Bedding: it’s more complex than you think

August 27, 2018

shutterstock_83529763Bedding used to be straw, peat, sawdust or maybe shavings, but these days you can choose from shavings of all different sizes, chopped straw, wood pellets, or flax… in fact the choice these days can be bewildering.

The wider choice of bedding products is fuelled by an increasing emphasis on the influence of bedding on horse health. Horse owners are much more widely aware of the part that bedding can play in keeping their horses healthy in the stable, and their choice has shifted markedly away from traditional beddings. Bedding now does more than just provide a soft place for the horse to rest and absorbency for soaking up urine; now bedding can provide a healthy, dust free and even fragrant way to keep horses comfortable.

Making the choice

The bedding you choose will boil down to many factors including: dust levels, ease of use, price, comfort, absorbency, support, availability, non-palatability and ease of disposal.

shutterstock_179350523By far the most commonly cited influencing factor is dust levels. Even if your horse doesn’t have a specific respiratory condition, reducing levels of dust in his environment is better for both horse and owner. There are lots of dust free bedding options including treated chopped straw, dust-extracted shavings, paper or cardboard, wood pellets and rubber matting.

There are many companies that offer dust free shavings, including Hunter woodshavings, which offers a dust free vacuum packed bale and Bedmax, which produces purpose made shavings.

Wood pellets are also an excellent option as a low dust bedding and these are becoming more popular at the moment. They offer excellent value for money and as they efficiently clump together in soiled areas, making waste easy to remove without turning the whole bed. They are made from compressed wood and are very low in dust, particularly if managed correctly.

Ease of use

shutterstock_520965505Mucking out doesn’t have to be a chore – with the right bedding matched to the horse it might only take a few minutes each day. A horse that moves a lot in its stable may churn up a shavings or straw bed, but something like wood pellets might be more suited.

Perhaps the ultimate easy to use bedding is rubber matting. When fitted in the stable well, rubber matting creates an excellent surface for the horse to stand on and is easy to just sweep out. A sprinkling of bedding to absorb any urine may add to the horse’s comfort, but so little would be needed that it is easy to muck out daily. Rubber matting will need lifting up occasionally (unless it is completely sealed to the ground) and properly cleaned with a disinfectant to prevent it getting smelly, but is an infrequent job.

Day to day management

Mucking out techniques will vary depending on the horse, your routine, the bedding and whether you deep litter, poo pick and so on, but there are some things you can do to make the job easier. Using the right tool for the job may be obvious, but there are now many tools specifically designed to suit different types of bedding. For instance a rubber matting fork is specifically designed with round prongs to ensure the matting isn’t damaged. Wood pellets are also far easier to manage with a fine tined pellet fork and straw is still best fluffed up with a stable fork. It’s not just the head that is important – good quality yard tools should also be lightweight and balanced so that they are easy to wield.

There are also a huge range of other tools that can make mucking out easier. The classic large Tubtrugs are invaluable for poo picking and a double wheeled barrow can make pushing heavier weights a breeze. It can be easy to overlook the rather less exciting yard tools section at your longer equine store, but next time you’re there, or perhaps browsing through a catalogue, take a look and you may well be surprised at the huge range of products now available.

shutterstock_134403620All the options

Shavings is still the most popular bedding, but there are many types available, including large flake, pine shavings, made specifically for equine bedding, smaller flake shavings which are a by-product of the wood industry or even a mix of the two. Some people still favour straw, and there are now chopped straw products available, which are treated to be compact, easy to handle and dust free. Wood pellets are probably the second most popular now, and when used as directed are very effective. Flax is made from fibres left over from the linen industry and is more popular in mainland Europe but also available here. Paper can also be a good option for dust-sensitive horses but is not as easy to get hold of.


Whichever bedding option you go for, disposal must also be considered. Some products rot down on the muck heap faster than others so if you don’t have much muck heap space, or are intending to use the rotted material on plants or crops, choose the bedding accordingly. Pellet products often rot down fastest and there is less waste produced from mucking out, chopped straw is also fast to rot down. To find out more check out the products’ websites or ask your supplier.