by Nikki Alvin-Smith
There are a myriad of options to consider for stable floor materials and the finished stall surface layer. The decision of what to choose is an important one not just to keep a barn building budget on track. The floor selected will impact the physical condition of the horses’ legs, hooves and overall joint health.
Additional factors impacted by the floor that is selected include the level of safety for both the horses and humans that use it especially if it is impervious/hard or becomes slippery when wet. Other considerations in making the choice is the ease of manure and urine removal and the expense of bedding supplies that will be needed.
A durable, level stable floor that stays moisture free and offers comfort and ease of use is more than just skin deep. A floor is only as good as the support beneath it. Appropriate drainage is an essential component to mitigate undermining the floor due to water damage rising beneath it or being discharged above or over it. if the end result is to stand the test of time, use and abuse, a stable floor’s structural integrity needs to be added in layer. It’s construction is something best planned for well in advance of the finished barn build.
While renovating a barn floor is always possible, using forms for concrete pours, hand levelling or use of a small compactor to mash down gravel or stone dust layers, it is much less arduous to fulfil the structural needs underneath the stable and aisleway floor before building the barn.
Aesthetics and Availability
Horse folks have individual preferences on how they want the finished floor to look. But choice will likely also be guided by finances and the local availability of materials.
All aspects of a horse facility build (whether big or small) should be constructed with a safety-first approach. The floor should offer good traction to the horse for laying down and standing back up, not become slippery when wet, and offer protection from dampness.
Cheap and Cheerful
Porous floors such as topsoil, sand or clay, offer the cheapest option for stable floors. Compaction of the subsoil with 4” gravel added, a thin 2” layer of sand and then 4” of porous stall material may suffice in theory. In reality such a floor will be hard to muck out, will retain odors from manure and urine, and may become potholed over time.
All these types of floors will require regular maintenance and replacement due to wear and tear.
Sand floors will dry hooves, pose a colic risk if horses are fed off the ground and the sand will mix with bedding materials making the stall hard to muck out properly.
Clay floors should be installed with a slight slope toward an alley channel at the back of the stall, to encourage drainage and reduce the potholing that can occur due to wet spots reducing compaction of the clay. Clay floors can become very hard if too dry and if compacted too tightly. A clay floor can also become slippery when wet.
A blend of natural materials either specifically designed or purchased as ‘road mix’ or a crushed limestone mix can provide an inexpensive solution for the budget driven barn building project. If a road mix is purchased try to locate a product that does not have large stones or rocks as components.
Build the layers of the floor to encourage good drainage. A suggestion of a medium compaction of 5” thick layer of road base mix over a 7” small gravel or sand base works well.
To prevent horse’s digging up the floor and for additional equine comfort consider adding a layer of rubber mats or a plastic/rubber grid floor on the surface. Interlocking units will mitigate the ‘walking’ of mats and help prevent uneven seams.
Are Asphalt Floors the Answer?
Asphalt pours are also an option for finishing a stable floor and aisleway as long as their surface is not finished by smooth rolling but is instead raked. If the floor is unsealed it will offer some porosity especially if it is composed with a slight sand/small stone component.
Bear in mind the larger the stone or aggregate size the more traction the floor will have, but too big and it won’t be comfortable for the horse. Thus, the use of rubber mats over an asphalt floor is recommended for stall use.
Concrete and Concrete Finishes
Concrete floors are obviously impervious and so need some drainage and slight grade to the drain in order to remove water. Concrete can become cold and damp in colder climates but it does have a significant benefit in resisting wear and tear from horses or damage from pesky rodents.
The use of a smooth concrete surface as the final floor layer directly in contact with the horse should always be avoided as it will become slippery when wet. The necessity for adding rubber mats to provide comfort and safety for the horse can add significant cost to the building project. But this cost will be offset by saving on supplies that are otherwise required to deeply bed the stalls, with the bonus that the use of mats will mitigate the risk of injury and/or discomfort to the horse and improve his physical comfort and well-being.
Concrete is fairly expensive to install and will ideally have a good substructure beneath it to provide structural support as well as to help mitigate cracking. Provision of the right substructure will also help ensure it is level. Commonly concrete is poured over a gravel base layer.
A planked wood floor needs to be carefully constructed in order to provide decent drainage and to reduce the risk of rodent infestation beneath it. Wood is relatively comfortable for the horse as it is warm in winter and not too hard on the legs, but it can become slippery when wet. Hardwood is expensive to buy in most regions of the country, even in areas where suitable timber is available.
The huge variety of rubber pavers on the market offer plenty of creative license when it comes to the aesthetic appeal of a horse barn. Where they are placed in stalls they can offer drainage to the space but the substructure of the floor must be level and well compacted material. The sublayer may even be screened with fabric beneath, and sand filler added in the gaps to assuage any vegetative growth between the bricks.
A Word on Rubber Mats
The quality, durability and overall composition of rubber mats is highly variable. Review the manufacturers warranties and ensure that the surface of the mat is not smooth and that the base of the mat is ridged in some manner to afford drainage beneath the mat where they are seamed.
Compare apples to apples when shopping for rubber mats. There are various thicknesses and surface textures available, with different weights and quality of constituents. Also consider the ease of installation and the installation and delivery costs in your decision.
Horses wearing studs may damage the surface of rubber mats, and mucking out is best completed with plastic not metal forks as the latter can damage the mat if not used with due care.
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Feel free to contact Nikki Alvin-Smith for further information and high-res photos.
About Horizon Structures: One horse or twenty, there’s one thing all horse owners have in common…the need to provide safe and secure shelter for their equine partners. At Horizon Structures, we combine expert craftsmanship, top-of-the-line materials and smart “horse-friendly” design to create a full line of sheds and barns that any horse owner can feel confident is the right choice for their horses’ stabling needs.
All wood. Amish Made. Most of our buildings are shipped 100% pre-built and ready for same-day use. Larger barns are a modular construction and can be ready for your horses in less than a week. All our barn packages include everything you need –
Horizon Structures also sells chicken coops, equine hay feeders, greenhouses, dog kennels, 1 and 2 car garages, storage sheds and outdoor living structures and playsets.
Headquartered in South-Central Pennsylvania, Horizon Structures, LLC is owned by Dave Zook. Dave was raised in the Amish tradition and grew up working in the family-owned shed business. He started Horizon Structures in 2001 in response to an ever-increasing customer demand for high quality, affordable horse barns.
For additional information about the company or their product line, please visit their website at https://www.horizonstructures.com
Photos are available on request.
About Nikki Alvin-Smith:
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Grand Prix Dressage