The most common horse stall bedding materials are straw and shavings. Depending on what's available in your area, there may be other options you can consider. These are only a few of the many bedding options available.
Clean straw is preferred for mares and very young foals. Some horses will eat straw bedding-a problem if you are trying to keep your horse on a diet. Oat straw is more absorbent than wheat straw, but it is also tastier. Any straw you use should be dust and mold-free. Saturated straw is heavy to clean out, and it is difficult to separate the manure from the clean bedding, which can slow down cleaning. Two bales should bed a box stall adequately. You might want to add extra during cold weather or in anticipation of foaling.
Shavings are very popular and can be delivered by truck or purchased by the bag at feed stores. A special manure fork is needed to pick manure out of the shavings without removing too much of the bedding. Check for wood splinters as you spread the bedding. Softwood shavings are preferable, and black walnut shavings can cause severe problems. If you are buying shavings from a nearby woodworker or lumber mill, be sure to ask what type of shavings you are buying. About four inches of bedding in a stall makes it comfortable. If you are using stall mats, you can use less.
Sawdust can be used. Again be sure you know what type of wood the sawdust is from. This isn't the best choice for horses with respiratory problems such as COPD, as it does tend to be dusty until it settles.
Wood pellets are compacted and dehydrated wood shavings. Many people find cleaning stalls with wood pellets, which break down into fluffy, absorbent wood shavings, easier with less wasted bedding. The cost may be initially more expensive than wood shavings, but because there is a lot less waste, you may find that the cost is balanced out. The pellets look hard and uncomfortable, but a sprinkle with the water hose expands them into fluffy bedding.
Shredded paper can be obtained in some areas. If your horse eats its bedding, this might be a good choice. It isn't dusty, but you might have a problem with skin allergies to the inks. Paper is very absorbent, so it will wick away moisture readily. It also biodegrades quickly, allowing your manure pile to shrink when it dries out and breaks down.
Peat moss can be bought at co-ops and garden centers. Peat moss is sometimes used as a base underneath other types of bedding. When it is dry, peat moss can be quite dusty, and if it dries out too much, it is hard to get it to wick up moisture again. Use caution with horses with respiratory problems.
Hemp is becoming more popular. Hemp bedding may be available in some areas. Suppliers claim that it is more non-allergenic, biodegradable, and overall less dusty than traditional beddings, improving stable conditions and protecting the respiratory systems of horses and owners. They also claim higher absorbency, quicker decomposition, and better odor absorption. Those living in colder climates may appreciate hemp's higher thermal rating, keeping horses warmer while they sleep.
Stall mats, although an added expense, can add to the comfort and safety of the flooring in a stall and save the quantity of bedding material you'd otherwise use. There are several types to choose from in a variety of price ranges.
You might be tempted to use old hay for bedding. Horses will eat even spoiled hay that may give off mold dust that can result in lung damage. Hay starts to ferment quickly when wetted resulting in odor. It is difficult to clean. Hay is also more expensive than straw or other beddings. Hay for bedding is not a good idea.