An interesting study was recently published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science concerning the behavior of horses as it relates to the bedding materials used in the stalls. A recent report out of Germany indicates most riding horses in that country are housed in single stalls and are in these stalls sometimes all but 1 hour per day. Consequently, the stall environment has a lot to do with their behavior. Stall bedding is used to absorb excrement, protect from mechanical insult, cushion the horse's legs against concussion and improve traction. Horses favor lying down in areas with bedding as compared to areas without it, and a dry and soft floor seems to have a positive effect on horse welfare. Bedding material also has a positive effect on noxious gases, dusts, and air quality in the stable and inadequate bedding can lead to hoof problems such as thrush.
To determine the effect of stall bedding on horse behavior, this study out of Germany used dust-free wood shavings, wheat straw, and wheat straw pellets. Each material was used for 2 weeks and results indicated that the horses spent more time lying down when the stall was bedded with wheat straw than shavings or straw pellets. Horses in the wild are occupied with finding food 60% of the time and horses in stalls do not have anything to occupy their time. Providing horses with bedding that helps to occupy them can decrease the chance of abnormal behaviors that sometimes develop in stalled horses and wheat straw was the best at occupying horses at least in this study. One concern with straw bedding is you need to make sure horses will not eat the straw as this could cause colic.