When your horse has to spend time in a stall, make sure he’s comfortable with the right type of bedding.
There are very few things as satisfying to a horse owner as knowing your four-legged friend is comfy and cozy for the night. If your horse spends part of his time in a stall or pipe corral, the proper bedding is essential for his comfort, both in terms of cushioning his body mass and absorbing odors to maintain his respiratory health. While some bedding is more regionally available than others, each has its pros and cons.
Traditionally available in bulk for either pickup or delivery, sawdust is a byproduct of lumber mills and is widely available. The fine particles do have a tendency to be dusty and can cause allergies in horses bedded on it. It’s imperative to ensure that no black walnut was milled at the same time as the load of sawdust equine owners buy as even minute amounts of black walnut can cause laminitis in horses.
Pelleted bedding is sold in bags and is made of compressed, kiln-dried wood and sawdust and is generally less dusty than sawdust or shavings. Typically made of fir, alder or pine, the super-absorbent bedding expands when exposed to moisture. Pelleted bedding works best in stalls with mats, and it can initially take quite a few bags to obtain the depth of bedding desired. Once that is achieved, however, you won’t need to remove much bedding each time you muck out, though cleaning a stall bedded in pellets can be a learning curve. You’ll remove manure as usual, but most wet bedding (except those areas that are particularly saturated) are simply spread back into the dry bedding and allowed to dry. The soiled bedding is readily composted as it is so fine.
A byproduct of wheat and oat grain production, straw is commonly used on large breeding farms and racetracks, and in areas of the country where grains are produced, driving down cost. While this bedding composts well, it can be dusty and moldy, and it does not absorb urine well, which can lead to a strong ammonia smell in barns that use it. Additionally, some horses will eat straw. Storage can also be problematic as stalls need to be bedded deeply and require multiple bales of straw per week.
Peat moss is extremely absorbent and soft. The relatively high price is what keeps most horse owners away. Peat moss is also dark in color, so it can look dirty, but it’s a wonderful addition to compost piles and pastures, making disposal easy.
In some areas of the country, bedding on hay is common. There are no side effects to equines eating their bedding, but cleaning can be difficult and continual use can get expensive as hay prices rise.
Shredded newspaper is an excellent source of bedding for horses with allergies, if you can find it. It is fairly affordable, but users should be aware that the soy-based ink may transfer onto lighter-coated horses. Additionally, learning to clean a stall bedded in newspaper can take some getting used to.
Sarah Coleman has a soft spot for chestnuts with chrome, including her off-the-track Thoroughbred that she competes in the hunters. Based in Lexington, Ky., she is the Director of Education and Development for New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program.