T he biggest change to horse be dding has been in the widespread use of rubber matting. These come in a variety of sizes and weights.
The lightweight ones are easy to take up and clean, but they can have a tendenc y to move. They are designed to be used with no additional bedding and trials have shown they are the most effective bedding for warmth and cushioning.
However, unless the stable floor is specially slopped with excell ent drainage, soiling from urine can be a problem so most people choose to use with something else.
Straw is still the cheapest option in many parts of the country but it is bulky to store and time consuming to muck out. Some horses are prone to eating it, so it is essential that it is clean and dust free. Disposal by burning is easy for small quantities and provides excellent horticultural fertiliser.
A development on from straw are the chopped and treated straw products such as Bliss which is dust extracted. It clumps together when wet making mucking out very easy and time effective. A version with citronella and eucalyptus to combat odors and aid respiration exists.
Straw is one of the most commonly used bedding for horses, and has been since horses were first domesticated. It is readily available and affordable – although it is becoming less so. The bio-fuel industry provides an alternative market for straw, and rising fertiliser cost leads many farmers to plough the straw back into the soil to reduce the need for fertiliser. In addition, shorter-stalked grains have been developed, so that much less straw is produced.
Straw is made from the stems of wheat, barley, oat or rye crops. Oat straw is more absorbent than the other types. You should watch out for the occasional bad bale of straw, which may smell mouldy or off and/or be difficult to separate. If this happens, discard it because there may be fungus in the straw which could be dangerous to horses.
Wood shavings are probably the most widely used bedding now, usually pine. They are compact and easy to store but they vary a lot in quality. Look for one which is thoroughly dust extracted as some owners find that they can cause breathing allergies. In this case they can be bought as pellets which are really clean and dust free.
Once an unwanted by-product from sawmills, as demand has increased companies have started selling wood shavings specifically produced for bedding. Wood shavings are more absorbent, so more of the urine and ammonia is absorbed, which reduces the bad odour and the risk of damage to the horse’s lungs.
Since the urine is absorbed by a smaller amount of shavings, a smaller amount of soiled shavings needs to be discarded compared to straw, which can make for an overall saving. A thin layer of shavings is more comfortable than the same amount of straw, but shavings are not much more comfortable than thick straw.
Buying wood shavings from a sawmill is still possible, but the levels of sawdust can be unhealthy for the horse and if the shavings have been exposed to moisture, it can harbour harmful mould and fungus. In addition, commercial wood shavings for bedding comes in convenient bags which can save time.
Specialist variations exist such as Easibed which is a recycled whitewood fibre. It does not cling to tails and rugs as shavings do and because it is free draining, if you have an adequate depth, the top will stay dry longer. Easibed plus has active ingredients added to reduce contaminants and support respiration.
Cardboard and paper are another alternative. Sold in compacted bales,they are lightweight and easy to handle. The main disadvantage of paper is that it does blow around a lot making yards very untidy, but it is very easy to dispose of by burning. Cardboard is growing in popularity, products such as Ecobed are made of corrugated cardboard which again if used in sufficient depth gives very good drainage, leaving the top dry.
Hempcore and Aubiose use the inner core of British grown hemp. They have no bleach or chemicals added and are designed to be be used in a thick bed which is then disturbed as little as possible. Therefore whilst they are quite expensive to start, they are very economical to maintain and very time saving. They are more absorbent than either straw or shavings and come in versions to combat smell.
Wood pellets are made from compacted shavings bound together with lignin (itself a natural component of wood). You should buy pellets intended for horse bedding, to be sure that they avoid certain woods which are toxic to horses. Wood pellets have similar advantages to wood shavings but are about twice as absorbent. Pellets are more expensive than shavings, but there can be large savings in terms of the volume of bedding which needs to be purchased, stored and mucked out. Straw pellets are also available which share most of the benefits of wood pellets.
Look at all the options and decide what is your priority, supporting respiration, time saving or money saving and you have a wide variety to choose from.