Special Attention to Horse Stall Flooring Can Help Prevent Harm to Overall Well-being
Individual horse stalls are the most commonly used housing method for horses around the world. Even though innovative group husbandry concepts are on the rise (see German company HIT’s “Active Stable”), partitions for individual stalls – like the ones offered by dutch manufacturer Corton – will likely remain the horse housing mainstay for most equestrian facilities for the foreseeable future.
Suffice it to say that confinement to an individual horse stall is an unnatural living environment for herd animals, which – without proper care – can cause harm to our horses’ welfare, with indicators such as unresponsiveness, stress related behaviors like head weaving, cribbing and wind sucking, or even aggressiveness towards humans. As horse owners, we all know of the importance of regular exercise like riding, lunging, or using a walker, as well as frequent socialization with other horses via turnout in paddocks or pasture. But in addition to these routines, we should also pay special attention to the stall environment to keep any harm to our horse’s well-being to a minimum. One – often neglected – part of that environment is the horse stall flooring.
What are the most common issues caused by conventional horse stall flooring?
Most barns and horse stalls typically have a solid base such as decomposed granite, crushed limestone or concrete stall floor base, which is then covered by thin, standard rubber mats before shavings are added. However, more and more horse owners come to find that this is a less than ideal solution for their horses, and start looking for alternatives. Here are some of the most common issues caused by conventional stall flooring:
Tiredness, no quality rest
Just like humans, horses have varying degrees of pickiness when it comes to their resting place for the night. In the conventional stall flooring setup, you may find that your horse rarely lies down in their stall. One likely explanation is that the stall flooring is too hard. The standard rubber mats found in most stalls are actually almost as hard as the concrete floor underneath. Horses tend to shuffle most of the bedding material to the sides of the stall over night, leaving only a thin layer of shavings that is not sufficient to provide a comfortable resting place to lie down. And, just like humans, horses need their REM sleep to be happy and perform at their best.
Not enough shavings
Some issues can arise when an insufficient amount of bedding material is used in the conventional stall setup. With the cost of bedding material rising over the past few years, more and more boarding barns are raising prices or cutting the amount of shavings being used for your horse’s stall, while private barns start looking for options to use less shavings without negative effects on their horses.
Standing on hard surfaces
Imagine standing in line at Disney World for 3 hours straight, waiting to get on a ride with your kids, and all without the comfort of your favorite sneakers with that cushioned sole supporting your feet. I guarantee you will fall into bed that night feeling every single bone and joint in your body, head to toe. Standing on a hard and unsupported stall floor for hours on end will do the same to your horse, causing joint issues and declining musculoskeletal well-being over time.
Sores on hocks and fetlocks
Some horses are more prone to getting sores than others. If yours is, it may be time to take a closer look at the rubber mats you are using in your stall. Most regular rubber mats used in US equestrian stalls today are porous and therefore quite abrasive. Even with a lot of shavings added, a heavy animal like your horse will shove the bedding aside and scrape over the sandpaper-like surface every time they lie down and get up.
Too much shavings
Some horse owners and experts advocate a deep bedding technique, where large amounts of shavings are being used in the horse stall. The reasoning behind this is usually to help make the stall more comfortable, and to use the heaps of shavings on the stall walls for “banking” (to prevent the horse from getting cast). Apart from being quite costly in the long run with the amount of material that is used, this technique actually has other detrimental effects: With the shavings piling up on the walls, the 12×12 foot stall now has a smaller usable space, as little as 6×6 feet.
Along with the large amount of shavings also comes a large amount of shavings dust into the barn, negatively impacting the respiratory health of horses and humans.
Additionally, such uneven bedding can have negative effects on the joints and posture of the horse that stands on it for long periods. And, the amount of mucking-out time that is necessary to search for manure in so much bedding oftentimes leads to one of two scenarios: To save time, either (1) a lot of clean bedding material is taken out every day, thereby increasing the cost for new shavings, or (2) manure and urine are being left in the stall underneath all the bedding, causing your horse to live in an unsanitary environment.
All the possible issues caused by improper stall flooring and bedding can compound and have a negative impact on our horses’ overall well-being, causing other physical or mental health concerns that can render them untrainable or even unrideable.
What are the benefits of cushioned orthopedic stall flooring?
Cushioned orthopedic and therapeutic stall flooring solutions have been around for a number of years, but are becoming increasingly more popular in the equestrian community in recent years – and for good reason:
- Better rest, recovery & REM sleep: The soft flooring in combination with the smooth surface with anti-slip properties allows your horse to get the best rest from exercise and recovery from injury, and helps promote REM sleep
- Pays for itself: Using up to 50% to 75% less bedding material saves money as well as time and labor mucking out, recovering the initial cost of the stall flooring in the short term, and saving you extra in the long run.
- Better respiratory health: Being able to use less shavings also means cutting the amount of shavings dust in the barn significantly, improving respiratory health for horse and human, while helping to keep a cleaner aisle.
- Beneficial for hock sores & laminitis: Help prevent hock sores and from friction on hard and abrasive regular stall mats, and provide comfort for horses struggling from injury and disease causing painful bouts of laminitis.
- Beneficial for joints and overall musculoskeletal well-being: Apart from rest and recovery from injuries, the soft flooring promotes general joint health and overall musculoskeletal well-being for your horse, helping them perform at their best.
- Insulation: The padding material offers insulation from the cold ground, making the stall floor more enticing for your horse to lie down in the winter months.
How is Footing Solutions’ SoftBed Comfort Stall Mattress different from other cushioned stall flooring options?
There are a handful of cushioned stall flooring options available on the market today, all taking different approaches to providing a soft and comfortable resting place for your horse. Here are the main differences between Footing Solutions’ SoftBed Comfort Stall Mattress and other systems:
No installation required
In addition to material and shipping, installation cost, time and labor should be taken into account when comparing stall flooring solutions. All other available options are covering the entire stall floor, using some form of cushioning (foam pads, shredded rubber bits, etc.) that are covered by a sheet which gets connected to the stall walls to seal everything in. These systems are shipped with separate components and require extensive installation, which can prove difficult and quite time consuming. SoftBed Comfort Stall Mattress is a one-piece mat measuring approximately 8ft x 6ft in size (240cm x 180cm) with a foam layer that is completely sealed-in between rubber sheets. No installation is required – simply remove any bedding, place the mattress into the middle of the stall – or in the area your horse most frequently lies or stands – and add fresh shavings all around the edges. All that is needed is 2 people and a set of mat grippers or pliers to easily pull the SoftBed into place, and your stall is ready for your horse to enjoy within minutes.
5 year warranty, 20+ year expected life
SoftBed Comfort’s high quality, 3cm thick foam pad and 1cm thick vulcanized rubber layers ensure that the horse stall mattress holds its form well and stays soft and comfortable for years. Other systems, especially the ones using loose material like rubber bits, tend to get compacted and bumpy over time as the material shifts underneath the top layer due to the horse’s weight and movement. Then, the resulting uneven flooring can cause puddles if an insufficient amount of bedding material is used to absorb urine. Another common issue with full stall flooring systems is that the top layer can come off the wall over time, especially in the high-traffic stall door area, causing bedding material and manure to get stuck in between. The top sheet of other systems are also typically much thinner, requiring replacement quicker.
One big advantage is the flexibility that comes with the SoftBed Comfort compared to other options. It is the ideal solution for boarders who are looking for orthopedic stall flooring but do not want to have to permanently install a system at the boarding barn, and prefer to take their horse mattress with them if they ever move to a different stable. Owners that are showing can take the SoftBed to events when they know the flooring and bedding there is subpar, but want to provide the quality rest their horses are used to from home to perform at their best. If the size and layout permits, the SoftBed can even be used in a horse trailer to provide soft flooring on the road. Large boarding barns may want to add a few SoftBeds to their inventory for use in acute medical emergencies, whenever a soft floor is required in an injured horse’s stall.
More than just stall flooring
SoftBed Comfort is completely weatherproof, which means it can be used outside in a paddock, underneath an open shelter in a pasture, or even in your wash and grooming bay.
More and more barns and owners are becoming aware of the necessity to provide proper stall flooring to ensure the well-being of our horses. Footing Solution’s SoftBed Comfort Stall Mattress offers all the benefits of cushioned therapeutic stall flooring without any installation.