Using less bedding can save you time and money. Less bedding use means cleaning stalls will be easier and quicker (since you won’t have to hunt around for manure hidden in mounds of shavings). It also means you end up with less stall waste to deal with. If you compost, it means that you’ll have less carbon in your compost so it will compost better and faster--and you’ll end up with a nicer finished compost product that will be more useful for your pastures. So reducing bedding use is a smart management technique for any sized horse property.
I’m not suggesting reducing bedding use at the expense of horse health, but most of us horse owners like to bed our stalls the way we like our own beds: Nice and deep and fluffy. Horses by nature don’t need a soft, fluffy bed and your horse management situation may not require this.
The Key to Reducing Bedding
Start with rubber stall mats. Stall mats are excellent for horse health because they provide a level surface for a horse to stand--much healthier for hooves and legs than holes, rocks or wet spots. Stall mat also have a good amount of “cush” which is important for joints and soft tissue. Talk with your farriers or veterinarian on their recommendations; most are staunch advocates of stall mats.
At our new place one of the first things we did was to outfit all the stalls with rubber mats, which also make chore time much simpler. A stall mat offers a firm, level surface that allows you to easily scoop up manure and soiled bedding and leave clean bedding behind. By using stall mats, you can reduce the amount of bedding you currently use in the stall or bed only in “potty spots,” minimizing bedding use and the amount of stall waste you are left with to dispose of.
Using Stall Mats
Stall mats should fit snugly in a stall, from wall to wall, to avoid urine seepage underneath. Horses tend to urinate in areas where it won’t splash since urine is mildly caustic to the skin. TIP: Keep this idea in mind if you want to “potty train” your horse to urinate in a specific portion of the stall or the paddock.
Next, look at whether it’s possible to reduce the amount of bedding you use in your stalls. The primary purpose of bedding should be to absorb urine and moisture. Unless a horse has an injury and is confined to a stall, since our horses have access to paddocks we don’t use any bedding at all. Examine your situation. Do your horses have 24-hour access to a paddock? Are their stalls primarily for feeding and protection from severe weather? If so, they may not need as much bedding. You may be able to reduce bedding to just the “potty spots,” or just use a slight layer, like a litter, across the whole floor. Or better yet, you may be able to eliminate bedding completely, especially in drier summer months. Keep in mind that horses confined to a stall still require bedding to absorb urine and moisture.