Most commercial stables, as well as the better-equipped private owners, have horse stall floors made of concrete. However, there are a number of alternatives which have advantages over concrete, some of which are less expensive. This article compares the most common options:

  • Concrete

  • Rubber matting

  • Packed earth

  • Natural drainage (sand, gravel)

These options are evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Financial cost

  • Cleaning and upkeep cost

  • Commercial acceptability

  • Horse health

  • Horse comfort

As a related topic, the different types of bedding are discussed in the article Horse Stall Bedding.

Concrete Floor Construction Cost

Concrete is the most frequently chosen option by commercial stables and by many private owners. In some cases this is merely due to them taking over an existing building (e.g. a barn) which already has concrete floors and then converting it to stables. However, even with purpose-built stables, concrete is a popular choice.

The construction cost of a concrete floor varies from about 100 euros per square meter to 300 euros per square meter, depending on a variety of factors. The following will give you a rough idea:

  • Concrete. The cost of ready-made concrete is 150 euros per cubic meter (depending on transport distance and other factors). So, if your floors are 10cm thick, this works out to 15 euros per square meter. For a 3-meter-square stall this would be 135 euros, whereas a 4-meter-square stall it would be 240 euros. If you mix your own concrete it a third to a half less expensive, but then your labor costs are higher and in any case it is impractical if you are laying concrete for more than one or two boxes at a time.

  • Foundations. If you are simply concreting the floor of an existing building, you only need concrete for the floor area. However, if you have a 'green field' site where you have to dig foundations and then concrete them in, the cost of the foundations will add about 50% to the total building costs.

  • Existing Surface. If you have a flat, hard surface, you can simply concrete over it. However, if the surface is not approximately flat, you will need to flatten it before concreting. Depending on circumstances you may be able to simply add some material (e.g. hard-core or gravel) or you may need to dig the high points out. The cost of this will depend almost entirely on the amount of slope that needs to be corrected. If the existing surface is soft (e.g. earth) you will need to either dig it out and replace by hard-core or you will need to lay a thicker foundation. In addition, if you want the floor to be level with the outside land, you will either need to dig out to the depth of the concrete (plus hard-core, if any) or you will need to build up the earth to the level of the new floor. Costs for all this work can vary from small to large, depending on the amount of corrective work required; if you are unsure you should get a professional quote.

  • Assorted materials. In addition to the concrete, there is a certain amount of additional materials. Foundations should have metal reinforcing rods. Also, wooden framing may be required prior to pouring the concrete. Although these will add to the total cost, in percentage terms they will not add a lot to the final cost.

  • Labor. If you use ready-made concrete, the labor costs for the actual concreting should not be large. A professional should be able to spread and smooth a large surface (e.g. enough for 10 stables) in a single day. The main cost is in terms of preparing: making the surface level, digging out foundations, putting in timber frames. An accurate estimate of these costs depends entirely on the existing surface.

  • Non-box areas. In addition to the area of the boxes themselves, you may wish to concrete other areas at the same time. For example, if the boxes are in a 'u-shape' you may wish to concrete the area encircled by the boxes. You may also wish to have a concrete working area outside the boxes. In any case, increase the total costs in proportion to the increase in surface area.

Concrete Floor Cleaning and Upkeep

A well-made concrete floor should last almost forever (in practical terms), with little or no maintenance. This is one of the advantages over certain other floors (such as matting or packed earth).

An important disadvantage of concrete floors is that they do not allow urine to penetrate, so the urine sits on top of the floor, soiling the bedding it touches. In most cases, the amount of bedding which is soiled by urine is much greater than the amount soiled by horse feces, and the volume of this urine-stained bedding is much greater than the total volume of horse feces and feces-soiled bedding. Consequently, compared to floors which allow urine to drain off, concrete floors have three disadvantages:

  • The amount of fresh bedding that is required is far greater, resulting in higher financial costs due to greater consumption of bedding material

  • The amount of work involved in removing soiled bedding and replacing with clean bedding is greater

  • The amount of space required to store the additional soiled bedding is greater. Note that new planning regulations often require a specialized storage area for bedding, along with associated collection facilities for rain run-off. Such facilities can be expensive to build, with the cost increasing depending on the amount of storage (e.g. amount of soiled bedding) that needs to be stored.

Concrete Floor Commercial Acceptability

If you are renting out your horse stalls (possibly along with associated services), one needs to consider not only the costs but also the associated revenue. A concrete floor is seen by most potential clients as the standard. If your boxes offer earth or sand flooring, this is often perceived as inferior facilities and will typically reduce the daily or monthly rental rate which is acceptable to potential clients. Conversely, rubber or mat floors may be perceived as a superior flooring and may allow you to obtain a corresponding premium for your daily or monthly rental.

Concrete Floor Horse Health and Comfort

A concrete floor in itself has a number of health disadvantages. It is very hard, which could cause hoof injuries (although this is unlikely). It can also cause stress on the joints of the horse, which have evolved for walking on softer surfaces (such as earth).Should a horse want to lay down to rest or sleep, it is hard and cold (especially in winter). However, the use of sufficient bedding on top of the floor addresses each of this potential problems.

A major advantage is that it's hard and non-porous nature allows it to be easily cleaned out. For the same reasons, it can also be easily sterilized with a chemical spray (for example, if a horse gets a contagious disease and one wants to sterilize the stall before using it for other horses).

Mat Floors

A variety of mats are produced for horse stalls. They vary in terms of:

  • Material. The most commonly used material is rubber. However, at the high end other materials (such as EVA) are used.

  • Size. Small ones are about 30cm square (a square foot) while large ones are about 2 square meters (3 square yards).

  • Thickness. The thickness varies from about 1 centimeter to over 2 centimeters.

  • Weight. The weight depends on the type of material (EVA is much lighter then rubber) and the thickness of the mat. Heavy mats are more likely to stay in place, whereas lighter mats are convenient if you are often travelling with your horse (e.g. between horse shows and competitions) and like to take a portable mat with you.

  • Interlocking. Some mats interlock, while others have straight edges and rely simply on their weight to hold them in place.

  • Quality. Like any product, quality varies, with the better quality ones have a longer guarantee (up to 10 years) but cost more.

  • Porous. Some mats are porous, allowing urine to grain through. However, the majority are not porous, although urine can drain through the cracks where the mats meet.

  • Price. Prices vary, but as a rough indication look at 20-40 euros per square meter.

A mat floor can be laid on top of any hard, non-moving surface such as concrete, asphalt and wooden floors. As such, mats are really more a floor covering, than a stand-alone floor. Some mats can also be laid on compacted stone, provided that that stones do not exceed a certain size (large stones can cause bumps or even tears in the mats).

Soft surfaces, such as earth or sand, are unsuitable as they can move under the mats, resulting in depressions in the mats. Eventually, this can lead to separations between the mats or even tearing of the mats.

Mat floors are often laid on top of concrete floors, because they offer a surface which is superior:

  • Yielding. A concrete floor is very hard. Unless you provide a thick layer of bedding, this hardness can stress joints, possibly injure feet, and cause sore points where the horse lays down to rest or sleep. Mats provide a softer and more yielding surface which is more comfortable for horses.

  • Warmth. The materials used to make horse stall mats are naturally insulating. This is both more comfortable and healthier for horses, especially in winter.

  • Traction. Concrete and wooden floors can be slippery when wet; mats provide better traction and reduce this risk to horses.

  • Smooth. Many mats have a smooth surface, which is much easier to clean than concrete or wood surfaces.

  • Drainage. Unlike concrete, mats allow urine to drain off. Usually this happens at the joints between mats, although a few types of mats allow the urine to drain through the mat itself.