What's under your horse's bedding and how do you deal with warping mats?
Most of us don’t think too long or too hard about what is under that beautifully fluffy pile of shavings. Until it’s spring cleaning time, or the mats start to warp, or there’s an earthquake or major rain storm.
The vast majority of us have stalls with shavings over mats or dirt, and that’s the end of the story. However, there will be a day when the once smooth dirt is now a giant bowl or the mats are warping because the ground underneath is soaked and moving. Horses are *ususally* wonderfully predictable in their bathroom, resting, and sleeping routine. All those urine spots and weight bearing hoof marks can create a giant pain in your stall cleaning butt.
Simple shavings over mats.
I learned this many moons ago, when I first was introduced to horses. The stall floors were the generic dirt of that Northern Virginia area. A pile or two of shavings, and the rest was bare dirt floor. Well, you have the drippy waterer, the horse that paws, and the chronic “will only pee in one spot ever” horse. What time we saved in sifting through only a tiny amount of shavings was quickly eaten by raking and packing the stall floor.
This stall mat system is atop gravel, which is atop the earth. Extra drainage.
Almost every other barn I have ever stepped foot into used the native dirt, then mats, then shavings. This is great - except that every now and again, the cracks would let the urine sink into the ground below, and add a hoof on top, and over time, this makes a nice mat-warping urine sink hole thing. So, you pull mats, scrape out wet spot, replace with dirt, cover with mats, re-bed.
If you are unlucky enough to live in an area with clay soil, you know that this stuff moves and shifts, if you have earthquakes or not. One heavy rain can push those clay streams right into your stalls, even up through the mat cracks from the area around the barn. Not fun.
Horses + the earth will cause mats to shift. Shifting mats allow urine and water to get under the mats and warp them. For tips on stripping stalls and dealing with this, you can read this article!
It’s not always feasible to redo your entire barn flooring system, but using mats that interlock will go a long way. Interlocking mats tend to stay put, despite your horse's best efforts to disrupt them. They will allow some urine to leak through, but it's not the same amount of shifting that occurs with non-interlocking stall mats.
You can also invest in a netting type system to go under your stalls (or just under your bedding) to keep things from shifting. These systems help prevent holes in the dirt floor of your barn, too!
This "netting" type of system helps keep floors level. Use under mats, or not!
Here's a similar type netting used outside in a high traffic area, great for drainage and lots of hooves.
Another option is to install a mattress system. These systems are wall to wall (no seams) super thick and cushy solid surface stall flooring. I love these!! You can minimize the amount of bedding used, as the cushion replaces the need for heavy bedding. There are also flooring systems that are also wall to wall, but without the cushion.
This stall, complete with wall to wall mattress, allows for cushion and negates the need for piles of shavings.
You also have the option of concrete, then mats, then shavings. This is great for the horse that has a clay pit under his stall, or only likes to urinate on the seams. I have know lots of horses that thrive on this combo!
Stall flooring of course gets much more complicated when you factor in what sort of soil is native to your area. I have seen barns in the desert that simply use the sandy landscape as bedding! I have also seen barns that have needed to be raised to keep the moist soil below from interfering with the stalls.
More importantly, the soil in your area will determine how to prep the flooring for drainage, stability, and insulation. (Insulation is critical if you live in an area that freezes - must protect the pipes!) The best thing to do is to talk to a grading contractor in your area that specializes in drainage. Get prepared to learn about stone dust, gravel, DG, and all sorts of great dirt! Creating the proper base for your stall mats will alleviate the need to remove mats, clear out the offending area, refill the offending area, and replace the mats and bedding.
How do you layer your stalls?? (Any before you guys go nutso about cushy stalls and bedding up to their whiskers, let me put this out there ….. For horses given a choice of where to sleep and spend their time, they most likely want outside on the hard ground in the dirtiest place possible. Just some food for thought….)