Sunday, 26 October 2014


If you want to keep your horse inside for some of the day or night then you will need some bedding.  Whether it is a big barn where they are free to roam and interact together, or, which is more likely, in a stable.  Bedding is important for several reasons:

  • To prevent jarring on a horses feet and legs from standing on a hard and cold concrete or brick surface. 
  • It provides protection from draughts. 
  •  Helps to encourage the horse to urinate (as they dislike splashing their legs). 
  • Gives them a warm and comfy surface to roll and rest. 
  •  Helps prevent them slipping on a wet surface.

With these thoughts in mind there are several types of surface to choose from.

This was the most common type of bedding used for many years it was cheap, easy to get hold of and allowed good free drainage.

Unfortunately, straw beds are hard work and need full mucking out every day.  My pony used to eat it all during the night. It is often quite dusty and so is not appropriate for any horse with a respiratory problem and can actually cause a problem.  I also find the urine just soaks through and the floor gets slippy!  It does look cosy though ....

Seem to come in all shapes and types now.  I think it is a matter of trial and error with these and it seems to be a matter of personal taste which you find easiest.  You can just skip out the dung on a daily basis and then clear out the wet shavings less often, I do mine weekly.  It is easy to get hold of shavings usually, the horses don't eat them and they have less dust than straw for horses with respiratory problems! I also find they absorb the urine really well so that the floor does not get slippy.

This is my bedding of choice but you do need more to make a thick bed which is as comfy as a straw bed. If you leave it too long before clearing out all the wet shavings then you need to put new in more frequently.  Although in the past I have cleared shavings stables out at 6 week intervals to coincide with school holidays.  

This picture shows quite course shavings in comparison to the picture before!

I think the most well known hemp bedding is Aubiose.  This has no dust or spores, horses don't eat it and it is really absorbable.  It can be recycled as compost too.

For some reason I just can't get on with it though.  I think it is looks dirty before you start and gets really dirty very quickly.  I don't think it looks very comfortable either. 

Shredded Paper or Cardboard
Is often a cheap option and in the age of recycling is a popular choice.  It is again a dust free option and is not eaten by horses, it is quite absorbent too.

I have never tried paper bedding although I have a friend who used it in the past.  It is heavy when wet but blows about when dry so is difficult when it is windy!  If made from old printed newspaper a grey or coloured horse can get stains .. although I suppose it is a different way to catch up on the news.

This is a choice but I don't agree with it so will leave this out!

Rubber Matting
The idea is that this can be used with no or little other bedding and is therefore dust free.  If used alone then you can skip out with a shovel and then hose the urine.  It is expensive initially but the upkeep is then cheap.   They make the stable flooring warmer and do provide some insulation.

However, I find it is slippy and the horses don't like to urinate as their legs are splashed.  It also does not provide protection against draughts.  Urine is also not absorbed so can accumulate in a corner if the stable has poor drainage or if the stable drains the urine flows into the yard. 

 I do have rubber mats, which I actually love and have had for a few years now.  I use them with shavings, they have saved Ches legs from damage to his hocks which he was getting despite a thick bed of shavings.  They definitely make the stables warmer in winter and with the shavings I think they make about the best place for my horses to rest and relax.  They certainly seem very content in them.

Whatever type of bedding you use you MUST keep it as clean as possible.  If the horse is in for 22 or 23 hours then it should be skipped out throughout the day so that the horse can sleep and relax in a clean environment.  

If the bed is not kept clean problems such as thrush can develop in the horses feet, the horse will lie in its own droppings and then become stained. It will also smell bad!  

Skipping Out
This should be done frequently and is the process of removing the dung from the bed.  As my horses are only in overnight in winter or for a few hours in the day during summer I do this once a day.  If for any reason they are in more then I ensure they are skipped out every 3/4 hours.  

Mucking Out
This should done once a day on straw beds but can be done less frequently if you have chosen a 'deep litter' system (see below).  It is better to take the horse out of the stable but if this is not possible then ensure he is tied securely. You remove all the wet bedding by moving any clean to the side and using a fork or shovel to put it into a wheelbarrow.  Wet shavings will be heavy!  You must also go through the clean bedding at the side of the stable (and the banks) to ensure you have removed all droppings, wet or mouldy bedding.  If possible it is a good idea to leave the bedding on at the side of the stable, give the middle a good brush and leave to dry.  Disinfecting the stable is also important on a regular basis.  

When putting the bedding back down you should build up some good banks at the side ... 

 ...... to prevent the horse becoming cast and to provide insulation against draughts when they lie down. Spread the old bedding as flat as you can then add new on the top to make sure you have a good deep bed (of your choice of bedding).  Level this and you will end up with a lovely, cosy, clean bed for your horse.  Now is a good time to sweep and tidy around the outside of the stable area too.

Deep Litter is when you leave the wet bedding in place for up to 6 months and build the bed up with new bedding on a regular basis.  It is not suitable for straw.  This saves on time and labour on a daily basis but is a hard job to do when the time comes.  I have always had a 'semi' deep litter system.  While I was at school I had my pony on a 6 weekly deep litter system so I used to clear out the stables every school holiday (twice in the summer).  This really helped with fitting in looking after my pony with school and homework.  It was really hard though to do in the holidays and took me a whole day!  Now I leave the wet shavings in for a week and clean them all out at the weekends,  I find this works really well.

Removing your muck.
This is just about the most difficult part and often the last thing we think of!  Firstly you need to create and maintain your muck heap. Ideally your muck heap is in a contained area with walls on 3 sides, a ramp for wheelbarrows and access for trailers to remove the heap.  Unfortunately not many of us have this perfect set up.  Heaps should be down wind and not too close to the stables, but you also don't want to push the wheelbarrow too far on a daily basis!  

Even if you have a good muck heap, it needs removing.  Many farmers who in the past would take away and use the muck are now limited by legal requirements which govern everything they put on their fields.  Many don't like shavings and burning muck heaps  is also controlled by law.  You should not spread your muck over your fields as this will not encourage the growth of the right sort of grass and can spread worms and their larvae.  Of course generally, if you keep your horse on a yard this is not something you need to worry about.

Over the next couple of weeks I'm planning vlogs on my skipping and mucking out routine. Check it out on my new You Tube channel.   Horse Life and Love

Until next time!

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