Winter months can mean more time indoors – for horses and humans alike. Whether keeping watch on a foaling mare, an older horse or even horses that are stalled regularly, bedding is an important decision in your horse’s well-being and comfort.
Geography, storage, cost and disposal are all factors when choosing the best option for your horse. Here’s a list of the most popular bedding choices on the market today:
Straw is a cost-effective and readily available option in certain regions of the country – it is also dust-free. Straw is preferred for foaling stalls since it won’t stick to a wet foal or irritate delicate eyes and nose. Straw may take more time to clean, and if your horse moves around quite a bit, it will leave bare spots. Wheat, rye and oat straw are all options, wheat being the least palatable – lowering the risk of impaction. Straw is also a good insulator and can be utilized in run-in sheds or barns with a heavy draft. It does not absorb wet spots as readily as other types of bedding so make certain your stall has good drainage.
This type of bedding has a variety of options. Shavings absorb moisture well and can be ordered in bulk or individual bags. Some people prefer a modest layer of shavings while others prefer to bed deep. If your stalls have mats, you can use less but maintain a few inches to avoid bedsores. Depending on how often the stall is cleaned, a deep layer of shavings can make sifting more difficult and less cost-effective. If you are spreading used bedding on fields, shavings will take longer to break down than other options.
Not a widely used option, peat moss is usually inexpensive and found easily. It can be a good choice for barns that may only have a horse or two. Peat moss can be much dustier than other bedding options so use caution if your horse has a sensitive respiratory tract. It breaks down and composts very easily.
An ultra-compacted wood product, this bedding requires water to be added so that the pellets expand and become soft. Although it’s an extra step in stall prep, most are dust-free and highly absorbent with less waste than straw or shavings. The bags are also easier to pick up and haul around – particularly helpful if just one person is doing chores. Pelleted bedding may cost more than other options.
Another wood product, sawdust can be an economical option if wood sources are not scarce in your area. Sawdust does tend to have more dust particles, akin to peat moss. If your horse has a sensitive respiratory tract, it may be best to use sawdust as a base only. Sawdust can be compacted easily when horses lay down, and you will need more to cover a stall sufficiently. As with all wood products, be careful to avoid black walnut as it is toxic to horses.
With the cost of hay these days, this option may be less economical. Hay does not carry the risk of impaction like straw, so can be an option for a horse on extended stall rest that needs some stimulation. It can also be used for mares that are getting ready to foal so that they have something to nibble on constantly. Be careful to avoid moldy or otherwise unsuitable hay.
While not as widely used, rice hulls, hemp, sand and paper type products (shredded or cardboard) are also options to consider if found in your area. Bedding is an important aspect of horse keeping. A well-bedded stall makes for a well-contented horse.