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Absorbent Bedding

16 August 2011 No Comment

Absorbent Bedding
We asked horse training expert Dr. Jessica Jahiel, whose teaching goal is to develop balanced, willing, forward horses and thoughtful riders. More about Dr.Jahiel

Dear Jessica,
I am just about to move my two horses home now our little barn is completed, and I will be buying my own bedding. Where I boarded the horses before, we used sawdust and sometimes bags of rice hulls when the sawdust ran out. For my birthday, my husband is building me a storage building for the bedding and the hay so that they won’t be in the barn with the horses.
I heard you once say that it was better to use medium absorbent bedding, and not to use the most absorbent bedding. Did I write it down correctly? If I did, then why did you say that? Wouldn’t the most absorbent bedding be the best bedding? I’m confused. If I use the most absorbent bedding, would I still need to buy stall mats or could I use less bedding if I bought the mats?

Hi Coral!
Anybody who has ever used peat moss for bedding will understand why the most absorbent bedding isn’t necessarily the best bedding.
Of course you want your horse’s bedding to be absorbent, but not totally absorbent. Think of how a stall works. Mats – and, come to that, the stall flooring itself – aren’t there to keep the urine from reaching the floor.
They are there to keep the surface smooth, flat, and relatively easy to clean and maintain. Some of the urine should be taken up by the bedding, but not all of it, much should go THROUGH the bedding and into the stall floor, where it will drain away through the gravel, roadpack, chippings, or whatever draining material has been used as a sub-base and base.
If you use a bedding with moderate absorbency, a little of the liquid will be absorbed by it, but most will reach the stall floor and then drain away into the ground AS IT SHOULD. If you use a bedding with maximum absorbency, and all of the liquid is absorbed by the bedding before it reaches the stall floor, then the urine will never have a chance to drain at all. Instead, it will turn the bedding into a nasty, stinky, soggy, HEAVY mess.
Peat moss, for instance, although dusty, is an extremely absorbent bedding, but it’s just that quality that makes it awkward to use in many stalls. Soaked peat moss is incredibly heavy, like really wet sand, and just about impossible to lift with a shovel. Fine sawdust presents many of the same problems; it creates even more dust, and is very difficult to move when it’s soaked.
So go ahead and use a bedding of moderate absorbency over the stall mats, and enjoy the wonderful experience of keeping your horse at home. You’re lucky to have a separate structure for hay and bedding – and a husband who understands exactly what kind of birthday gift will mean the most to you.

Sincerely, Jessica

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