Horse stall mats are becoming increasingly popular, due to the advantages they provide over other stall floor surfaces:
- Yielding. The traditional concrete floor is very hard. Unless you provide a thick layer of bedding, this hardness can stress joints, possibly injure feet, and cause sore points where the horse lays down to rest or sleep. Mats provide a softer and more yielding surface which is more comfortable for horses and less likely to result in impact stress injuries.
- Warmth. The materials used to make horse stall mats are naturally insulating. This is both more comfortable and healthier for horses, especially in winter.
- Traction. Concrete and wooden floors can be slippery when wet; mats provide better traction and reduce this risk to horses.
- Smooth. Many mats have a smooth surface, which is much easier to clean than concrete or wood surfaces.
- Sterilization. Stall mats can be easily sterilized with a disinfectant, which is difficult with absorbent surfaces such as wood or earth. Especially in the case of a horse contraction a contagious disease, the ability to sterilize the stall floor is important.
- Drainage. Unlike concrete, mats allow urine to drain off. Usually this happens at the joints between mats, although a few types of mats allow the urine to drain through the mat itself.
- Bedding. Many owners find that less bedding is required with stall mats, partly because the mats perform the function of bedding (insulation, soft and comfortable surface, shock absorption, traction) and partly because the ability to drain off urine means that less bedding is soiled. This saves not only on bedding costs, but also in terms of the time and money associated with stall cleaning.
A mat floor can be laid on top of any hard, non-moving surface such as concrete, asphalt and wooden floors. As such, mats are more a floor covering, rather than a stand-alone floor. Some mats (the thicker and stronger ones) can also be laid on compacted stone, provided that that stones do not exceed a certain size (large stones can cause bumps or even tears in the mats). Soft surfaces, such as earth or sand, are unsuitable as they can move under the mats, resulting in depressions in the mats. Eventually, this can lead to separations between the mats or even tearing of the mats.
Stall mats vary in types, quality and performance characteristics. Consequently, selecting a stall mat for individual requirements requires consideration of a number of factors. The important differences between various stall mats are in terms of:
- Material. The most commonly used material is rubber, although there are different types and qualities of rubber used (largely dependent on manufacturer). There are also non-rubber mats, made out of high-tech materials such as EVA. High quality rubber tends to be more expensive, but is more durable. High-tech materials such as EVA tend to have somewhat different performance characteristics (e.g. more shock absorbent) and tend to be lighter for a given size.
- Size. Mats usually vary in size from about 30cm square (a square foot) to about 2 square meters (3 square yards). However, we have seen mats up to 12 feet by 12 feet (almost 4 meters by 4 meters), designed to cover an entire stall with a single piece (which weighs 600 pounds or almost 300kg). Large mats are heavier (the bigger ones weight 100 Kg. or 200 pounds each) which make placement more difficult. However, their weight and size is an advantage in that it makes them less likely to move once put in place and also less likely for edges or corners to curl up. Smaller mats are easier to work with. In the event of a tear or other damage, it is cheaper to replace a small mat than a large one.
- Thickness. The thickness varies from about 1 centimeter to over 2 centimeters. Thicker mats have 4 advantages: tend to be more durable, are less likely for the edges to curl, less likely for the mats to move, thickness is usually an indication of quality. However, as thickness increases, so do both price and weight.
- Weight. The weight depends on the type of material (EVA is much lighter then rubber) and the thickness of the mat. Heavy mats are more likely to stay in place, whereas lighter mats are convenient if you are often travelling with your horse (e.g. between horse shows and competitions) and like to take a portable mat with you. One of the advantages of a mat made from EVA instead of rubber is that it weighs only about a quarter as much as rubber, so is more suitable if you need to move it often.
- Interlocking. Some mats interlock, while others have straight edges and rely simply on their weight to hold them in place. All else being the same (size, weight, thickness), the interlocking mats stay in place better and are far less likely for edges to lift. Some mats are designer to lock and unlock easily (for easy transport if you move locations with your horse often) while others are designed to lock firmly in place (making transport more difficult, but providing better performance in static installations).
- Quality. Like any product, quality varies. A long guarantee (5 to 10 years) is an indication of quality. Thicker mats are usually of better quality than thin ones. Given 2 rubber mats of the same size, if one is substantially heavier it is probably of better quality (the lighter one is probably not pure rubber, but instead rubber mixed with inferior and lighter materials). None of these is an absolute mark of quality, but usually they are good indications. It is also worth checking if the manufacturer has a reputation for producing quality products. Also ask if the rubber has be revulcanized (which is good) or if the rubber has been bound with urethane glue (lower quality).
- Permeable. The mats should not be permeable, which is to say that urine should not be able to enter the surface of the mat. If the materials or production methods are of low quality, the mats may be partly permeable, resulting in urine entering the mat and producing odours.
- Porous. Some mats are porous, allowing urine to grain through. However, the majority are not porous, although urine can drain through the joins where the mats meet. With smaller mats, there are more joins, so the urine tends to run through more. This can either be an advantage or a disadvantage (see discussion below).
- Flat, grooved or footed bottom. Many mats have flat bottoms. With flat bottoms, any urine that gets under the mats (for example, draining through at the joints between mats) can be trapped there. If you have a permeable surface under the mats (e.g. compacted stone) this may not be an issue, but if you have a non-permeable surface (e.g. concrete) under the mats, you do not want to have trapped urine releasing ammonia and odours. With groves or feet, such urine may be able to drain off (whether this happens in practice will depend on factors such as the slope of the underlying surface and whether there are dips in the underlying surface).
- Portable. Some mats are designer to be portable, others are not. Factors to evaluate when considering portability include: weight, size, ability to roll up. If they are interlocking, check that they can be locked and unlocked easily and without special tools.
- Reversible. Some stall mats have a top side and a bottom side, while others can be reversed (flipped over). The advantage of the latter is that when one side shows wear, you can flip them over to extent the lifespan.
- Flat or textured top. Some mats have a flat and smooth top, while others have a textured top. Smooth tops are easier to clean (the groves or bumps on textured mats tend to trap dirt), while textured tops provide horses with better traction. Some people buy mats with a grooved bottom and then flip them over so that the grooved side is up; this is particularly done for high-traffic areas such as corridors or washing areas (where the water and soap would otherwise produce a slippery surface).
- Cut to fit. Stall mats come in a great variety of sizes. However, to get a close fit, you may need to cut the mats. In this case, before buying the mats, check that they are designed to allow this.
- Price. Prices vary, but as a rough indication look at 20-40 euros per square meter.
For photos of different types (interlocking, textured), see horse floor mats.
If the urine drains through the mats rather than resting on top of them, the amount of bedding which is soiled is greatly reduced. This reduces the amount of time required to clean the stall, reduces the amount of replacement bedding required, and reduces the amount of storage space required for soiled bedding.
Although all of these are important benefits, one must consider what happens to the urine after it has drained through the mats. If the surface underneath has good drainage (e.g. thick layer of crushed stone), then the urine can drain off. However, if the surface underneath is impermeable (e.g. concrete), then the urine simply builds up under the mats, where it can release ammonia into the air (which is unhealthy for horses stabled there, in particular for their lungs) and produce unpleasant smells. Although one could from time to time lift up the mats and clean underneath them, the fact remains the cleaning urine under the mats is more difficult than cleaning urine on top of them.
Consequently, depending on the underlying floor surface you may prefer that urine drains through, or you may prefer that it does not. Depending on your preference, you should chose mats accordingly: small mats drain more than larges ones (joins are closer together and there are more of them), straight edge mats drain more than interlocking, porous mats drain more than non-porous.
If you decide to use mats that easily allow urine to drain through, you should consider the following:
- Choose a mat with grooved or footed bottoms, so that the urine can flow off rather than being trapped.
- Try to have a floor with good drainage. If this is not possible, allow the urine to run off by using a floor which is flat (no dips where urine can pool), smooth (so that liquids run easily) and with a slant so that liquids run off.
- Consider choosing mats whose design and weight allow them to be easily lifted out, permitting periodical washing down of the floor underneath.
A stall with rubber mats is cleaned out in much the same way (hay fork and/or shovel) as any other stall. Many people also periodically use a water hose to wash them down periodically. If the mats have feet or groves underneath, this can also help to flush out urine that has drained through between the joints (see above discussion about drainage).
One can also use a pressure jet. While this is very effective, be careful not to hold the pressure jet immediately against the mat surface as this may damage the mat (your pressure jet manual should state the minimum distance to hold the pressure jet away from surfaces being cleaned).
If your mat must be absolutely clean, other cleaning tools that may be useful are a scrub brush, soap and disinfectant. Before using any chemical product on your mat, just the instructions provided with your mat to make sure that the chemical will not harm it.