Comfort or purpose?
Something to keep in mind is that what we look for in a bed – something cosy and fluffy – is not necessarily what our horses need. In nature, horses don’t have the luxury of retiring to a stable knee-deep in bedding. The primary reason for having bedding in a stable is to absorb moisture and urine.
Of course, if you’re stabling a sickly or elderly horse who likes to lie down often, then thick bedding will certainly go a long way in keeping him comfortable.
There’s probably nothing that looks and smells quite as good as a bright new bed of shavings. Despite the visual appeal, shavings have a reputation for being quite dusty and not very absorbent. Some shavings are more absorbent than others, depending on the type of wood they stem from and how finely they’re shaved.
In terms of dust, shavings are not a good idea for any horse with respiratory problems or difficulties. It’s important that the stables or barn is well ventilated to minimise dust build-up. However, shavings are quite a cost-effective option, making them a popular choice in many stable yards.
Straw is a historical bedding option and has long been used in horses’ stables. Straw is popularly used in racing yards and at stud farms. It is not the most absorbent bedding material, and the idea is more to form a barrier between manure and urine, which normally sink to the stable floor. This is why most people prefer to bed a straw stable very heavily. Straw is more expensive than shavings, which makes it a less popular choice in South African yards. It is not the easiest to store, because you usually need quite a bit of space for the bales, unlike shavings which can be compressed into smaller and neater bags.
Another setback is that straw can tend to accumulate mould, which poses a health threat. Straw is also edible, which can be problematic for horses who ‘need to watch their weight’.
Newspaper is a great bedding option, but is not widely available unfortunately. Newspaper that is specifically shredded for bedding is torn in a manner that makes it absorbent and without sharp edges that can cut. Newspaper ink is now soy-based, so it does not pose the same health threat that metal-based ink used to. Newspaper is dust-free, making it a pleasure to have around the yard, especially for horses with respiratory problems or allergies.
The setbacks of newspaper are that it is costly and not the most visually appealing to the eye.
Rubber matting is an excellent surface for stables, as it is said to closely mimic the feeling of natural ground. Rubber is firm yet cushioning and makes for a level surface. Installing a rubber surface is costly, but can help you save on monthly bedding costs. Rubber mats need very little bedding on top of the surface, which can help you cut costs in the long run. Rubber matting also makes the chore of mucking out easier. Having rubber mats in stables also means less storage space required for bedding. They’re expensive at first, but pay themselves off in convenience.
The full article appears in the November issue (116) of HQ > Shop now