Effects of Bedding on Horse Behavior

Researchers evaluated three different bedding materials to determine the effects of different types of bedding on horse behavior.
A horse stall with bedding in it.
Researchers noted that bedding stalls with straw and wood shavings provides superior comfort to horses over dirt. | Getty Images

Stabling horses in stalls involves choosing the type of bedding that works best for the horses and barn managers. Bedding should provide physical and thermal comfort for the horse, absorb moisture and feces, cushion the hard ground, and be easy for barn staff to clean. An Indian study examined the effects of different types of bedding on equine behavior [Mateen, AM.; Gouri, MD.; Patil, VM.; et al. Influence of different bedding materials on locomotor behavior of Thoroughbred horses housed in individual stalls. Indian J. Anim. Prod. Manage. 2023, vol. 37 (1), pp. 65 – 68].

The researchers evaluated the effects of three different bedding materials in 10 x 10 stalls: a) wheat straw; b) wood shavings (80% spruce/20% pine); and c) no bedding. Three groups of 10 horses each were included in the four-week study. Behaviors were recorded from 10 am – 12 pm and 5 pm – 7 pm. The observers noted behaviors such as body stretching, standing on three legs and resting the other for at least 5-10 minutes, kicking, walking the stall, scratching the belly with legs and lying down.

The straw bedding provided the most positive features for cushioning, comfort and availability of fiber if of edible quality. Horses with either straw or wood shavings bedding behaved similarly and demonstrated more locomotor behavior—stretching, kicking, lying down and scratching—compared to those without bedding. The authors reported that this indicates improved welfare is achieved when horses are bedded with straw or wood shavings than if bedded solely on dirt.

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