Stall mats are a major investment, and not everyone can afford them. However, there may be a financial benefit over the long run to installing them: A reduction in the amount of bedding needed for comfort (rubber/foam mats) or for urine absorption (draining mats). Other benefits of mats that your horse may appreciate include:
• Insulation from cold and damp
• Increased traction
• More ”give” than dirt, cement or asphalt floors.
Some floors, like concrete, are simply too hard for your horse’s joints (think about how your back and hips feel after standing on a cement floor all day) and/or have inadequate traction for safely getting up and down in the stall. You can add yards of bedding to make up for the difference or you can install stall mats. We recommend going with stall mats.
Preparing The Base
If you’re thinking of using mats as a cover-up solution for stall-flooring issues, forget it. Mats must lie flat to function properly and prevent the joints of snap-together mats from becoming loose. Without a level surface, you’ll have continual problems with the mats shifting, curling and even moving about.
Mats can be placed over concrete, asphalt or a base of ”fines,” meaning finely ground stone with pieces no larger than 1/8 inch diameter.
Fines are necessary over a clay/dirt base for better drainage. Fines can be used over irregular surfaces to fill in the gaps to a uniform height. A five-inch depth is ideal. After adding fines, they should be wet down, then thoroughly tamped or rolled, and checked to be sure they are level. Stall preparation instructions are slightly different for the Promat system, which calls for a somewhat coarser gravel.
Drainage is another important issue when it comes to installing mats, especially if you want to decrease bedding. Except for the Promat system, which is sealed along all borders of the stall, you can expect urine, feed, fine particles of manure/bedding and water to find its way under your mats. Mats are ideal for stalls with cement or asphalt floors and drain, but with a clay base you can get significant build-up over time.
We used young adult horses in heavy training, shod, and rotated them between the stalls on a one-month basis from December through June. One was a diehard pawer. Three of the test horses were chosen because of minor leg problems. One had nagging low-level foot soreness, one tended to stock up easily and a third had persistent fetlock puffiness. To assess any effects of the mats, we looked at the 0frequency of stocking-up episodes and how long it took the other two horses to warm up when being worked.
Comfort: With the exception of the Turtle Plastic’s Hoof Turf, all mats provided what we would consider to be a suitable sleeping and standing surface with more give than cement, asphalt or firmly packed clay. We had no problems with hock sores/rubs during this trial.
Leg relief: Our three test horses with minor leg problems responded best to the Frelonic mats. Our tender-footed horse also liked the Promat StableComfort system and our stocking-up horse also had fewer episodes on the Nu Tek Pebble Mats.
Time spent down resting: We saw no differences among the mats in time spent down resting while horses were observed during normal daytime schedules.
Traction: The smooth surfaces of the Frelonic and StableComfort mats could have the potential to get a little slick if very wet, but otherwise all mats provided adequate traction.
Durability:Durability over the course of years could not be truly assessed in this trial but judging by the materials the Hoof-Turf and Tru-Fit systems would be most durable. We prefer the Tru-Fit for a stall surface.
Savings In Bedding:There are two ways to look at this: 1) bedding reduction for comfort/cushioning reasons and 2) bedding reduction because of drainage improvement. Only the Turtle Plastics Hoof Turf tiles provided for drainage of urine away from the horse, but you still need a generous bed for comfort and protection as the tiles are quite hard.
Some of the savings depends upon your original stall floor surface, too. If your horse was living on cement, you were probably piling in lots of bedding to counteract the hard floor. With a mat, you’ve eliminated the hard surface, leaving you with adding enough bedding for comfort and to soak up urine, so the horse stays clean.
Note: Some show barns will pile on the shavings to keep the horse cleaner. Experimentation is key here, and you’ll need to determine your own preferences. Overall, we recommend being diligent about frequent, proper stall cleaning to save bedding.
A trial at the Guelph Equine Research Center using the StableComfort system found that an 80% reduction in bedding could be used to get approximately the same amount of shock absorbency as provided by a five- to six-inch bed of wood shavings. This test was done using a device called a Clegg hammer, which essentially measures how firm/hard a surface is.
We tried the 75 to 80% reduction in bedding and found that was inadequate to prevent the horses from lying in urine after the initial slight mounding (as recommended in installation instructions) in the center of the stall became more level. There were problems with increased urine staining at that drastic a reduction. However, we did not try using very fine sawdust (too much dust for us) or any of the pricey, more absorbent alternative beddings that are low-dust. We used wood shavings for all mats. To avoid having horses come in direct contact with urine, we found we needed a good two- to three-inch bed of shavings for all the solid surface mats. This represents a 30 to 50% savings, depending on how deeply you were bedding before the mats.
Labor savings: Compared to dirt floors, where you have to regularly rake up and dry out soaked spots, matted stalls are easier to clean. However, the horse still makes the same amount of urine and manure and soaks the same amount of bedding.
Talk with the manufacturer about your existing barn flooring and whether or not you need to make revisions before installing the particular mat you’re interested in purchasing. Most manufacturers have detailed websites to help with these concerns. Check shipping, too. Prices in our chart do not include shipping prices, which, of course, depend upon where you’re located from the manufacturer/distributor.
Unless you have a special-needs horse that spends a lot of time down (e.g. laminitis, old and very arthritic), we can’t see going with the pricey StableComfort system. We liked the Frelonic mats for easy handling and horses with leg problems, but have reservations about what their life may be.
The Hoof Turf mats from Turtle Plastic are a hands-down choice for trailers, wash areas and if you have problems with stall moisture. These are the only mats in the trial that drain urine/water away from the surface of the mat. They’re a little pricey but extremely durable.
Our favorite, for durability, resistance to degradation and all the positive features of stall mats, is the Tru-Fit mats. They’re also the Best Buy.
If wrestling with heavy rubber mats is something you want to avoid, consider the NuTek Pebble Mats. The pieces are small, so you can replace worn, high-traffic areas without redoing the whole stall.