Stall Flooring for the Equine Barn Back »

Written by Mary Sarah Sauber under the direction and review of Sara Mastellar and Joe Darrington.  


Stall Flooring

An equine facility that is energy efficient, safe, labor efficient, and economically possible is desirable. To achieve each of these qualities one must consider the facility in terms of each of its smaller segments, such as flooring, stall design, arena footing, fencing and building materials. After researching the possibilities, the builder has the ability to select the best possible combination for the facility.

An important aspect to building a comfortable equine facility is the stall flooring. Depending on the facility, horses may spend anywhere from a few hours to all day in their stalls. The length of time spent in a stall is crucial when determining the best flooring to use to ensure the horse’s safety and comfort. Horses that are stalled for much of the time will need more give in the flooring to maintain joint health and to encourage them to lay down to rest. For horses that spend minimal time stalled, this is less of a concern. Other factors to consider in flooring selection include longevity, safety, horse health, cleanliness, and cost (Table 1). Reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of the different flooring types with respect to these factors will help determine the best fit for the farm and the stalled equines.

Clay

Clay is a readily available, cost effective flooring option. Due to its composition, it is forgiving on a horse’s legs while providing support, and is relatively safe for the horse to stand on for lengthy periods. It is important to keep the surface dry through absorbent bedding as clay can become slippery when wet. Consistent management is required as clay can develop pockets and holes as the horse moves about the stall, wearing down the surface over time. To prevent this, clay requires regular raking of the stall to keep the flooring even. Cleaning the stall may become difficult as the clay absorbs the urine creating an ammonia odor. When left unaddressed this could negatively influence equine respiratory health. Many facilities will opt for a draining sub floor made with crushed rock to go underneath the clay flooring. Clay is a great option for a cost-effective flooring while having minor flaws.

Sand

Sand is easy on horse’s legs and very forgiving. Sand is comfortable for the horses to lay in and can hold heat in the winter if dry. Sand is slip resistant and can absorb impacts of a fall or stumble, if deep enough. A potential problem with sand bedding is the issue of sand colic. When horses eat hay or grain that has fallen on the ground they can consume sand particles. The particles can build up in their gastrointestinal tract, which can cause colic. When considering material longevity and maintenance most horse owners find that sand develops holes and mounds in different areas of the stall depending on horse movements. Prolonged direct contact with sand may dry out hooves. Without proper, regular cleaning the sand may become mixed with bedding or excretions making it contaminated with bacteria causing odor. It is also very hard to disinfect for biosecurity or disease containment. The cost of sand is relatively inexpensive for a facility to purchase. Sand is a soft and cheaper option, however it has high maintenance requirements.

Wood

Wood flooring is often seen as one of the fancier flooring types for equine stalls. Wood flooring when treated and finished correctly will last a long time. However, for it to last a long time the wood itself must have the correct finish and appropriate drainage to limit the potential for moisture damage. Wood has the potential to become slippery when wet or not covered with proper bedding. Keeping the stall clean can be easy with the proper drainage installed in between the boards. Disinfecting wood surfaces can be difficult as pathogens can survive within the wood itself. Wood flooring is one of the most expensive options, but has aesthetic value.

It is important to never use black walnut wood anywhere within a barn, for flooring, stall walls or bedding, as it causes acute laminitis.

Concrete

Concrete flooring is seen in many older style barns and facilities that have been repurposed for horses. Concrete has great longevity. However, it can be relatively slippery without the adequate bedding or mats. If a horse falls down it is hard, increasing the chance of injury. The surface is also very unforgiving for a horse’s legs if they are standing on it throughout the day potentially leading to joint damage or arthritis over the long term. Concrete is also cold in the northern climates during winter if it does not have deep bedding for insulation. Deep bedding and/or thick rubber mats are necessary to keep the floor less slippery, more forgiving and warmer. Benefits include it is easily cleaned, disinfected, and maintained, making it a popular choice for veterinary clinics. Most concrete floors will have a drainage system with a shallow drainage trough outside the stalls to contain fluids (Figure 1). Concrete floors tend to be in the middle to high end of a budget range. While this flooring can be easy for handlers and owners to maintain, concrete flooring can cause issues with the horses if stalled constantly.

Figure 1. Depicts how fluids leave a stall. Courtesy: PennState Extension


 

Rubber Mats

The rubber mats used for flooring are usually placed on the top of another flooring type such as clay or concrete. Heavy duty rubber mats, when installed correctly and maintained appropriately, can last a long time. Rubber mats are beneficial as they provide cushion and support to the horse’s legs while limiting the amount of bedding material that is required. Some further benefits of using rubber mats in horse stalls are as follows: many mats have a slight texture that can provide traction for the horse, and mats are relatively easy to clean and disinfect. The initial cost can be high as one should purchase mats durable enough to withstand horse wear and tear.

Underneath it all

A stall should contain a type of drainage system and/or sub layer to remove fluid waste from the stall (Figure 1). In many concrete barns one will find a trough or channel outside the stall that aids in the removal of fluids. A slight slant in the flooring can help the fluid move quickly and efficiently to the channel. Other types of flooring need additional layers underneath. Inclusion of gravel and/or sand underneath promotes drainage through the ground. Furthermore, these additional layers aid in keeping the floor level and reduce shifting that may occur if flooring is placed directly on dirt. Mesh or textile material may be used to keep the base material from becoming mixed with the flooring and bedding over time.

Take away message

Flooring is a crucial detail in the process of designing and building an equine facility. It is important to look at the plans and needs of the farm to determine the best overall flooring for each particular area. Overall the most beneficial plan of action for stall flooring is proper cleaning and maintenance. By taking a few steps to keep stalls clean and fixing problems as they arise, owners will be able to increase the longevity and effectiveness of any floor system.

Table 1. Stall flooring comparison

Flooring Longevity (even surface) Safety Biosecurity Low Maintenance Material Cost
*See Note 
Cost of Materials
(12'x12' stall)
Clay N Y N N

$0.56+/ft²
6” loose, 4” compacted

$80.64+
Sand N Risk of sand colic N N

$0.37+/ft²
6” loose

$53.28+
Wood Y Can be Slippery N Y

$1.29+/ft²
Wood only, no finish

$185.76
Concrete Y Can be slippery
Strain on legs
Y Y

$1.66+/ft²​
3.5” slab, reinforced 2’ grid

$239.04
Rubber Mats
(over another type of flooring)
Y Y Y Y $1.75+/ft2 $252.00
Note: Material Cost was estimated using $30/cubic yard – clay, $20/cubic yard – sand, $120/cubic yard – concrete delivered, $0.36/ft2 – 3/8” rebar reinforcement 2’ grid spacing
Y = Has this benefit.
N = Lacks this benefit.

References:

  1. Anderson, K. (2008, July). Extension Publications. Retrieved November 8, 2016, from University of Nebraska.
  2. Fabian, E. (2016). Equine. Retrieved Novemeber 9, 2016, from PennState Extension.
  3. Nesteruck, C. (2000). What Stall-Floor Base Is Best? Practical Horseman, 28(11), 87.
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