While farriers aren’t often asked by clients what to recommend for stall bedding, that doesn’t mean the impact that these materials have on hooves isn’t of great concern.

Like many issues in the horseshoeing world, there’s plenty of disagreement on the best choice for bedding materials.

Four Key Considerations

Jim and Nancy McCall maintain availability, cost, ease of cleaning and esthetic appeal are major considerations when choosing bedding materials.

While most people simply want a bedding material that is dry and absorbent, these equine educators and horse owners from Mt. Holly, Ark., recommend that owners know how bedding materials affect the amount of moisture found in the feet of horses. For instance, they believe bedding materials should not be used that absorb moisture from excrement or pull considerable moisture from the hoof which allows it to dry out.

They maintain the hoof wall needs at least 30 percent moisture for optimum health. Bedding materials which lower hoof moisture to less than 30 percent can cause a hoof to become hard and brittle which increases the possibility for cracks.

Keep It Clean

Potlatch, Idaho, farrier Trevor Thompson doesn’t recommend any specific type of bedding to clients. “I prefer they regularly clean their stalls to keep horses from getting thrush,” he says.

Where David Gordon has seen a spongy appearance in the hoof horn, the Belleville, Ill., shoer speculates this may be due to too much confinement or a lack of proper stall bedding maintenance.

Hamilton, Ohio, farrier Bob Peacock prefers to look at the larger issue of stall management. He sees a link between equine fungal infection and the condition of the stable.

“Traditional stall maintenance still stands the test of time,” Peacock says. “Airing out the stall without bedding for 24 hours, dusting it with hydrogenated lime or other disinfectants and piling it with clean, dry bedding is a good beginning.”

Results from the recently completed federal government’s National Equine Health Monitoring Survey indicate that only one-third of horse owners clean their stalls at least once per day. About half the owners clean stalls weekly or less often.

Picking up droppings and covering wet spots three or four times a day will guarantee a clean environment for your client’s horses. Daily grooming, which includes picking the feet, is part of good stable care, Peacock maintains.

“Horses need daily exercise,” he says. “Even a few hours a day in a large paddock will help stimulate blood circulation and hoof growth.”

Farriers and vets agree that using good bedding materials on a proper stall floor surface can help prevent excessive jarring of feet, legs and joints.

Here’s a quick rundown on eight bedding materials and their potential impact on hoof care.


“The only bedding materials I really dislike are hardwood shavings,” says Poolesville, Md., farrier Ray Carter. “I work in a barn with 10 horses that uses hardwood shavings. Despite what appears to be regular maintenance by the barn staff, the hooves on all of these horses have weak walls and excessively cupped and damaged soles. The shavings work their way under the shoes, into nail holes and between the laminae.
“I’ve been told hardwood shavings contain acids that attack the foot structure. I haven’t seen any scientific proof, but it seems to be proven by my experience.”
Carter adds that most clients bed horses on pine shavings, while a few use straw or peanut shells. “If I were asked, I’d recommend pine shavings,” he says. “The shavings may dry out the hooves if the horse is kept stalled for long periods of time, but I’d rather deal with dry hooves than wet, mushy hooves.
“But nothing will replace diligence in thoroughly mucking out stalls on a regular schedule.”
Webster, N.Y., farrier Esco Buff says using shavings as bedding tends to lead to dry and brittle feet while the use of straw encourages thrush problems.
John Kirsch says most of his customers use wood shavings. “They find this material lasts longer than other bedding materials,” says the Quakertown, Pa., farrier. “By picking out the manure on a daily basis, wood shavings last a month or so.
“Pine shavings seem to work best because they have pine tar and sap in them, which helps with hoof care.”
Peter Baker, a farrier at Aldbourne in the Wiltshire area of England, has seen significant changes in horses bedded with shavings. “These changes show themselves as a distortion of the bars of the hoof capsule,” he wrote in Great Britain’s Forge magazine. “The bars become compressed and spew sideways across the solar plate, trapping the underlying sensitive laminae causing pain.
“The bars tend to buckle and crack. From a farriery viewpoint, no further serious problems are seen with wood  shavings, except the feet tend to get dry.”


Mark McNeel, an equine vet from Helena, Mont., says there have been accounts of severe laminitis and limb edema associated with bedding stalls with wood 
shavings or sawdust from black walnut trees. There are suspicions that toxic compounds in the wood are damaging to the hoof.
“We use other types of wood shavings in our hospital stalls and have had no problems with hooves,” he says. “Horses with severe laminitis have been bedded on sand, straw or sawdust to help support and relieve pressure and pain, with varying degrees of success.”
Kirsch cautions against bedding with black walnut shavings. “We had a neighbor who had a horse that foundered within 24 hours after being placed in a stall bedded with walnut shavings,” he says. “Be on the lookout for this problem.”
While few people are willing to say there can be serious concerns when a horse eats a fistful of black walnut leaves, nobody knows for sure.
Francis Galey, a veterinary toxicologist at the University of CaliforniaDavis, says the only documented case of trouble involves horses standing in shavings made from walnut heartwood.
However, Illinois horsemen recently cautioned owners about woodlands being cut clear for power lines along the Wisconsin and Illinois border. Shredded black walnut chips and shavings were offered free to area farmers willing to haul them away.
The Illinois officials cautioned that exposure to as little as 5 percent of freshly cut black walnut could cause a transient drop in leukocytes which might lead to limb edema and acute laminitis. Rotation of the third phalanx is possible in severe cases, they maintain.


Bob Grover has seen hoof abscessing where wood chips were used as bedding. “I’ve also seen superficial hoof wall cracks due to the excess dryness in kiln dried shavings used for bedding when the owners turn the horses out into heavy morning dew or muddy conditions,” says the Lodi, Ohio, farrier.


With their own horses, the McCalls use coarse sawdust. They’ve found this freshly-cut material provides the best compromise for many characteristics of stall bedding.
Yet Joel Hunt of Archdale, N.C., maintains overly dry hooves can be caused by bedding with extremely dry wood sawdust. Susan Perit of Wills, Mich., agrees that using dry sawdust as bedding tends to lead to overly dry feet.
“Where sawdust is used as bedding, stalls must be cleaned on a daily basis,” says Jason Freeman of Seymour, Conn. “Otherwise, thrush problems will develop.”


Tom Rupnow, of Monroe, Wis., had one client whose horse’s feet were getting too dry. He recommended switching from wood shavings to straw.

“I occasionally suggest clients use more bedding material than they’re currently using,” Rupnow says. “But the issue of what to actually use doesn’t come up very often.”

Because of its ability to control the production of ammonia in urinesoiled stalls, straw is best, maintains Colin Reeves of EPC, the distributor of Keratex hoof products in Great Britain. Dense, absorbent materials provide a good environment for microorganisms that produce ammonia from urine, he says.

Tracy Turner, an equine vet in the University of Minnesota’s School of Veterinary Medicine, says straw is the most common bedding material he sees, probably due to low cost and high accessibility. 

Over the years, Kirsch has found straw tends to get wet too quickly and has to be changed practically every day. William Correll of Millville, Pa., has seen thrush concerns develop where straw has been used as bedding.

When straw is not cleaned out of stalls on a regular basis, Hunt says excess moisture in the bedding can lead to an oversaturation of hoof moisture.


“Bedding made of shredded paper is good at absorbing moisture,” Turner says. “It reduces dust in the stall. But it’s high cost, so a lot of horse owners don’t consider it feasible.”

Conversely, Perit believes using shredded newspapers as bedding tends to lead to wet, soft and thrushy feet.

Baker says shredded paper is not an easy bedding material to maintain. Once it becomes wet, it binds together, becomes heavy and is awkward to move. In Great Britain, horse owners tend to let it become deep, dirty and lumpy.

“When the horse can’t stand evenly, this creates muscle problems and trauma in the animal’s feet,” says Baker. “The most common problem is thrush in the lateral clefts of the frog, leading to atrophying of the frog structure and a resulting loss of support.”


Some commercially available bedding materials, like Dry Stall from the Kat Company in San Clemente, Calif., claim benefits such as absorbing moisture and ammonia, less dust and a reduction in hoof thrush.

While it’s more expensive per square foot, manufacturers say increased absorption properties mean less frequent replacement and therefore reduced overall cost.


Texas A&M University equine veterinarian David Hood is the driving force behind The Hoof Project, an ongoing study of horses’ hooves. While none of his studies address stall bedding directly, Hood uses washed sand and concrete as the standing surface to create a solid and dry environment for chronically foundered horses. To eliminate foot sores, Hood uses wood shavings as stall bedding until healing takes place.

Summing Up

While there are certainly no easy answers, more farriers should be sharing bedding material management ideas with clients. If a change in stall management leads to less hoof problems, then everyone wins.