What’s the Optimal Bedding Material for Geriatric Horses with Arthritis?

April 22, 2024

As equestrians, we all want the best for our horses. Whether they are young athletes or seasoned veterans, their comfort and well-being are always at the forefront of our concerns. But when it comes to older horses with arthritis, the challenge of selecting the appropriate bedding material becomes even more critical. It’s a pressing issue that warrants a deeper look into the options available and their respective advantages and disadvantages. This article will guide you through various bedding materials and their suitability for geriatric horses with arthritis.

Considering the Factors: What Makes a Good Bedding?

Before we delve into the specifics of different bedding materials, it’s essential to understand what makes a good bedding for horses, especially those with arthritis. A quality horse bedding will provide comfort, support, and safety for your equine friend.

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Comfort is paramount for geriatric horses with arthritis. They need bedding that will cushion their joints and offer good sleep quality. Support involves the ability of the bedding to adequately support the horse’s weight, critical for arthritic horses. Lastly, safety means the bedding should not pose any health risk to the horse, such as causing respiratory issues from dust or mould.

Wood Shavings: A Popular Choice

Wood shavings are a common choice of bedding for horse stalls. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to clean, and readily available. Shavings can provide decent comfort and support for your horse, with the softness making it pleasant for your equine friend to lay on.

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However, not all wood shavings are created equal. The type of wood can greatly impact the dust level. For instance, pine shavings are generally less dusty than other types. Dust can be a significant issue as it can lead to respiratory problems, something you want to avoid, especially in older horses.

Moreover, while wood shavings can provide a fair amount of cushioning, they might not offer adequate support for geriatric horses with arthritis. Therefore, you might have to explore additional supportive measures such as stall mats.

Stall Mats: Providing Extra Support

Stall mats are not exactly bedding materials, but they can greatly enhance the comfort and support provided by the bedding. They are made from rubber or similar materials and placed on the stall floor beneath the bedding.

Stall mats can help to alleviate pressure on the horse’s joints, making them particularly beneficial for geriatric horses with arthritis. They also offer the added benefit of keeping the stall floor level and reducing the amount of bedding needed.

However, it’s crucial to ensure that the mat surface isn’t too slippery, which may cause the horse to fall. Using mats with textured surfaces or covered with a layer of bedding can help to prevent this issue.

Straw: Old but Gold?

Straw has been used as horse bedding for centuries. It’s cheap, abundant, and can provide good insulation during the colder months. Plus, many horses enjoy eating straw, which can be either an advantage or disadvantage depending on your horse’s dietary needs.

But straw has its downfalls. It’s not very absorbent, which can lead to a damp and unsanitary stall. It also doesn’t provide much cushioning or support, making it less ideal for horses with arthritis.

Also, the quality of straw can vary greatly. Poor-quality straw can contain dust, mould, or harmful plants, posing a health risk to your horse.

Wood Pellets: The Modern Alternative

Wood pellets are becoming increasingly popular as bedding material for horses. They are highly absorbent, making the stall easier to clean and maintain. And when properly maintained, wood pellets can provide a decent level of comfort and support.

Wood pellets are dust-free when they are dry, but once they are wet, they can become dusty. Therefore, it’s essential to manage the moisture level in the stall to minimize dust.

Lastly, wood pellets can be more expensive than other bedding materials. But considering their high absorbency and ease of cleaning, they can be a cost-effective choice in the long run.

Each of these materials has its strengths and weaknesses. Your choice will depend on your specific circumstances, including your budget, availability of materials, and most importantly, your horse’s comfort and health needs. Remember, the ultimate goal is to ensure your geriatric horse with arthritis has a comfortable and safe place to rest and sleep. Regular vet check-ups can provide valuable insights into their comfort level and help you make the best decision for your equine friend.

Peat Moss: A Greener Option

Peat moss is an eco-friendly bedding material that’s gaining popularity among horse owners. Produced from sphagnum moss, peat moss is known for its high absorbency, excellent heat insulation, and natural mildew resistance.

Peat moss can provide decent comfort and support for geriatric horses with arthritis. Its soft and springy nature allows it to conform to the horse’s body, offering excellent cushioning for achy joints. It also retains warmth well, providing a cozy environment for your horse during the colder months.

In terms of safety, peat moss is virtually dust-free, which minimizes the risk of respiratory issues. Its natural mildew resistance also helps to keep the stall fresh and sanitary, creating a healthier living space for your horse.

However, there are a couple of things to consider with peat moss. First, it’s darker in color compared to other bedding materials like wood shavings or straw, which might make it harder to spot manure or urine spots. Secondly, peat moss can be more expensive than other options. It might not be the best choice if you are on a tight budget.

Rubber Chips: An Unconventional Choice

Emerging as an unconventional bedding material, rubber chips are becoming a preferred choice for some horse owners, particularly those dealing with senior horses with joint problems.

Rubber chips are made from recycled rubber products, such as tires, which makes them an environmentally-friendly option. They are distinctly different from rubber mats, as they function as a bedding material, not a stall floor covering.

Rubber chips offer excellent support, reducing pressure on the joints of geriatric horses with arthritis. They have a good grip, ensuring your horse doesn’t slip and fall, thus enhancing safety in the stall. Moreover, they are non-absorbent and easy to clean; urine simply drains through them, keeping the stall dry and odor-free.

However, rubber chips do not offer much in terms of comfort. They are not soft; thus, additional bedding material might be required to provide sufficient cushioning for your horse. Also, some horses might try to chew on the rubber chips, which could lead to potential health issues if ingested.


Selecting the optimal bedding material for geriatric horses with arthritis involves careful consideration of various factors, including comfort, support, safety, cost, and maintenance. Wood shavings, stall mats, straw, wood pellets, peat moss, and rubber chips all have their own sets of pros and cons.

As a horse owner, it’s crucial to assess each option against your horse’s specific needs, your budget, and the availability of materials. Regular vet check-ups can offer valuable advice on how your horse is coping with its bedding and suggest changes if necessary.

Remember, no matter what material you choose, the key is to ensure that your horse’s stall is kept clean and dry at all times. This will not only prolong the life of the bedding but also contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of your senior horse. Your commitment to providing the best care possible for your equine friend will certainly make the golden years of its life much more comfortable.