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What Bedding Material is Best for Horse Stalls and Composting?

I started working with horses in 1968, and we always looked at what works best for horse stalls as the material composts.  It can be a mess to choose what to use, and how to make it pay in compost, as bedding can be expensive.

What are some of the options?

My Observations:

I had encountered all of these while I was growing up, except the peat moss.  Everyone had their favorite idea on what was best for their horse.  I worked at a race track that had been turned into a boarding ranch, as well as for high end quarter horses trained for show halter.  We used shavings.  But we also had 200 stalls that we maintained for horse shows in the pacific northwest right at the border of Washington and Idaho near hwy 90.  Every trainer had their own idea what was best.

The good and bad part for me, was that I had the job of cleaning each stall, for a fee of course, and making sure that they were stripped of all material.  Some of the stalls were easy, as they did not use much material, especially those that just let their horses sleep in the dirt.  And then there were those trainers that threw in about 4 or 5 bales of straw for the horse to make a comfortable bed with.

Since we had a big compost pile, we would spread it on a field, or give it to whoever wanted to take it home for their purposes.  Landscapers or gardeners would come and take it if it was 3 years old, but some of the hay had not fully composted properly yet.

We did not turn it or work the pile at all.  The next ranch I worked on, we took the time to turn the manure pile about once per month.  It speeded up the composting process, and we used shavings.

It took us two years to get a good compost to spread on the hay fields.

Chance to Experiment

While managing a Thoroughbred Breeding Farm, We tried an experiment using Peat moss as the bedding in the stalls.  Peat moss can get dry, but the farm is in the Pacific Northwest north of Seattle, and if you have ever heard of the “Seattle Blues”, it is because of the constant high humidity.  Or in other words, lots of rain!

The Peat moss, once the packaging was opened, would stay damp and not produce dust.  It was such a great option for us!


  • Acted like Kitty litter for horses
  • Decreased the smell of urine in the stalls
  • Was great for daily pick up of manure and urine
  • Cut back on time to clean the stalls
  • More time between complete clean out of stalls
  • More desirable compost for sale.


My thoughts

Getting rid of the smell in the barn, as well as making the barn smell and look more professional,  made a great impression on visitors.  It made it easier to work with the horses, as I was not spending as much time cleaning stalls, or paying someone else to do it.

The horses seemed to enjoy it, as it is a soft bedding for them to lay down on.  If you live in a dry area, it may not work for you, unless you can mist the bedding if it is dusty.

For us, it even helped create an atmosphere clean and elegant enough to hold “Kentucky Derby” day parties in and around the barn.  A wonderful experience for all attending!

Where you can find larger quantities to save money.

There are many ways to purchase peat moss, but for use as Stall bedding, you will want to go to your local feed store or co-op.  We purchased it through our local feed store and found it best to purchase a tractor trailer load at a time.  We averaged 25 horses of which 14 stalls were available for Mares.  We also had one birthing stall that we could use for daily use.

Note that we would lay lots of straw on top of the peat moss during birthing to ensure the baby would not inhale any accidentally.  We would also clean the stall out completely after the mare and foal were outside the first day.

The more we can experiment and make our own lives easier and healthier for the horse, the calmer and more relaxed our four legged friends become.

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