Whichever type material or combination of materials used it is a poor policy to skimp on the bedding as this can lead to capped elbow and hock injuries.


There are three types of straw available to the horse owner i.e. wheat, barley and oat. By far the most suitable is wheat, being harder and shorter and less palatable than the other two. Barley and oat straw can, if eaten, ball-up in the gut and cause colic.

A straw bed must be thick enough at the base to avoid displacement and banked up on the sides as a precaution against casting. Straw beds are warm and comfortable and provided that they are clean will encourage the animal to stale and to lie down. They are less harmful to the horse's feet, easier to "muck out" and the spoiled straw can be disposed of via the dung pile or by burning.

On dry, sunny days, comparatively unsoiled straw can be dried outside and returned to the box. Obviously there are many plus points to using straw, grooming the animal can be much easier than when bedded on shavings. But the minus can be

  1. Large areas needed for storage
  2. More dust content, even in clean straw which can cause respiratory problems e.g. COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
  3. Availability and price governed by the weather and subsequent harvest.

In recent years shavings have become more popular as they can be stored outside, as long as the plastic bag containers are not perforated, and in a year of poor straw harvest can be a cheaper alternative. A bed of shavings is warm and absorbent. It is relatively easy to "muck out" with a hand shovel and bucket. However, a thin bed of shavings is not comfortable and can result in the before mentioned injuries. Disposal of shavings can be a major problem especially in wet winter months when it can be difficult to burn and your local farmer will not be interested in removing your dung pile. Removing shavings from your horse's mane and tail can take considerable time in the morning.

Sawdust is much finer and consequently more dusty than shavings. It is warm and clean but if left down too long can become hot and maggoty. More care should be taken with the horse's feet, as it is prone to pack and cause problems.

As with shavings, newspaper can be used as an alternative to straw for an animal with respiratory problems. Its real drawbacks are that very wet newspaper is cold and disposal is awkward.

A peat bed is easy to "muck out" and a healthier alternative as the urine and ammonia gases are absorbed. Horses kept on peat must have their hooves regularly picked out to prevent balling and possible frog rot due to the absorbent quality of the peat. Initially, peat is expensive to lay as it must be 6" deep. Once established, it is economical and comfortable. As soon as the bed begins to wear thin and becomes congested it should be cleaned out and renewed. Peat moss is an excellent addition to the dung pile but if deciding on this type of bedding you might like to consider the rapid depletion of the Peat bogs!

The obvious advantage of a deep bed is that it is labour saving, that is until the floor increases to such a height that the whole lot must be cleaned out, a hard day's work!

A thick layer of peat is put down first, at least 6", followed by a generous amount of straw. Of course, the base layer could be straw or shavings but I would not recommend sawdust for previously mentioned reasons. Apart from frequent removal of droppings and topping up, daily "mucking out" is not necessary. This type of bedding is warm and will encourage the horse to lie down more often and is ideal for the owner who has a limited amount of time.


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