Wood shavings absorb moisture and odors from a horse's waste between stall cleanings. They also increase the horse's comfort when he is confined to his stall. Even large box stalls offer little room for the horse to move around, and long periods of standing on hard ground can create stiffness in the horse's muscles and joints. When choosing wood shavings for a horse, consider the type of wood as well as its preparation.
The most readily available wood shavings are made from pine or fir trees. These shavings cost less than other types of wood, and are sufficiently fragrant to help mask the stench created by urine and feces. Other softwoods, such as spruce, also work well for stall bedding. Cedar offers a pleasant smell, but some horses develop allergies to cedar, so there is a small risk of causing skin irritation in the animals.
Black Walnut Shavings
The low cost and high availability of black walnut wood shavings has increased demand for its use in horse stalls. Unfortunately, black walnut poisoning causes laminitis, an inflammation of the hoof. Severe cases of laminitis or founder can result in the death of the animal or in permanent disability. While only a small percentage of black walnut shavings cause toxicity, it is best to avoid it entirely. A batch of shavings might be contaminated by black walnut if it is chocolate brown in color. Avoid buying stall bedding with obvious differences in color or texture.
Sawdust and Pellets
Some horse owners use variations of wood shavings or combinations of different types of stall bedding. Sawdust, for example, is a popular additive or alternative to wood shavings because of its absorbency. It is also less expensive. Horses who suffer from respiratory problems or allergies should not be exposed to sawdust, however, as it can impede breathing. Wood pellets are also popular because the kiln-dried chips have higher absorbency levels than wood shavings alone. If wood chips are added to the shavings, inspect the horse's hooves before every ride to ensure no pieces are lodged in the frog or against the shoe.
Small wood shavings produce more dust than larger pieces, but finer shavings clump, which makes it easier to scoop out soiled portions. It is also easier to groom a horse who has rolled in larger shavings because the pieces are easy to brush or comb from the coat, mane and tail. Small- and medium-size shavings last longer because the dry shavings are easier to sift with the pitchfork, but consider larger particles for horses who suffer from respiratory problems or allergy issues.
Bulk wood shavings cost less because of the larger quantity purchased, but bagged shavings are more portable and make storage easier. If shavings are delivered in bulk, they require a clean, dry, covered area for storage. Obtain quotes from several different sources before choosing an outlet for stall bedding. Evaluate the quality of the shavings upon delivery so you will know whether you need to make any changes. Excess dust in the barn, hives or bumps on the horses' skin, and unwanted chips or pellets in the shavings all indicate a poor product.
Laura College is a former riding instructor, horse trainer and veterinary assistant. She has worked as a writer since 2004, producing articles and sales copy for corporations and nonprofits. College has also published articles in numerous publications, including "On the Bit," "Practical Horseman" and "American Quarter Horse Journal."