Horse Stable Flooring Materials and Drainage

courtesy of Penn State

There are many options for suitable floors in a horse facility and the fitness of a horse’s legs and feet can be greatly affected by the type of stall flooring chosen.

The importance of good flooring becomes more evident as a horse spends more time in his stall. The fitness of a horse’s legs and feet can be greatly affected by the type of stall flooring chosen. The most suitable floor is highly dependent on management style, while personal preferences can have a strong influence. Fortunately, there are many options for suitable floors in a horse facility. The objective of this bulletin is to provide information on stall and stable flooring materials, including flooring material attributes and options for overcoming some deficiencies. Subfloor construction and drainage features are presented as these strongly influence floor integrity.

Stall Floor Materials

Opinions differ on which type of stall flooring material is the best, but there is one thing most owners agree upon: a good floor is important to the horse’s well-being. No one type of material seems to offer all the attributes of an ideal floor. Material selection depends on which disadvantage you are willing to work with. For example, concrete may meet most of your stall flooring criteria, but more bedding or solid rubber mats will be needed to protect the horse’s legs.

Characteristics of the Ideal Floor

These are ranked in importance from the horse’s well-being, followed by the owner’s interest.
• Easy on legs; has some “give” to decrease tendon and feet strain
• Dry
• Non-odor retentive
• Provides traction; nonslippery to encourage the horse to lie down
• Durable; stays level, resists damage from horse pawing, and has a long life
• Low maintenance
• Easy to clean
• Affordable

Stable Management for Stall Floors

Consider manure and urine management when selecting the stall flooring material. On average, a horse produces 0.5 ounce of feces and 0.3 fluid ounce of urine per pound of body weight every day. So a 1,000-pound horse produces about 31 pounds of feces and 2.4 gallons of urine daily. Floors that allow urine to be absorbed and travel down through the flooring material layers can retain odors. A well-bedded stall will have less odor problem since the urine is more readily absorbed into the bedding. Impervious floors depend on slope for drainage and/or bedding to soak up urine.

Stall floors must be durable but also play an important role in the overall health of the horse. Leg soundness and fatigue are affected by the flooring material, with more forgiving floors generally being preferred over hard floors. A horse needs to lie down and get back up with confidence and without injury, so good traction is necessary. Stall floors that retain odors can deteriorate the respiratory system of the horse. Since horses spend a great deal of time with their heads down, high ammonia concentrations at the floor level can damage the lining of the throat and lungs. A good floor can inhibit internal parasite survival in the stall environment.

Horse behavior results in uneven wetting and use of the flooring. A wet, porous material, such as soil or clay, is less capable of bearing weight. Wet material will work its way into adjacent areas through hoof action, creating holes and high spots. In addition, horses often paw near the stall door or feed bucket from impatience, boredom, or out of habit. This creates low spots. Most horses are good housekeepers, if given enough space. Often, a mare will urinate and defecate in one spot in her stall, away from the resting and feeding areas. Geldings are more limited in how they use their stalls but typically defecate in one area and urinate in the center.

All stall floors need some way of handling fluids. Most often, bedding is used to soak up urine. Without adequate amounts of dry bedding, the extra urine will have to drain somewhere. A water-flow path provided either along the floor surface or through the floor to sub-layers will allow the fluid to move away from the stable. Floor drains are not common within horse stalls since they are frequently clogged with bedding and stall waste. Many horse stall floors function well with no drainage other than careful bedding management for urine removal. When additional drainage is desired, the floor should either be sloped toward a drainage channel or porous floor layers provided that allow liquids to flow from the stall. When water is added during disinfecting or washing, then drainage becomes more important than urine management alone.

Principles of Good Stall Floor Construction

Stall floors are built from the bottom up.
• Remove vegetation, roots, stone, and topsoil and compact the sub-soil below the stable site to prevent settling and cracking of the stable and flooring. Soil with low and moderate-clay content is adequate for compaction. In lieu of compaction, allow subsoil to settle for several months before construction. Avoid high-clay soils as subsoils.
• Slope the ground surface 5% away from the stable and divert surface and groundwater away from the stable site (Figure 8).
• To ensure adequate drainage for the stable when using any type of flooring, elevate the top of the stall floor at least 12 inches above the outside ground level. Often the compacted subsoil is covered with 4 to 5 inches of gravel plus 2 inches of sand or pea gravel for good drainage. Then, 4 inches or more of stall floor material is applied on top.
• Floors benefit from some slope to distribute urine and water spills to areas with drier bedding. A 1 1/2 to 2 percent (1/4 inch per foot; 1 inch per 5 feet) incline is enough to move water without causing a noticeable slope to the horse.
• For drains, shallow and safe open channeling is preferred to the complexity of an underground drainage system. See Stall Drainage System Design for more information. Channeled water is taken outside the stable where a rock layer of large gravel or stones that extends well beyond the stable foundation assists drainage.
• If the groundwater table is high, damp floors can be overcome by sub-draining. This is a layer of drain rock laid before building the normal foundation. Severe problems require tile drainage, extra fill, and non-porous floors.

Many options are available for suitable flooring materials in horse stables. Selection will most often depend on what characteristics are important to the stable manager and local availability of materials. Stall floors become very important to leg and foot fitness when a horse spends a lot of time confined to a stall. Proper floor materials can aid stable cleaning and manure removal. The floor is more than the top surface on which the horse stands. A properly constructed floor has layers of materials that provide suitable support, drainage, and structural integrity for the top surface layer.