The type and amount of bedding you use for horses affects more than just how long it takes you to clean his stall. Bedding adds cushion to the floor of your horse’s living space, absorbs moisture, and helps control odours that could harm your horse’s respiratory health.

Bedding depth also influences resting behaviours. [1] Good bedding materials provide enough cushion for horses to lie down and are easy for care staff to keep clean.

Different materials have unique advantages and disadvantages. Selecting the best bedding for your horse will depend on budget, housing situation, health needs, and the available materials in your location.

This article will discuss the benefits of bedding and review common types of bedding materials used for horses.

Why Do Horses Need Bedding?

Investing in your horse’s stall bedding is just as important as maintaining the footing in your riding arena or pastures. Horses that live in stalls often spend more time standing on bedding than any other footing material.

Bedding sheltered areas can also benefit horses that live outside. One study found that access to large areas of soft surfaces increased lying behaviour in group living horses. [2]

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Benefits of Bedding

The primary purpose of bedding is to absorb moisture and odours from manure and urine. Horses living in confined areas must stand, lay, and eat near their waste. [3]

Regular stall cleaning and appropriate bedding limit the adverse effects of excess moisture and odour from waste on your horse’s hooves and respiratory health.

Bedding also provides a cushion between the horse and hard stall floors. A soft surface reduces fatigue on the limb and encourages resting behaviours. [2][4]

Hoof Health

Standing in moisture or manure can increase the risk of thrush.  Regularly cleaning your horse’s stall and replacing soiled bedding with clean bedding inhibits the growth of bacteria responsible for thrush and other hoof issues. [5]

Excess moisture also directly impacts hoof strength. Water can alter the structure of keratin – the main protein in the hoof wall. Water will impact the hoof’s structural integrity, stiffness, and shock-absorbing capabilities. [6]

The hoof is naturally porous and will absorb moisture from the environment. Dry, clean bedding can help dry out the foot in humid climates to prevent excess water from compromising the hoof wall. [6]

Respiratory Health

Horses excrete urea in their urine and feces. Once outside the body, urea can rapidly convert to ammonia – the chemical responsible for the intense, burning odour in dirty stalls. [3]

Ammonia irritates the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, which can contribute to inflammatory airway disease or recurrent airway obstruction. Proper bedding helps absorb ammonia and reduces airway irritation. [7]

Certain bedding materials increase particulate matter in the air. Horses housed inside buildings without proper ventilation can develop respiratory health problems due to air contamination. [8]

Low-dust bedding materials are recommended to improve air quality in barns and reduce the risk of respiratory issues. [8]

Sleep Behavior

While horses can sleep standing up, they can only enter REM sleep while lying down. Horses that don’t spend enough time lying down for adequate REM sleep can suffer from sleep deprivation. [9]

Research suggests that bedding material and depth significantly affect the time horses spend lying down. One study found lying behaviour in horses depended on the availability of soft surfaces. [2]

Several studies report that straw bedding has the most substantial positive impact on horse sleep behaviours. [10] However, increasing the depth of any bedding material can also encourage horses to lie down more. [1]

How Much Bedding Do Horses Need?

Horses produce up to 50 pounds of manure per day. When kept in stalls, horses usually need about 8 to 15 pounds of fresh bedding per day to replace soiled material removed with waste. [11]

Depending on the stall floor and chosen material, bedding that is at least 4 inches deep should provide enough cushion for most horses. However, deeper bedding may offer more benefits if your budget and schedule allow it. [1]

Soft rubber stall mats can increase cushioning and decrease the bedding depth needed to keep horses comfortable. If your horse has rubs on his hocks or pasterns from lying down, he likely needs more bedding in his stall.

Welfare laws in some countries require owners to offer horses a minimum surface area of bedding based on their body weight.

A 12′ x 12′ stall provides adequate room for the average horse to lie down, but studies report more lying behaviour when horses have access to larger bedded areas. [2]

Evaluating Bedding Material

Selecting the best bedding material for your horses depends on several factors. These include:


Bedding should never contain foreign objects or toxic materials. Some hardwoods, such as black walnut, are toxic to horses when ingested. Other materials, such as cedar shavings, can cause adverse reactions in some horses. The oils in cedar can cause local reactions in the skin. [21]


Horses are more likely to ingest certain bedding materials, such as straw bedding. This may improve certain behavioural issues by reducing boredom and encouraging foraging behaviour. However, ingestion of straw could cause digestive issues for some horses, including impaction colic. [19]

Sand is not suitable as bedding because it can lead to sand colic when ingested. [12]


Absorbing urine and moisture is the primary purpose of bedding. More absorbent materials will lower ammonia levels and reduce the amount of bedding used daily.

Pelleted bedding is usually the most absorbent. [13]


Some horse owners dispose of manure by composting the final product on their property. Smaller pieces of bedding are more compostable. [14]


The bedding material has to be readily available in your area for horse owners to use it. Wood shavings are usually only available in areas near sawmills, and some forms of bedding are only seasonally available.


Different bedding materials are stored loose, bagged, or baled. Loose materials take up more storage space but are usually less expensive than bagged bedding.


Finely processed bedding, such as sawdust, can lower air quality. Breathing in fine particles is unhealthy for both horses and humans. Horses with respiratory conditions such as asthma need low-dust bedding materials. [7]


Cleaning stalls is labour-intensive. Bedding material that makes picking manure easy saves time and bedding, which can save money. For example, stalls with straw bedding are harder to clean out than those with sawdust or wood pellets. [22]


Some alternative bedding materials offer better cushioning and dust control, but the cost can impact their practicality.

Common Equine Bedding Materials

There are several types of bedding available for horses. Popular options include straw, wood shavings, sawdust, wood pellets, shredded paper, and peat moss.

These materials each have pros and cons that horse owners should consider before selecting which bedding is best for their horses.


Straw is the plant stalk harvested from cereal grains such as wheat, barley, oat, and rye. The stalks are cut, dried, and baled like hay. But unlike hay, this bedding material has no leaves or seed heads.

Because straw is a plant crop, it is more susceptible to mould and dustier than other products. Straw is not recommended for horses with respiratory problems.

Straw can also be an inconsistent product depending on the weather conditions when it was harvested. Some commercial brands of low-dust straw are processed to improve consistency and cleanliness.

Compared to other equine bedding materials, straw is not very absorbent. Horse owners must use a large volume of straw for bedding stalls, which increases labour costs, time and waste. It can also be expensive to import if you live in