All About Horse Beddings: The Complete Guide

August 01, 2019

All About Horse Beddings: The Complete Guide


The first thing that comes to mind when we think of beddings is the soft and fluffy kind. That’s not the case when it comes to horse beddings. It maybe the different kind of bedding, but like humans, our horses prefer comfort too. Though horse beddings provide comfort and protection, the primary function of beddings is the absorb moisture and urine.


Criteria for Choosing Bedding Materials

1. Availability

One of the most important factors in the selection of bedding materials is determining the options you have in your location. Shavings or pellets maybe the most popular choice in a particular area, while rice hulls and hemp in another. It is better to talk to your neighbors or the local feed store what is the popular choice in your locale.

2. Absorbency and Comfort

It is important to bear in mind that the primary purpose of beddings is to absorb urine and moisture quickly and efficiently. Prolonged exposure to ammonia odors can damage the horses’ lungs. Absorbency is an important factor if your stall is small or has a little or no turn out area. Your bedding of choice should also be soft and comfortable, especially if you have older horses, or horses that stay in their stalls for longer periods of time.

3. Palatability

If your horse has dietary restrictions, the palatability of the bedding material is important. Some horses eat shavings or straw beddings, while some are picky or totally disinterested in any bedding material. It is best to test out multiple samples of bedding materials to determine if your horse eats them or not. Take into account whether your bedding of choice is also safe for your horse, especially if he tends to eat them.

4. Storage and Waste Disposal

If you have a small land space or limited storage areas, you have to be a responsible stable owner and take into consideration the proper storage and disposal of your stall beddings. Buying in advance or in bulk means proper coverage against the elements and easily accessible. When disposing stall bedding wastes, you need to figure out if you are hauling it yourself, composting, or availing the services of a waste disposal company.

5. Dust

For humans and horses that are allergy-prone or have respiratory problems, then your bedding of choice should have little to no dust. Rubber mat stalls and kiln-dried wood shavings are some of your choices, depending on your location. Dust-free beddings also save you time. The best resource to consult with is your vet.

Years ago, the choices were limited to straw or saw dust. Things have changed since then because now, we are presented with a plethora of choices, and the type of beds. Choose the kind of beddings that work best for you and your horse.


Choice of Bedding Materials

There are 4 types of straws used as a bedding material:

  • Wheat straw

This is the best choice for straw beddings. With its hard stem, it doesn’t flatten too quickly under the weight of the horse. It is an important factor in drainage, and the most commonly used straw bedding.

  • Oat straw

It is softer compared to wheat straw, and considered to be more absorbent. One drawback of oat straw is it is tastier, and the horse is more likely to eat it. It is also expensive.

  • Barley straw

Because of its awns that irritate the skin and the eyes, it is not considered a good bedding straw. It is known to harbor lice easily compared to the other straws.

  • Rye straw

Though considered to be a good bedding straw because of its hardness, it is difficult to obtain.

    These are the wood species that are safe to use as horse beddings:

    • Douglas fir – usually kiln-dried and dust-screened, these shavings exude a wonderful aroma
    • Pine – except for the green pine variety, this is the best wood to use especially when its kiln and air-dried, and dust-screened.
    • Spruce – these kind of shavings are not readily accessible

    Wood species to avoid:

    • Maple – all maple variants are very toxic to horses, especially red maple
    • Black walnut – even a short exposure to this causes dire health consequences such as fever, irregular pulse, hair loss, and laminitis
    • Cedar – too strong and irritating for smaller animals
    • Oak – usage of these can lead to kidney and liver damage
    • Black cherry – causes adverse reactions to horses when eaten
    • Cyprus – swollen legs and skin irritations are reported in some horses


                  Alternative Beddings

                  • Kenaf – It is fast-growing fibrous plant that is related to cotton and okra. Making paper is among its many uses. It closely resembles spongy kitty litter or cereal. It claims to be highly absorbent, dust-free, biodegradable, and non-allergenic. It is currently only available in North Carolina and the Southeast.
                  • Rice Hulls – It is the outer covering of a rice kernel that is removed during milling. It is usually used instead of sawdust or shavings, a good alternative for horses with allergies. According to manufacturer claims, rice hulls are less dusty and more absorbent than shavings. Generally sold in bulk, price varies depending on location and purchase.


                  Which Bedding Type Should You Choose?

                  Several factors must be considered when deciding which type of bedding system should you use.


                    The 2 Types of Bedding Systems

                    1. Complete Muck Out

                      This system is costly for both fresh beddings and time. The bedding is laid with a thick layer of bedding. Everyday, all soiled and wet beddings are replaced with clean materials. In doing so, stable floor is aired once a day, and soiled and wet material build up will not go unnoticed. Banks must be rotated to prevent them from getting moldy and gather dusts.

                      2. The Deep Litter or Continental System

                        Only the wet bedding is removed daily in this system. Fresh bedding material is laid on top while droppings are shaken to the bottom of the bed. This system is considered economical because very little fresh bedding is added everyday, and only little is removed when mucking out. Though wet patches must be removed, mucking out is not as tiring and time consuming as the complete muck out system.

                        With this system, a warm bed is formed due to droppings and old beddings starting to decompose. Great care must be taken though to prevent overheating. It typically occurs when too much urine is left in the bed. Urine hastens the composting process, raising the temperature of the bed.

                        One big disadvantage of this system is a large amount of material accumulating in the stable. It has to be removed at least every six months, otherwise, the material hardens, and a tractor will be needed to lift it out.



                        There is no perfect bedding for all situations. Each have its owns advantages and disadvantages. Things you might want to take into consideration are how much time your horse spends on his stall, and allergies if any, for both human and horse.  Like people, every horse is different. In the end, choose which stall bedding is good for you and your horse depending on your needs.

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