We have a smallish riding school just outside Rawsonville in the Cape Winelands. Currently we don't have stables; it is so hot, I'm sure the horses dont mind to stand outside. We are planning our stables now; we want them to be ready before winter hits. At my previous premises we had cement floors and covered it with sawdust. The problem is that is takes very long to clean it out properly and the availability of the actual sawdust. I want to know if there is an alternative to have a cement floor in my stables. Dr Marianne Thompson (well known breeder), who lives close by says that the hard floor is not that good for the joints. Can I keep the ground floor? Maybe the use of sand? I don't really know. I want whats best for my horses but obviously I cant afford to spend too much money. I know in many European countries they use rubber mats, but I can imagine that being a bit expensive. Please can you help.
The question of flooring/bedding is a very personal choice, and of course depends very much on what is available in your area. When using cement flooring, bedding becomes very important because it is very bad for the horse to lie down on the hard floor - they end up with capped hocks, capped elbows and stiff sore muscles if they are left on a hard floor. Some horses will refuse to lie down and sleep on an uncomfortable floor and that leads to all sorts of other problems! As a rule, I always walk through the yard early in the morning - if the floor is peeking through through the bedding, it is not thick enough. That rule applies to whatever bedding you decide to use on your cement floor.
A very good option is to leave your floors bare, making sure they are level, well-compacted and free of rocks, etc and to cover that with a very thick layer of riversand. The costs of the riversand are quite a bit more than just laying the cement floor, but the advantage is that the sand only needs topping up once or twice per year (depending on how well you look after it!). The horses find it very comfortable, and it is very good for a horse or pony recovering from laminitis. A good tip here is to drop the floor slightly, so that you do not lose as much sand when the horse goes in and out or when it rains or the wind blows, etc. The biggest problem with this type of natural floor is that it is very difficult to disinfect and keep very germ-free. This is very important to remember when using the stables for mares to foal down in! Also, should it rain a lot, water will start to seep up into the stables and bedding - a big problem if you are using shavings! You could do a bit of preparation of the surface first, adding a drainage layer, etc, but this will also push up the price of your setup! If you require more detail on how to prepare your flooring to prevent water becoming a problem, let me know! Cleaning this type of floor is quick- a strong shavings fork to pick out droppings, and a turn over with a garden fork to loosen the sand - which should be wet a little with water first to keep dust levels down. Do note that natural floors tend to hold a lot more urine, and can smell very strongly of ammonia after a while, which also attracts more flies.
You are correct in assuming that rubber flooring can become very expensive. You will still need some kind bedding, like shavings, although you will be able to use less. A rubber floor is easier to keep disinfected and clean. Fitting the floor correctly is very important, as an incorrectly fitted floor will loosen and start to pull up and become a mess very quickly. In the States, we had rubber flooring, which we covered with a bedding made from ground egg-boxes, which worked beautifully, as well as being super quick to muck out - 2 people mucked out the entire barn of about 30 horses in about 20 minutes! I have not encountered this type of bedding here in SA, but even shavings would probably have been this quick to clean.
What I would suggest is that if you keep your natural floors (well compacted), and add a layer of coarse, clean sand (like washed riversand) to it, depending on the cost in your area. Do not use a fine sand (like plaster sand) because it is very dusty, and gets the horses really dirty, plus it compacts very quickly. Keep your first layer as thick as you can, because it will compact a little as the horses stand and lie down on it. This will also mean that you can go a little longer before topping up. Using a shavings fork to pick up droppings means that you will lose less sand when mucking out. When using sand as a bedding, it is very important that horses are not fed from the ground as they can develop sand colic. I like to build in teff and concentrate feding troughs which works very well and there is not waste at all. Just make sure that your stable is slightly bigger to accomodate the extra structures.
Whatever you decide to do, your floors should have the following characteristics:
- must be easy on your horse`s legs - have some `spring` to it
- must be dry
- must not retain odors (or as little as possible)
- must be non-slip
- must be durable (esp around the door, where horses will stand or paw)
- low maintenance
- must be easy to clean (which is why I will only ever use straw bedding in a medical situation, like foaling down or with open wounds)
- must be obtainable and affordable
A great tip in the hot weather is to purchase a few ceiling fans and install them in your stables - only if you can get them high enough or if you have a barn type setup, put them down the walkway. This keeps the stables cool and fly free and of course makes a great place for you to hide out on a hot afternoon! It REALLY makes a huge difference. It also helps when your ventilation is not as good as it could be. In very hot weather my horses actually preferred coming in during the heat of day to stand under the fans and munch teff!
Please let me know if you need any more assistance - I would be delighted to help you with more information should you require it. There are so many factors to take into consideration when building a stable complex, I could go on for pages and pages!