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Horse Stall Mats – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
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Horse Stall Mats – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

A couple of days ago I visited a rescue horse barn where I've been thinking of becoming involved. My friend and I toured the barn to get a sense of the place, and here's what we found.

The horses in the facility were all in pretty sad shape to one degree or another. Some were super thin, and others were pretty banged up with big gashes and scrapes on their heads and bodies -- I guess they don't call this a horse rescue facility for nothing. There was a mini-herd of four horses that had just arrived; they were all too thin and looked as though they hadn't been cared for. This group was a bit frisky and came over to investigate us, letting us scratch behind an ear and pet a soft nose -- we took these as positive signs.

Further inside the barn we peeked into every stall. Most of the horses were standing and eating. The stalls were a bit on the small side and some were very dark with little ventilation. All stalls had rubber stall mats lying over hard-packed dirt -- uneven ground, in most cases.

Now, it might have just been the time of day, so maybe there weren't enough people there yet to take care of horse chores. We saw one young woman mucking out a stall, but all other stalls or paddocks had a horse inside standing on stall mats.

The mats we saw were not evenly situated on the ground. If only one mat was present, it was cockeyed in the stall; if two were on the floor, they were not lined up, but also a little squirrely, overlapping with each other.

Without exception, the stall mats were not clean. There was no straw covering any part of them. In fact, they were covered with urine, creating pools of slippery, unsanitary liquid. The most heartbreaking horse was in his small, dark stall lying down on filthy mats that were covered with lots of urine. It was obvious the horse had been lying on his side in his own urine before rolling to a more upright lying-down position. This poor guy was obviously not well -- he could barely keep his eyes open and did not move from his position in the urine.

The experience was mighty depressing, so I thought I'd look into one of the obvious issues that bothered us: rubber stall mats. Here's what I discovered:

PROS:

  • Rubber stall mats can help your horse stand for longer periods of time. The thicker the mat, the more traction the horse will have. The mats offer the horse a more comfortable surface, especially if the underlying ground is concrete or another super hard surface.
  • Mats offer some relief on your horse's pressure points when he's resting while lying down.
  • Mats are excellent in grooming/bathing areas, but should have adequate drainage to avoid creating a slippery surface. Good for aisles in the barn, too.
  • Stall mats are easy to scrub down and disinfect.
  • Mats can afford a bit more insulation in a stall, acting as a barrier between the cold ground and your horse.
  • Mats are available in a variety of thicknesses and sizes; there are some choices available in the type of mat material, too.

CONS:

  • Mats will pool urine wherever there are even the slightest indentions in the mat, causing a build-up of bacteria. You could help remedy this by adding some bedding material to soak up urine, which can then be easily removed. Or you can purchase mats with high drainage features. Porous mats allow urine to drain, as do mats that have random holes or slits in the rubber.
  • Stall mats that aren't disinfected or cleaned daily can become slippery, causing your horse to fall into his own urine with potential injury.
  • Mats can shift over time, especially on uneven surfaces, so to avoid a horse hazard they must be monitored regularly, removing your horse so you can reposition the mats.
  • Pests and mold infestations are common occurrences under stall mats. The mats must be regularly cleaned and sterilized to avoid these problems, which are potentially harmful to your horse.
  • Stall mats are not substitutes for shavings and other surface coverings in a stall. Your horse should have floor space with shavings or straw, with some covering the mat, too, providing your horse with additional footing.

Obviously, there are some good, bad and ugly points to stall mats. Getting the most out of them by keeping the stall mats clean -- and, therefore, your horse healthier -- may take a bit more effort, but it will be effort well spent.

More about bedding, health, mats, stall

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Leave a Comment

  1. yvonne
    Hi there, thanks for the post! This can be a touchy subject, as many are when dealing with horse people (I can say that, I am one!). Everyone seems to have very different, and passionate, opinions about mats. Personally, I think mats should stay out of the stalls unless they have EXCELLENT drainage and/or are kept extremely dry and clean. The stalls you describe are dangerous and unsanitary. I hope you can help make a change at that barn. Those poor horses deserve better.
    Log in to reply.
    1. MReynolds
      MReynolds
      Thanks for your comment, Yvonne! You are so right -- just like lots of other things, opinions and passions are all over the place when it comes to horses!
      Log in to reply.
  2. Rene Wright
    Rene Wright
    Voted. I agree with Yvonne in that most things about horses can be a touchy subject. lol There are as many opinions as there are people. I myself don't use stall mats even though Cookie's stall has concrete. The reason I don't is simply because she doesn't spend much time in there. The door to the stall is always open into the paddock so she's free to come and go whenever she wants. If she spent more time in there, say in the summer when the temps are really high, then I would consider putting down a couple mats side by side where she stands (most of the time) to provide some comfort for her feet and legs. As for the barn you visited... wow! I hope you or someone will help those horses. That is pitifully sad.
    Log in to reply.
    1. MReynolds
      MReynolds
      You sound like a conscientious horse owner, Rene -- it's great to hear your horse family is so well taken care of. Thanks for your comment!
      Log in to reply.
  3. Eve Sherrill York
    Eve Sherrill York
    I hope you decide to help out there and can make some very obviously needed changed. I rarely see mats in any of my dealings with horses. I guess everyone has a different opinion. Voted.
    Log in to reply.
    1. MReynolds
      MReynolds
      Thanks for your comment and vote! I'm still interested in helping out at the rescue barn, but it's sooooo depressing and I'm afraid they might not like a new-comer trying to change stuff -- like "There's a new sheriff in town!" If I could afford it and donate a bunch of money, I think I'd have more clout. But I can at least express my concerns and see if anything happens, right? Thanks!
      Log in to reply.
      1. Eve Sherrill York
        Eve Sherrill York
        This is true. I certainly understand your viewpoint.
        Log in to reply.
      2. jst4horses
        I think celticagle is right. Before we criticize others, we need to go out and raise some money and set aside time and get some other volunteers. Most private schools have mandatory community service and usually a lot of horse lovers who will even sponsor a horse in a rescue. Ever see a feed lot? Ever see these horses being sold, all gleaming and expensive at the prestigious auctions? And everyone is right, horse care, like child care is a passionate area. I have done volunteer work for decades before they got paid animal police and have seen amazing horse living quarters in garages and back yards that would make many stall people angry. AND I have seen many a cheap, underpaid, overworked prestigious stable where the stalls "look" great, but are not. Just clean shavings or straw put over dirty and urine soaked ground. While we may not like it personally, children grow up healthy and wonderful in environments we would think are horrific, and no one except a few ministers are doing anything at all. We all need to start looking at the real problems. There are too many horses being bred. So people can use them for shows and a little jog here and there, and underpay and overwork people who are expected to keep some kind of "quality" in looks, but who cares about real care. Rescues are ALL overfilled at this moment in time. It is because all of us horse lovers got rid of our horse when we were done with it, or we might have to do without something to provide that horse with a quality life and we let others do the same. There is absolutely no excuse that someone is selling foals and two year olds for hundreds of thousands of dollars so the human can live with jets, and yachts, and the horses suffer, suffer, suffer...................and end up in rescues that need help, not criticism. You are so right, no one likes someone to come in and tell them how to fix their place. They do like someone who comes in and asks "can I help with the cleaning and stalls" and brings their own shovel, rakes and if there is no dirt to put in, finds some. Every stable where I have kept my horses, I have found contractors who have good, clean dirt who will gladly donate it. I have backed my truck up to the piles, and gotten a few teens or vets to help me, and filled the truck and moved it to stall after stall until all are clean, properly drained, and level. Stall mats can use a bucket of water with a cup of bleach thrown over them once a week, it keeps them safe and fresher. If you put deeper shavings around the mats, the horse will stretch there because it will not spray back up on his legs. When shavings are too costly, I put the mats where the horse eats and hope it will urinate on the other side. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. Some horses urinate in their food........for what reason I have never figured out. Others are very much the other way. An old cowboy once told me they urinate on their food because somewhere they lived in a corral with a lot of horses and were marking their food. Whatever. Help any rescue you can, with money and doing what they ask you to do. I have never met a stable owner that didn't like it that I super cleaned. and leveled the stalls. THEIR way, not mine. I have also found tree companies and asked them when they are working on pine trees will they donate the shaved wood. I have found many that really like coming over and dumping a truck of pine shavings rather than driving it to the dump. OR, have a special fundraiser to buy trucks filled with shavings! Just ask first.
        Log in to reply.
      3. jst4horses
        I think celticagle is right. Before we criticize others, we need to go out and raise some money and set aside time and get some other volunteers. Most private schools have mandatory community service and usually a lot of horse lovers who will even sponsor a horse in a rescue. Ever see a feed lot? Ever see these horses being sold, all gleaming and expensive at the prestigious auctions? And everyone is right, horse care, like child care is a passionate area. I have done volunteer work for decades before they got paid animal police and have seen amazing horse living quarters in garages and back yards that would make many stall people angry. AND I have seen many a cheap, underpaid, overworked prestigious stable where the stalls "look" great, but are not. Just clean shavings or straw put over dirty and urine soaked ground. While we may not like it personally, children grow up healthy and wonderful in environments we would think are horrific, and no one except a few ministers are doing anything at all. We all need to start looking at the real problems. There are too many horses being bred. So people can use them for shows and a little jog here and there, and underpay and overwork people who are expected to keep some kind of "quality" in looks, but who cares about real care. Rescues are ALL overfilled at this moment in time. It is because all of us horse lovers got rid of our horse when we were done with it, or we might have to do without something to provide that horse with a quality life and we let others do the same. There is absolutely no excuse that someone is selling foals and two year olds for hundreds of thousands of dollars so the human can live with jets, and yachts, and the horses suffer, suffer, suffer...................and end up in rescues that need help, not criticism. You are so right, no one likes someone to come in and tell them how to fix their place. They do like someone who comes in and asks "can I help with the cleaning and stalls" and brings their own shovel, rakes and if there is no dirt to put in, finds some. Every stable where I have kept my horses, I have found contractors who have good, clean dirt who will gladly donate it. I have backed my truck up to the piles, and gotten a few teens or vets to help me, and filled the truck and moved it to stall after stall until all are clean, properly drained, and level. Stall mats can use a bucket of water with a cup of bleach thrown over them once a week, it keeps them safe and fresher. If you put deeper shavings around the mats, the horse will stretch there because it will not spray back up on his legs. When shavings are too costly, I put the mats where the horse eats and hope it will urinate on the other side. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. Some horses urinate in their food........for what reason I have never figured out. Others are very much the other way. An old cowboy once told me they urinate on their food because somewhere they lived in a corral with a lot of horses and were marking their food. Whatever. Help any rescue you can, with money and doing what they ask you to do. I have never met a stable owner that didn't like it that I super cleaned. and leveled the stalls. THEIR way, not mine. I have also found tree companies and asked them when they are working on pine trees will they donate the shaved wood. I have found many that really like coming over and dumping a truck of pine shavings rather than driving it to the dump. OR, have a special fundraiser to buy trucks filled with shavings! Just ask first.
        Log in to reply.
        1. MReynolds
          MReynolds
          You are totally on top of it, Jst4Horses! Glad there are people like you around.
          Log in to reply.
  4. Teshaw R
    Thanks for the very informative piece, I voted, I hope you like my recent splurge. http://www.ofhorse.com/view-post/Seabiscuit-The-One-and-Only
    Log in to reply.
  5. jst4horses
    I find this article disturbing in that it seems as if the critical attitude was not OK. If you want to go to a rescue and HELP, offer to volunteer, fundraise, and do what you are asked to do............YOU are not attempting to do anything, because YOU have time to be out there criticizing other people. In fact, horses like to be wild on their range and left alone, to eat, and be eaten. It is THEIR preference and truly all that is humane for them. BUT we do not live in a perfect world for horses...... those who do try to help usually need help. One big sanctuary had some "my little pony" horse "love" who had the time to drive by three times a day, taking records and calling the animal control over and over and over. She had no idea that ANIMAL CONTROL itself was helping to get this sanctuary off the ground because they were tired of euthanizing so many horses and selling the rest to the slaughter because no one wanted them. That self righteous woman had no idea that this sanctuary takes every single horse out to run in round corral, or in the big arena in groups if the horses get along.......and then turns them out to play in big grazing fields, one which has a large horse pond for them to play and drink in. The animal control officers of course DID know. The reason the woman never saw any feed in the two main pastures is because the horses are fed in their own stalls, each one is seen by a vet every single day.......and the volunteers do what is advised to return them to health. Volunteer horse trainers help retrain those who come in and are fed up and then the bad habits that more than likely got them abandoned show up. Mats to me are only to keep a place where the horses can eat without sand and dirt being in their feed. In some stables there is cement under the stalls, which is NOT good for the horses, and are necessary. IF they are necessary I think they need to be kept clean and leveled so any urine runs off immediately. However, that is not the reality. I have kept my horses at many boarding barns where I turned my horses out to run, and cleaned my own stalls, and bought my own mats..........and when I was through, I walked through and cleaned and leveled mats for others. I never told them, I never asked for pay...........I never criticized the barn managers or owners...........When I was in both International and National horse rescue, we spent our time HELPING barns and owners, not criticizing and we realized, the horse who lives in a shack behind the garage in a forever home is happier and better treated than those race and performance horses who often are beaten by underpaid, inhumanely treated stable hands and then dumped into the slaughter. Never forget, Ferdinand, the big love of the Derby ended up shoved in a truck, slaughtered and sold as sushi in another country. If we are going to help horses, help horses. 240 of them, our proud mustangs of America, while the government was "shutdown" were at taxpayer expense, loaded into those horrible slaughter trucks and driven hundreds, if not thousands of miles without food or water to be slaughtered. Our priorities need to be massive horse reform. For the amount paid to take those horses to slaughter, it would have paid for birth control for several YEARS for mustang mares and to geld the colts. In twenty years we would have no more mustangs, and that would be an end to their suffering. Sorry for the rant. But we need to spend our time helping horses, not criticizing those who try to help. Even buying hay for an owner on bad times is a horse LOVING duty, not just turning them in to animal control when their only choice is to sell them to slaughter.
    Log in to reply.
    1. MReynolds
      MReynolds
      Thanks for your remarks -- it's good that people have ongoing conversations about this issue. There are always going to be as many controversial opinions as there are different people when horses are involved.
      Log in to reply.

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