If you are fortunate enough to be building your stable or barn from scratch, then one of the first considerations is what type of flooring to use.
Would your stable perform better with the use of a porous base – one that allows moisture to be absorbed from above and directed to the ground below or an impervious base which retains any wetness on the top of the surface.
On the face of it, this sounds like an obvious choice, clearly something which takes the wet away from the stable floor is preferable. However, it is not so simple. Porous floors are not just one way so they will also absorb any groundwater from beneath the stable or barn.
For this reason, these types of floors need an underlying foundation of sand or gravel to allow any liquid to drain into the ground below and prevent water from below pooling and coming up through the base.
Impervious flooring will hold any water or urine on the surface so thought needs to be given about how to direct these fluids out and away from the stable. This generally means the installation of a drainage channel leading out into the yard beyond or the use of highly absorbent bedding.
You will still need to be a few inches of sand or fine gravel underneath to ensure flooring stability and the drainage of subsurface water.
Common Types of Horse Stable & Barn Floorings
Older style stables seen in historic houses and stately homes often use grooved stable bricks and a slightly sloped floor to the rear of the stable where a drainage channel is located.
Whilst the intricately patterned floors look like a work of art, in reality, they aren’t very practical. The channel frequently gets blocked and the grid placed over central drainage holes often gets dislodged by the horsey inhabitant causing injury.
To combat the problems associated with the brick style of flooring, it has become increasingly popular to lay a base of concrete to stables and barns. This doesn’t completely solve the drainage problem as concrete is a cold material that absorbs urine and therefore never really dries.
On the plus side, it is durable, easy to clean, and hard to damage. Textured concrete ensures the surface doesn’t become slippery and it is relatively inexpensive to install.
More recently solid rubber mats have been added to stalls as a cover for many types of flooring.
A rubber matting layer can remedy the issues of coldness, excessive wet and wasted bedding associated with concrete and can also be used to cover up unevenness, hardness or slipperiness of the exist flooring.
So if you are committed to using concrete due to cost or the unsuitability of the existing soil then rubber matting is a good compromise.
A word of caution though, if mats are not secured adequately either with a sealant or with interlocking tiles they can move, bedding can then work its way between the gaps causing unevenness and trapping debris beneath it and the floor leading to a build-up of bacteria and odour.
An alternative to concrete, although not widely used, is asphalt. This is a mixture of aggregate stone and sand held together with tar. Loose weave asphalt laid onto small pebbles over rubble works well. It is warm and urine drains away through the layers.
It is essential, however, that the top asphalt layer is coarse and smoothed level not tamped down. Otherwise, it will clog together and render the drainage properties non-existent.
Asphalt is relatively expensive but is long-wearing although probably not as durable as concrete. It is considered to be less hard and cold but care needs to be taken to ensure surface irregularities don’t trap urine.
Soil, Sand, or Clay
In contrast, there are a variety of natural, porous floorings (earth, clay, chalk or sand) to choose from all of which can work well in terms of allowing urine and water to drain straight through and leaving the existing soil in place can be an inexpensive option for those on a limited construction budget.
Any short term saving does, however, need to be weighed against the longer-term maintenance required to ensure the surface is kept level and free from any holes or hollows and the periodic need for topping up the soil as inevitably some will be lost in the day to day mucking out process.
Floors of hard-packed earth, clay or sand with a base of rubble are much less likely to cause injuries than brick or concrete and have greater insulating properties. If sand is your flooring of choice then consideration must be given to the potential for sand colic if you routinely feed your horses from the floor.
Crushed limestone can be comfortable and safe but it must be well packed and level. It is best laid over several inches of sand and monitored to ensure it doesn’t compact too much and become almost concrete-like in hardness.
PE Foam Flooring
If money is no object then you might consider laminated PE foam flooring as used in some veterinary hospitals.
This type of flooring has excellent insulating properties against both the cold and the heat; it is waterproof and acts as an impermeable barrier preventing fluids seeping through to the subfloor.
It is also extremely kind to the horses’ joints with a cushioning effect demonstrated by the momentary hoof prints visible as the horse walks over it.
Other Stall Flooring Considerations
If you have limited turn out or your horse needs to stand in the stable for long periods of time the hardness of the flooring can have an impact on the health of their legs. In this case, you may be better choosing a natural flooring or adding rubber matting to a concrete floor.
It is worth bearing in mind though that some tests have shown that rubber matting is actually only 3% softer than concrete flooring, particularly in cold weather.
Maintenance and upkeep of some types of flooring are easier than others and the type of flooring suitable for your stalls may be dependent on the existing natural soil, what materials you have available and the budget you are working with both in the short term for construction and in the long term for maintenance.
Once you have decided on your ideal flooring base, read our guide on the most suitable horse bedding for you and your horse. But that’s perhaps a topic for another day!