There are so many different types of bedding on the market that choosing the right one for you and your horse can be as difficult as deciding between a coiled spring, pocket spring, double spring, memory foam or latex mattress for your own good night’s sleep.
Once upon a time, horse owners only had a choice of two products — straw and shavings — but with so many other products available today, you need to ask yourself some questions. What is your budget? Does your horse have breathing issues or allergies? Where will you dispose of dirty bedding? Are you planning a deep litter system, only completely cleaning out the stable periodically?
Let’s begin at the beginning with that traditional favourite — straw, which has been used as a horse bedding for generations. If you have plenty of storage room, an equal amount of space to dispose of the waste material and your horse isn’t allergic to it, straw could be the answer for you. It is inexpensive and readily available, plus you can even put some of the muck heap debris on your rose beds after it has rotted down.
If you decide that this is your bedding of choice, you still have a further decision to make. Wheat, barley or oat? The latter is often golden in colour as well as fairly palatable and so what was a deep bed when you shut your horse up for the night could well have vanished by the morning.
Barley straw is also fairly appealing in the food stakes, plus it can boast prickly ears that may cause skin irritations. Wheat straw, meanwhile, remains the most popular, being comfortable, warm and allowing free drainage.
Always bear in mind, though, that sourcing good quality straw is crucial. Quality varies greatly between suppliers, and a poor product will put your horse in contact with high levels of dust and mould spores.
These days you can buy chopped straw which has had the dust extracted, plus it has been treated to make it less tasty. It comes in wrapped bales. As it is processed, the cost is inevitably higher than buying untreated straw from your friendly local farmer.
Wood shavings (which must be those produced for equine use) are soft and comfortable for the horse and easy to muck out with a special shavings fork — if you don’t use the right tool you could be there all morning.
Initially, you will need several bags to make a deep bed in the stable. Thereafter you should be able to get by on about two per week. The good thing is that your horse won’t be tempted to eat these, but one of the negatives is that some brands can be dusty. Wood shavings are also less easy to dispose of than straw — rotting down can take a long time.
Continuing with the wood theme, you could try wood pellets. Again, you will require several bags in the beginning to make up a suitable deep bed. Wood pellets are made from compacted sawdust, and they are generally dust free. To make a fluffy bed, water has to be added. Manufacturers generally claim that wood pellets are ‘super absorbent’. An added bonus is that wet and soiled bedding compacts together for ease of mucking out.
No, we really can’t get away from wood when it comes to horse bedding. Paper bedding is a favourite in some yards because it contains no allergens or dust and is relatively inexpensive. Again you may need quite a few bales to create a deep bed, but once done that bed should be soft, absorbent and comfortable for the horse.
Another perk is minimal waste and consequently a small muck heap. However, if you run a tight ship and don’t want to see small shredded pieces of paper or cardboard flying around your yard on the wind, then this bedding may not be for you.
If you haven’t been tempted by any of the above, then maybe hemp or flax bedding will be the answer. It has low dust and comes packaged in large plastic bags for ease of storage. Its popularity has soared in recent years.
Horses shouldn’t eat hemp bedding as it can be harmful, but reported cases are rare. Compared to other bedding, though, it can seem expensive.
Many yards now use rubber matting to prevent slipping and injuries in the stable. The initial financial outlay can be large, but for many horse owners the safety factors outweigh the costs.
Even with rubber installed, you will still need to choose another bedding to create a deep bed on the top. Rubber matting needs to be cleaned regularly as urine can build up and become trapped underneath — unless you have installed rubber in a liquid form.