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:
- 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.
- 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.