Barn flooring is the foundation of a clean and safe barn. Flooring needs to have good traction, so that horses and their handlers don’t slip and fall. Since barns are constantly exposed to the mess that goes along with horses, including manure, dirt, and hair, the floors need to be easy to keep clean. And because horses are so tough on their surroundings, between their weight and how they paw everything, floors need to be sturdy.
We know that stall mats are important, since they combine with bedding to protect horses’ legs from concussion. And the bedding you choose will have a large impact on drainage and odor. What we’re talking about here is what goes under those mats — the floor in your barn.
Concrete is one of the most common flooring bases in new horse-barn construction. It’s solid and won’t settle, so you won’t have to pull up mats and re-level the floors every once in a while, as you do with porous flooring, like clay. Concrete is expensive, and using it absolutely requires rubber mats and thick bedding, because it is too unforgiving for horses’ legs and joints on its own. However, a concrete-based stall can be rinsed down, and the water drains away freely, leaving the stall clean and dry.
Concrete is a terrific choice for feed rooms and tack rooms, because its hard surface makes it easy to sweep up and hose down when necessary. It also works well for wash stalls — even though it can get slick if it’s a smooth surface — because it is durable enough to withstand water pouring over it all the time. Pouring aggregate gravel into the concrete does add costs, but it also adds traction and even some eye appeal if you want a more ”rustic” look on the barn floor.
If you’re renovating a historic barn, you may think you should salvage/replace any wood-plank stall floors with more wood floors. They certainly look beautiful the day they’re installed, but they are tough to maintain, because they don’t stay dry, and they tend to harbor smells. And they rot. Even in the aisle, wood isn’t a great idea, just because of the rot and the ease of trapping urine and feed between cracks.
If you decide to use wood, be sure it’s strong enough to support the horse’s weight and use plenty of bedding for comfort and make sure the gaps between planks stay small, or you’ll have a mouse problem on top of your traction concerns. We think wood floors are best for toy barns.
Most other barn-flooring options are porous. Popcorn asphalt is a popular choice, and we think it’s one of the best ways to keep your barn draining, and it’s not overly expensive.
Popcorn asphalt — proper name open-graded asphalt friction courses or OGFCs — is simply porous asphalt, meaning that if you put gravel under it, water (and horse urine) can go through. New advances, like polymer modifiers, make this stuff more durable. We like that because it doesn’t require quite as much bedding as concrete does, so you save money as you use it, not just at installation.
A more traditional choice is stonedust, which also drains easily. Stonedust can also be called road base, washed sand, or quarry sand, depending upon where you live. It drains well but needs to be used over a base layer of sand or small gravel to promote even better draining. Properly packed, we like it under rubber mats, which give you the mats for leg health and the stonedust for drainage.
As with any loose flooring material, however, stonedust can produce dusty air (and if it’s too dusty, that dust can hold odors after use), and as horses move around, the flooring will shift. Eventually, after a year or two of mucking and stamping, it will need to be re-leveled.
A dirt floor is probably the cheapest option. But it also can produce messy mud in cases of a stall-bound horse or a spilled water bucket. Dirt floors often trap urine, which leads to an unpleasant ammonia smell. Dirt also needs to be laid over gravel, for drainage. Even so, it will need to be dug out every couple of years, because so much urine will get trapped.
Dirt gets holes and other topography as horses paw at them, especially under a feed bucket, since many horses get excited and paw when they hear the feed cart coming with dinner. This can be addressed with a concrete pad near the door, where the most pawing happens. Also, if there is sand in the topsoil, stall mats will shift around a lot, which can be dangerous for the horse as well as frustrating for his caretakers.
Some barns even have pure sand as the base. But since it doesn’t compact well, its constant shifting and motion make it difficult to maintain. Also, then you have to worry about sand colic in the stall. We think it’s more trouble than it’s worth, even if you have a natural or cheap sand source.
Pure clay may be the widest available flooring. It’s also a traditional choice and will be found in many older barns. It needs to be mixed with some stonedust, though, because straight clay will compact to a hard mass with no drainage and can become slippery.
Horse urine softens clay and allows depressions to occur, and then probing hooves make the problem worse. Packed clay with no rocks on a gravel base makes an economical floor. Like dirt, clay is difficult to keep clean, and more flooring has to be added from time to time, but it’s cleaner and more appealing than plain dirt.
Because materials, labor and availability vary so much from region to region, it’s difficult to pinpoint costs for different flooring options. Concrete, which has to be properly mixed and often requires expert installation, is costly and is hard on a horse’s legs. Dirt, at the other end of the spectrum, will be the least expensive because it’s naturally available, but it can be dusty and eventually needs replacement. Popcorn asphalt would be a top choice overall.
In the aisles, the floor needs to be easy to clean and non-slip. Again, popcorn asphalt works well, and traditionalists may stick with gravel. Concrete with an aggregate top gives traction and easy cleanup.
Concrete is great in feed and tack rooms, because it’s important to keep these high-traffic areas clean, as any spilled sweet feed needs to come up right away to avoid attracting rodents.
We like our wash stalls to be concrete as well, and as with the aisles, a little aggregate on the surface here can help with traction. A drain in the center keeps water from pooling or splashing out onto the aisles.