Choosing a bedding material for a horse is an important decision, and one that must be made with a horse’s individual personality and needs in mind. Bedding provides heat and comfort, but also must be cared for properly to avoid causing harmful living conditions for the horse. A variety of materials can be used for bedding, with each carrying their own advantages and disadvantages.
The most popular choice for centuries, straw affords heat and comfort and is quickly--and cheaply--available most of the year. Different kinds of straw may be dustier than others, however, and its absorbency can vary, although it usually provides good drainage for urine. Mucking out straw may be more difficult depending on the type used. Fortunately, it can easily be disposed and replaced. Finally, it is edible, which may be a problem for some horses.
Paper bedding is usually composed of shredded magazines and newspapers, making it another cheap and easily obtainable option. Cardboard is also shredded. These options contain less dust than straw, and are better for horses that tend to eat their bedding. Because both options cling together when damp, they can be heavy when the time comes to muck it out. Both materials are lighter, which may cause bare patches in the stall when the horse moves to lie down and get up.
Wood Shavings/Wood Pellets
Shavings are a popular alternative to straw, especially for horses that eat their bedding or suffer from respiratory problems. Wood shavings are lighter and easier to muck out, as well as provide support for the horse’s hooves. Caution needs to be used in assessing quality of shavings, however, as lower-quality mill byproduct shavings can include harmful splinters and waste. Pellets offer the advantages of shavings, offered in a compressed pellet format that increases the expense of the bedding but offers a safer method of using wood, and it is a bit easier to clean.
Rubber matting usually needs to be used in tandem with another bedding material to make up for rubber’s lack of absorbency. Without another material, much more effort must be put into hygiene to avoid illness or dirty animals. Rubber is an excellent form of support for hooves and limbs, however, reducing the possibility of injury.
A bedding substance that has seen a rise in popularity recently, this is composed of chopped flax and hemp plant stems. Like straw, this is absorbent with good drainage, but it’s another potentially edible choice. Ultimately, it’s also a more expensive option, and its availability may be limited.
Sometimes used in conjunction with other bedding types, moss is quite absorbent, requiring regular attention to keep from holding moisture. Peat is an old-fashioned style of bedding that tends to be more expensive and can be quite dusty. It is comfortable, however, and one of the less flammable choices.
Of course, providing no bedding is also an option. It certainly makes the stalls easier to clean and reduces expenses, but provides less comfort and warmth. Some owners find this works for their horses, but it isn’t a universal solution.