt have been popular as the subfloor underneath stall mats, experts are beginning to question the wisdom of even that. A high level of cushioning is necessary to counteract such a hard, unyielding surface.
Stall mats are usually highly recommended as the top layer for a horse that is frequently indoors. They come in all types of styles, from simple, thick rubber mats laid side by side to interlocking puzzle piece style mats to complex systems with a crushed rubber mattress underneath the over layer. How your stall is set up and how you want to handle cleaning will dictate what form of stall mat you might choose.
Dirt, sand, or clay
Natural earth underneath your stalls means that you will want to seek out a tight stall mat system that can contain the urine on top of the mat. If too much urine is allowed to seep through, it will saturate the layer beneath just as it does in the outdoor shelters and be difficult to clean. With this type of floor, you should plan to use a heavy amount of bedding to absorb urine and facilitate its removal.
The use of packed crushed stone has become popular in recent years. Layered properly, this allows for effective urine drainage, and can open up the ability to use a more porous rubber mat or one with small holes. The advantage of this style is the instant drainage of urine without the horse having to wait his owner’s cleaning. The owner may find it advantageous in the reduction of bedding use and the subsequent lowering of overall cost of care.
No matter what flooring you choose, it is essential that it be flat and offer some give underneath your horse’s hooves. We highly recommend that you investigate the options and consider your barn’s construction carefully in determining the best flooring for your horse, but there are certainly many advantages to using some form of stall mat in any equine living situation. For some different options of stall mat styles, see the article “Best Horse Stall Mats” on this website.
What do you use in your barn? Do you own your stable or board, and how much say d you get in the flooring under your horse? Tell us what your favorite flooring is and why in the comments below.