Design Floors with Your Horse in Mind
by Jay Solomon, Extension Educator, Engineering Technology, University of Illinois
The design and construction of floors in horse stables is often begun with the owner's best interests in mind. But what's best for the owner is not necessarily what's best for the horse.
The characteristics of an ideal floor should be ranked in importance from the horse's interest to the handler's interest:
- Easy on the horse's legs--The floor must give to decrease strain on tendons and feet.
- Dry--Dry floors help maintain hoof health, although materials such as lime can over-dry hooves.
- Floors that don't retain odor--High levels of some gases such as ammonia at the floor level can damage the lining of a horse's throat and lungs.
- Good traction--A non-slippery surface will encourage the horse to lie down.
- Durable--Durability reduces maintenance costs.
- Low maintenance
- Easy to clean
One of the first considerations, when designing and planning your stable floor, comes before the stable is even built. If possible, avoid locating the stable in an area with a high water table, especially if fine soils (such as clay) are present. This will prevent or reduce damage to the floor due to frost action. Clay draws water by capillary action from a water table and the result can be saturated soil conditions under the building. When this water freezes, it could result in frost action such as heaving and haphazard settlement of the floor and building foundation.
There are several recommended steps to prevent frost damage to floors and foundation:
- Lower the water table with well-drained subsoil and/or perimeter tile drains with suitable outlets.
- Provide granular fill, which has low capillary conductivity, under the flooring to break the water's upward movement.
- Raise the building floor at least 12 inches above the surrounding grade to move it away from the water table.
The material used for stable floors can be porous or impermeable. The choice of material is often based on the floor's location in the stable. Porous floor materials (topsoil, clay, sand, road base mix, wood and grid mats) are most often used in stalls. Although the different materials offer different advantages, almost all porous material is easy on a horse's legs. Topsoil and clay are warm to lie on and provide a firm footing unless wet. Wood is also warm and rough wood has good traction.
On the negative side, most porous materials retain dampness and odor longer than is desirable and may be difficult to clean and disinfect.
Impermeable flooring material does not allow liquids to flow through it. The most common are concrete, asphalt or solid rubber mats. Impermeable floors are typically used in the alleys, wash areas, and the feed, tack and break rooms. Most impermeable material is durable (which translates to low maintenance) and easy to clean. Some materials, such as solid rubber mats, rubber paving bricks and artificial turf, are also easy on a horse's legs.
The major disadvantage of impermeable materials is that most require additional bedding for your horse's comfort if used in a stall. Also, some material can be slick when wet or worn and most of it is expensive.
Keep in mind the need to remove liquids quickly when designing and constructing your stable floor, Solomon said. Drainage and/or bedding absorption can be used to handle fluids. Many stalls function well using only careful bedding management for urine removal.
If drains are used, slope the floor slightly toward a drainage channel (noticeably sloped floors can strain a horse's tendons) and avoid using a drain in the middle of the stall, since it will get clogged with bedding.
For a more comprehensive discussion of floor design and construction, read the newly revised Horse Facilities Handbook, written and published by the MidWest Plan Service. The book is available for purchase at MidWest Plan Service, or by calling (800) 562-3618.
Click on the PDF file below for a printer friendly version of this article.