Stall mats appeal to many stable owners as both comfortable flooring and, as bedding costs continue to rise, a money saver. In general, stall mats cut down your stall-cleaning time, protect your stall floors from damage, and minimize bedding use. We tried six non-draining stall mats and three draining stall mats to find what advantages the individual styles and brands may bring to help you narrow down your stall-mat choices.
After living with these mats, we determined some key things you should consider when making the choice for your barn:
• What is your existing floor type or base surface'
• Is your main goal to decrease the amount of bedding needed or to provide a comfortable floor'
• What are the stall habits of the horses in the barn'
• Who will install the mats'
• How much money do you want to spend'
When determining your budget, you need to include not only the cost of the mats you choose but how much material you need to level your stall floors and any shipping costs.
Draining vs. Non-Draining
The traditional rubber stall mat you envision when someone mentions mats is likely a non-draining mat. This means moisture from urine and manure will not drain through the surface. Instead, the bedding will have to absorb it. You’ll need more bedding to absorb urine, but you’ll have less urine under the mat and less odor.
With a draining stall mat, some moisture is absorbed by the bedding, but much of it seeps through the mat onto the floor surface below it. If you have a draining floor, the moisture should be absorbed by the floor, minimizing the problems of urine pooling and odor. If you have a non-draining floor like cement, the moisture will drain through the mat and pool below it, making it difficult to remove, unless that floor is sloped to a drain.
Every manufacturer in our trial claimed that their mats would decrease our use of shavings. Bedding is used to soak up moisture in the stall from manure and urine and to provide comfort for your horse, especially if your stall floor is made of a non-giving surface and/or if your horse spends most of his day inside.
Without mats, you should use 8-10” of bedding in order to provide adequate comfort and protection for your horse. However, by adding mats, you lessen the stress and fatigue to your horse from standing on a hard surface so you don’t have to bed quite so heavily for comfort. We don’t believe this means you should use only a mere sprinkling of bedding.
We think no stall should have less than 6” of bedding, even with mats. Excess bedding doesn’t have to be “wasted” bedding if you take the time to properly clean a stall.
After installing our mats, we did put back one to two fewer wheelbarrows of shavings, but that was about it. The more significant savings was that we no longer had to use bedding to “level” the stall floor.
We realize most people use a lot less bedding when they have stall mats. It’s a big advertising tool the mat industry uses, and they’ve pretty successfully convinced consumers. One manufacturer also convinced us to give it a try. However, in a few days, the test horse was getting horrible manure and urine stains with less shavings. We went back to our full amount of shavings and had no more problems.
It’s important to realize that the cost of your shavings is determined by how much you remove from the stall when cleaning, not by the amount of shavings put in. The less you take out, the less you have to replace, and the more you save.
Manufacturers also insist you can bed lighter because the mats themselves provide the comfort. That’s got a bit more merit. However, if you choose this bed-lighter route, you are probably removing most of the bedding each time you clean. While you may decrease the amount of shavings you put in the stall, you will likely, as we did, have dirtier horses. We noticed that as our horses got comfortable in their newly leveled stalls, they laid down more and had more urine and manure stains if the bedding used wasn’t sufficient to absorb the moisture in the stall. (The test barn we used picked stalls no less than twice a day, keeping the stalls as clean as possible.)
Ultimately, the amount of bedding you use depends on whether your horse is clean or messy in his stall, if he’s outside for most of the day, and whether you want to strip your stall each time you clean. You’re basically going to have to experiment to find the amount of bedding that suits your needs and preferences, but we recommend you don’t scrimp too much on bedding. Instead, be diligent about proper stall cleaning, shaking out shavings each time you pick up piles of manure and banking and sifting the remaining shavings to remove any hidden manure.
You must have a level floor before installing any of these mats. Otherwise, you’re going to have continual problems with shifting, curling and moving mats. We leveled the floors of our test stalls before beginning this trial. Since our test-barn floors were clay and stone dust, not cement, the main function of our bedding was absorption rather than providing a softer surface to stand on.
You’ve got to take your existing floors into consideration when choosing a mat. As far as whether the soiled bedding is less with or without mats depends on whether the original floor was draining or non-draining. If the stall floor is cement, the difference in dirty shavings should be equivalent with or without non-draining mats.
If the stall floor is clay or stone dust and drained well, then the amount of dirty shavings will probably be greater with non-draining mats since none of the urine will leach through the floor. However, with mats, you won’t have the ongoing problem of an unlevel floor created by wear, which is usually a problem with draining surfaces.
Because our stalls were previously draining-floor stalls — and we chose to keep the newly matted stalls bedded similarly to before adding full mats — we’re not convinced that we saved much money on shavings with non-draining mats. However, the mats did save us time and labor in protecting the floors, especially since we’ll have fewer problems maintaining a level surface in the stall floor.
For those with particularly “wet” horses, we recommend you consider a mat that allows urine and moisture to drain through, especially if you’re installing over a draining-type floor. By allowing some of the urine to pass through the mat, your bedding won’t have as much liquid to absorb, thus leaving you with fewer wet shavings to take out.
The three types of draining mats we tried were Stall Skins, Equustall, and Turtle Plastics. By using these in our wettest stalls, we believe we did save on bedding consumption in comparison to what we would have used with a non-draining mat. Because the urine and moisture can drain through the flooring system, the bedding had to absorb less and stayed drier.
However, we don’t recommend a draining mat on a cement floor without a drainage system, such as a drain. The urine will simply pool below the mat surface. Stall Skins says if you have a cement fl oor with a drain or you cover the cement floor with a draining surface, the mat will work fine. This makes sense to us.
Mats come in a variety of shapes, sizes and weights, but we found them basically heavy and awkward to move. Installation is no picnic with any of them, although some are easier than others. We learned it’s important to follow instructions and take the time to properly cut the mats so they fit snugly in the stall.
Overall, we found moving the bigger, heavier mats was easier if we handled them using vice grips, letting the vice grip act as a handle. It’s difficult to get your hands to constantly grip the mat while you drag it around. However, a few systems were relatively easy to install from the perspective of weight. These three mats would be easier for a single person to install on their own than any of the other rubber mats:
• Turtle Plastics Hoof Turf Mats
• The Equustall Flooring System
• Southwest Animal Products Stall Skins.
Noe of the other mats we tested any easier or harder to size to each individual stall. Even though manufacturers offer pre-sized kits, you’ll most likely have to do some adjusting in order to fit the mats snugly into the stall. Remember, the tighter the fit, the less shifting and moving you’ll have down the road.
When it comes to cutting rubber mats, be sure you have a sharp utility knife and plenty of replacement blades. Changing the blade often makes a huge difference, as cutting through rubber will quickly dull your knife. Always use a sharp blade, so you spend less time cutting. Overall, the installation process was not something we rated as a determining factor in choosing a particular mat.
Once you’ve decided you can afford to add stall mats to your barn, spend some time considering your motivation for the decision and then research your options to help ensure your purchase will meet your expectations and complement your existing surface. Be sure the mat will work with your barn’s flooring.
Most manufacturers have detailed web sites and toll-free numbers that offer helpful information. In making your decision, be sure to add in shipping costs, which can be considerable depending upon where the mat is shipped from in relation to where it is going.
Turtle Plastics, ProMat, Stall Skins and Equustall caught our attention as innovative designs and concepts in flooring systems that work well.
Stall Skins stall liners aren’t as thick as other mats, but they’re definitely value-priced and easily earned the best-draining-surface nod in our trial. However, for overall ease and speed on stall cleaning, we liked Turtle Plastics best.
For comfort, ProMat is the most comfortable flooring system we think you can put in your barn. While the other rubber mats protect your horse’s joints from stress and fatigue associated with standing on a hard surface, we didn’t find they create the same forgiving and springy surface that this system does.
Even one of our trial horses noticed a difference. Admittedly not the bravest in the lot, this horse took about 15 minutes not to be “worried��� about the footing in his stall. The mat was decidedly not slippery, but we found it interesting the horse knew he was on a different surface despite being covered with shavings.
If you’re looking for traditional rubber mats, any of the ones we tried will do. We had no problems with installation or use, and we would recommend you let price, availability and shipping costs be your guide. However, we did like the comparatively easy installation on Summit Flexible Products Protector Lok mats, and the interlocking feature is excellent, making them our top choice in mats and Best Buy.
Contact Your Local Tack Store Or: Equustall Stable Floor, 800/788-6223, www.equustall.com; Summit Flexible Products, Ltd., 800/782-5628 www.summitflex.com; ProMat Ltd. 888/337-6265 www.promatltd.com; Turtle Plastics Company 800/756-6635; Humane Mfg. LLC 800/369-6263 www.humanemfg.com; Western Sales800/932-6485; E-Z Rider Equine Products 888/875-8163 www.stallmats.net; RB Rubber Products Incorporated 800/525-5530 www.rbrubber.com; Southwest Animal Products 800/400-3165 www.stallskins.com.