A guide to selecting stall flooringthat meets your needs
By Jennifer Roberts
When building a barn, many of the options you choose are
for the convenience of the horse owner. A well-designed tack room helps to keep tack together in a structured
environment, while an organized feed room makes chores easy. However, when it comes to choosing stall flooring, you should consider the well-being of the horse first and the rider second.
Carolyn Kyle, the vice president of IGK
Equestrian, LLC, has considerable experience with helping barn owners select their flooring options. She tells her clients to choose a forgiving flooring to ease strain on joints and ligaments, then select materials that dry or absorb wetness quickly, to reduce the risk of slipping and minimize harmful ammonia odors. After you have satisfied your horses' needs, you can begin to think about the barn owner. Kyle suggests selecting a flooring option that is easy to clean, repair, and maintain, while holding up well. It's also imperative that it fit well into their budget.
There are many things to consider when choosing a floor for your horses. According to Susan Proud of Abacus Sports Installations Ltd. and Abacus Surfaces, "Quality, versatility, and cost are just a few factors to consider, but in my experience, together they pose the biggest problem. You cannot always have all three at once." Proud says that barn owners should identify the factors that are the most important to them. She states, "My suggestion is to pick the two factors that you think are the most important, and then try to get the third factor the best that you can."
If you are looking to provide cushioning
Consider foam or rubber-filled mattresses; they have a lot of "give" to them. Many of the mattress systems are one-piece and are custom fit to your stalls. The mattresses will keep your horse off the cold floor, while supporting the joints and ligaments. The systems can be a bit more expensive than other flooring options when initially being installed, but the durable, waterproof top keeps the horse cleaner and healthier, and it saves on bedding costs. The mattress of open-celled foam, engineered specifically for the rigors of a horse stall, stays flat and will not compact over time.
If you are looking for a low-maintenance option:
Consider concrete or asphalt because they hold up well and remain level over time. They are, by far, the most durable flooring options. They are also easy to clean and disinfect, rodent-proof, difficult to damage, and low maintenance. On the downside, concrete and asphalt have no give and are not easy on a horse's legs. They are also cold and hard. It is not recommended to use concrete and asphalt in a stall unless covered by rubber mats, a mattress system, or a very thick layer of bedding.
If you are looking for odor and bacteria control:
Consider foam or rubber mats because waste materials won't be absorbed into the floor like they would with dirt or clay. An optional waterproof top cover will add an additional degree of bacteria control. They can be installed over any compact, level surface and are often used over existing flooring that is hard or slippery. Rubber mats are easy to clean, easy on horses' legs, and provide good footing. Mats have the tendency to move or curl unless secured by a wall or interlocking pieces.
If you are looking to save money:
Consider topsoil and clay; they are readily available and relatively inexpensive. They tend to get slippery when wet, especially if packed. Clay is closest to a natural tread for horses, dust-free, easy on the legs, and noiseless. Maintenance is required for clay floors, as they need to be leveled and repacked yearly and replaced every few years. Clay may also retain odors and can be difficult to keep clean.
If you are looking to reduce bedding:
Consider foam or rubber-filled mattresses or rubber mats because less bedding is needed for cushioning. The waterproof top cover of the mattress systems allows waste materials to be removed along with bedding, reducing labor to muck out stalls and keeping disposal costs down.
What to Avoid
Both of our experts had a few flooring options that they think should be left out of your line of thinking. Carolyn Kyle tells us, "I know some barn owners swear by sand, but sand causes dust, and dust causes respiratory problems in horses and humans. Owners of sand barns go to incredible lengths to keep sand under control. We've had some owners of sand facilities tell us they were using between 2,500 and 3,500 gallons of water a day just to keep dust under control. Sand can also cause intestinal impaction and colic for horses fed on the floor."
Susan Proud says, "I would actually urge people to stay away from pavers in stalls. We sell pavers, and I think that they are beautiful; but, there are crevices to hold bacteria, and unless they are in a wash stall, they are difficult to
clean. However, when talking about barn aisles, rubber pavers are absolutely my top choice for a beautiful
and safe environment."
Kyle also encourages barn owners to stay away from wood. She states, "Wood will eventually rot from spilled water, urine, and manure." It can also be very slippery when wet.
The Right Floor
The options for stall flooring are numerous, but it is important to pick the right flooring for you. The right flooring will help to keep both you and your horse happy and comfortable. Susan Proud sends a line of caution against a poorly chosen floor by stating, "Your horses can develop injuries with the wrong floor. The wrong floor can cause joint stress. Bacteria can flourish in a poorly chosen floor, causing huge veterinary bills. Bacteria can be especially important to watch for in a clinic environment or foaling/breeding area." Find flooring that fits your needs and that you will be comfortable leaving your horse on. Depending on your horse's routine, he could be spending a lot of time with your choice!
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Equine Journal, and is reprinted with their permission. For more information on the magazine, please visit www.equinejournal.com.