To Bed Or Not To Bed: Should You Use Bedding In A Horse Trailer?

Everybody has their own opinion on whether or not you should use bedding in a horse trailer but the problem is it’s just that, opinion. As somebody that uses it depending on the journey I’m doing I’ve often wondered what the right thing to do was, and why.

Should you put bedding in a horse trailer? Rubber mats and bedding are essential in old trailers with stiff suspension and wooden floors but on newer trailers with rubber mats, you only need to use bedding on longer journeys or if the horse is going to spend a long time in the trailer.

The use of bedding in a trailer is often a decision based on personal preference but there are some very obvious pros and cons to using it.

Pros of bedding in a trailerCons of bedding in a trailer
Will reduce the chance of slippingIncreases the amount of dust
More comfortable to stand onMakes it more difficult to clean
Reduces noise inside the trailerCan be expensive
Protects floor from urine and manureCan be hazardous if left in the trailer
Pros and cons of putting bedding in a horse trailer

Why should you put bedding in a horse trailer?

There are no hard and fast rules as to whether or not you should use bedding in a horse trailer but when you consider why bedding is used it’s easy to understand why it’s better for your horse if he has bedding in his trailer.

Less chance of your horse slipping

If you’ve ever been in the back of a trailer (without any bedding) you’ll understand just how difficult it can be to keep standing up while you’re moving along, even if it has rubber mats. Imagine how your horse might feel considering he doesn’t have any hands so isn’t able to support himself and keep himself from sliding about. 

Now I’m not saying that as soon as you set off your horse will fall over but even the gentlest of journeys involve a fair amount of stops, starts, and turns that will cause your horse to move if there’s no bedding. When combining this with the inevitable urine and manure that will ‘fall’ it’s easy to see why bedding is so important. Not only will it help to give your horse’s feet a certain amount of grip but it will also absorb the urine instead of letting it sit on the floor, causing a slick surface without any grip.

Adding more bedding at the back of the trailer will not only help to absorb the urine and manure but will keep it in place away from where your horse is standing. This will of course mean that your horse isn’t standing in his own pee and poop, which I’m sure you’ll agree will make him happier.

Putting bedding in your trailer will make your horse more comfortable

More comfortable for your horse

We all know that horses tend to spend the majority of the day standing so you might be surprised to know that they can get pretty uncomfortable standing in the back of a trailer, especially on longer journeys. This is in part because they’re standing still and aren’t able to flex their legs but the main reason is that the flooring is hard and the trailer (like all vehicles) has a tendency to move up and down as you travel along the road. 

While the very latest trailers have torsion suspension in order to reduce the movement felt inside the trailer they can’t completely eradicate it and older trailers (with leaf-sprung suspension) are far worse and absorb hardly any of the road shocks which is why bedding is so important. Even using rubber mats on their own will greatly reduce the amount your horse will feel this movement and when you add a decent level of bedding too your horse will be far more comfortable on route.

Less noise inside the trailer

As well as reducing the shock from the road bedding also goes a long way to absorb the sounds of the road, along with the sounds of your horse’s hooves as he moves around inside the trailer. This will help to keep your horse calmer and more relaxed during the journey, making it easier to haul him next time.

No splashes when your horse urinates

There’s an argument that says if you put bedding down it encourages horses to urinate but, while there is certainly some truth in that, it’s better to have the bedding there anyway. Even horses that don’t go in their trailers will always do so from time to time (even if it’s only once every five years!) so I personally think it’s better to have the bedding there.

If, on the other hand, your horse is one of these horses who likes to relieve themselves as soon as you set off believe me they’ll thank you for putting the bedding there, after all, no horse likes to be splashed as they pee. On top of that the bedding will absorb the urine and keep it away from your horse’s feet, another thing I’m sure they’ll thank you for.

Helps to protect the trailer floor

Okay so I admit the state of the flooring in your trailer won’t have a direct impact on your horse but it will help your trailer to last and will also keep your horse safe while in transit. 

Even if you clean your trailer after every use (which you should do anyway) you’ll still find that, over time, urine and manure will start to build up in between the cracks and crevices which can be almost impossible to clean. This will start to rot the flooring and weaken it which, at best will need to be replaced but at worst will make it unsafe for your horse.

Should you use bedding in a horse trailer for short journeys?

While I’ve talked about all of the reasons why you should be using bedding in your trailer this isn’t always necessary for short journeys and, if your horse has respiratory issues, should in fact be avoided altogether. The reason for this is the increased amount of dust in an included space which can make your horse cough.

Most of us tied our horses up when hauling them (which of course is the safest thing to do) but this makes it difficult for them to cough because they’re unable to lower their heads. You can use fly masks with ears and long nose coverings to reduce the amount of dust that can get into their airways (such as this one on Amazon) but I personally think it’s better to only use rubber matting when I’m hauling them to the vets or a local show.

You don't need to use bedding if you're only transporting your horse on a short journey

Won’t the bedding be blown about if you put it in the trailer?

I’ve heard so many stories of horses being covered in bedding after being hauled anyway that decided to find out if the bedding really does get blown around or not, after all my horses only ever had a few flecks of bedding on their backs when we arrived.

I thought about how best to find out how much bedding was blown around and decided the best way was to ride in the back of the trailer myself (without any horses) while my husband drove it. I tried this a number of times (the windows and vents were open every time) with different bedding types and was really surprised by what I found. I tried it with straw, wood shavings (both large and small), wood pellets, and sand and wetted them all before setting off. My husband drove over a variety of road surfaces at different speeds and not once did any of the bedding start to ‘fly’ around the trailer. Small wood shavings were the worst (I even had a few bits in my hair after) but they didn’t move around a massive amount and the rest more or less stayed where I had put it, although by its very nature there was more dust with straw bedding.

What’s the best bedding for horse trailers?

To start with all trailers should have non-slip rubber mats (regardless of how new or old they are) but on top of that kiln-dried shavings, or wood pellets have been found to be the best type of bedding. The reason for this is because they aren’t at all dusty, any naturally occurring allergens have been burnt off in the kiln, and they’re extremely comfortable for the horse too. Oh, and of course, horses are far less likely to try and eat them! 

For the maximum amount of comfort and absorbency, you can put smaller shaving on the bottom and then either large shaving or wood pellets on top. Some people like to use sand but, while it does offer very good levels of comfort, absorbency, and grip, I find it tends to get a little bit clumpy so don’t like to use it.

One type of bedding though that should be avoided is straw, not only can horses eat it but it also has the largest amount of dust compared to any other bedding.

Straw bedding creates a lot of dust so shouldn't be used in your trailer

Whatever bedding you decided to use though it’s important to wet it before putting your horse in the trailer. This will help to keep it in place and will reduce the chances of any particles getting into your horse’s airways and irritating his lungs. You should also keep all windows and vents open to allow for ventilation.

How often should you change the bedding in a horse trailer?

A horse trailer is no different from your horse’s stall, the bedding should be cleaned of urine and manure as soon as you arrive (or when you stop if you’re hauling your horse a long way). Some people prefer to remove just the soiled bedding and then change the whole bedding after a set number of journeys while others like to change it completely after each use. 

Whether or not you leave the bedding in the trailer when you’re not using it is up to you but if you do there are two very important things to consider.

  • Toxic fumes – Even if you completely change the bedding after every use there is still a risk of toxic fumes building up, albeit a small risk. With this in mind, you should keep all of the windows and vents open, even during the winter.
  • Rodents – Let’s be honest you can’t escape the rodent problem completely and they do like to nest in soft, warm, and dry bedding that’s out of the reach of the yard cat. While this isn’t a problem in itself you should make sure they’re gone before loading your horse.
  • Fire risk – While I appreciate it’s a very small risk, most bedding is flammable and even a small spark can set it off. This isn’t so much of a problem if you keep your trailer away from the horses as well as away from any bedding or forage but if you live in an area that has a lot of nature fires it’s worth considering.

Regardless of whether you change your bedding regularly or leave it in all year round you should still remove it and thoroughly clean your trailer at least once a year, or more frequently if it’s heavily used.


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