When it comes to building or remodeling your stable or barn, one of the most significant expenses is the wood. Going cheap could be costly in the long run. But then again, even some expensive woods might be too soft to hold up to an antsy horse. Also, there is factoring in what’s available in your local area. So, what are the best woods for horse stalls?
The best wood for horse stalls is Brazilian hardwood, HDPE wood, and Southern Yellow Pine. The worst woods are any type of maple and black walnut, as these are toxic to horses, and they often nibble on their stall. Treated wood should be used cautiously, restricted to low areas.
Softwoods are commonly used in horse stalls due to their availability and cost. However, the choice often ends up being expensive in the end, as the wood shrinks, twists, and warps. This is why Southern yellow pine is the only recommended softwood. So if you can’t source any of the best lumber listed, then it is better to use a recommended alternative.
Best Lumber For Equine Stalls
The lumber for a stall needs to be flexible yet strong. Despite being “indoors,” it will be impacted by the weather and the horse’s waste and water bucket. Thus, the wood needs to have low shrinkage, decay resistance and not be prone to warping. But it also must be easy to work with due to the fiddley nature of stall construction. Some hardwoods are stubborn.
Brazilian Hardwood (Tigerwood)
Brazilian hardwood, also called Tigerwood or Zebrawood, isn’t technically a specific wood. Brazil has many hardwoods, including a type of Teak. But in the United States, Brazilian Hardwood is specifically referring to Goncalo Alves, also called Jobillo.
Goncalo Alves looks like a dramatic cousin to Rosewood. Its black markings on the red to brown wood remind many of an animal pelt, thus earning it the nicknames “Tigerwood” “Zebrawood.”
But Brazilian hardwood’s desirability for horse stalls goes well beyond its gorgeous look. It is highly resistant to rot, bugs, and mold. Plus, the low-maintenance lumber is considered practically “kick proof.” Yet, despite its incredible density, it’s pretty easy to work, although it can be vexing to glue.
Its resistance to being glued is due to the exact property that makes it so brilliant for humid and wet climates. The stuff doesn’t absorb much moisture. With the pros come the cons, it seems. The biggest one with this stuff, however, is cost.
HDPE wood isn’t wood. The acronym stands for High Density Polyethylene. This is preferable to a Composite style wood option, as they have less strength and will gradually decay. Where HDP won’t crack or splinter, is moisture resistant, UV resistant, and can’t be broken down by bacteria or insects. Another brilliant aspect is that you can clean and sanitize with ease.
This is initially an expensive option but is incredibly long-lasting. It is a common choice for breeders and veterinarians because it is low maintenance while being so easy to keep to their strict cleanliness standards.
Some folks don’t want to use this material out of environmental concerns. However, many HDPE brands use recycled plastic, limiting its environmental impact. Also, with it being so long-lasting, it won’t need to be replaced like many wood options. It takes time to grow a tree, and the need for wood is great. Lastly, it doesn’t require staining or re-sanding.
Southern Yellow Pine (SYP)
Southern yellow pine (SYP) is the most popular choice and the only softwood recommended for horse stalls. It is actually a classification for ten trees, four of which are common in the timber industry: loblolly, longleaf, shortleaf, and slash.
SYP is considered sturdy enough for horse stalls and is the strongest of the softwoods. It is also easier on the bank account, is fairly low maintenance, and doesn’t tend to warp. Compared to hardwood, it is both easy to drive a nail through or glue.
Best Lumber Alternatives For Equine Stalls
There are many reasons why the suggestions above might not work for your horse stalls. Depending on where you live, they might be hard to source or don’t suit your tastes.
Cherry wood is an attractive alternative and is relatively hard. It has a straight grain making it easier to work with than some other hardwoods. It is resistant to decay and rot. It costs around the same as oak but is easier to handle thanks to superior flexibility. It holds up to shock well, too.
While cherry wood will shrink considerably after being cut, it is pretty resistant to moisture and warp once it has completed the drying process.
Douglas fir is an incredibly popular softwood in the United States. It is the hardest softwood, so much so, some classify it as a hardwood. However, its waterproofing qualities are not as good as some, so it will need treating. Also, while it is pretty durable to decay, so many insects like to munch it. Unlike most pine, however, horses tend not to like its taste.
One of the biggest complaints is that Douglas fir can be coarse. This will make it difficult to clean unless much sanding is used. It is still unlikely to get the same finish you can achieve with some other options listed here.
There is a reason mahogany was popular in ships; it holds up well to moisture. However, finding genuine mahogany is difficult, as there are many variations, which may not be as hard or have the qualities you think you are forking out for. It also has a wide range of hardness, depending on where it grew, so you might get a softer batch than you were expecting.
On the other hand, it is easy to work with, looks beautiful, and doesn’t change shape or size due to the weather. It is, however, heavy.
Oak, such as white oak, is more commonly used for fencing, as horses don’t like the taste. However, people avoid using it for stalls due to expense and because it is difficult to work with. But if you can afford it, this can be a great option. It’s really strong. Just make sure it is white oak and not at all green. Green oak will warp.
Red cedar looks great and smells amazing. Unfortunately, horses also find the scent alluring, and even your typical-non-stall-chewer might start nibbling it. Nor is it as strong as some of the other options. But some people do have success with it.
Worst Lumber For Equine Stalls?
The worst woods to use for horse stalls are maple (any kind) and black walnut. These woods are highly toxic to horses. Obviously, nobody wants a deadly horse stall. That said, some argue it is only the leaves, like with cherry and pine (the needles).
When it comes to woods to avoid for durability, steer clear of softwoods that are not Southern yellow pine. Some of the worst when it comes to softness is the following, ranked from softest to harder.
10 Softwoods To Avoid For Horse Stalls
- Balsam Poplar
- European Silver Fir
- Northern White Cedar
- Subalpine fir
- Yellow Buckeye
- Atlantic White Cedar
- Black Cottonwood
- Quaking Aspen
Can You Use Pressure Treated Lumber For Equine Stalls?
You were never supposed to use pressure-treated wood for horse stalls before January 2004. This is because it contained chromated copper arsenate, which has arsenic in it. Arsenic isn’t good for you, and it isn’t suitable for your horse, which sometimes likes to chew on its stable.
These days pressure-treating wood often involves amine copper quat (ACQ) or copper azole (CA). There are also companies that use borax. Some folks think this is safe enough. But many don’t.
Thus, the general advice is to use pressure-treated wood only for the lowest parts of the stall, as these are the areas at greatest risk of rot and bugs. Yet, the lowest parts of the stall are the least likely to be nibbled on by a horse.
Pros and Cons Of Flooring Materials for Equine Stalls
The floor of a horse stall is easily overlooked but crucial to your horse’s health. Horses spend the majority of their life on their hooves, so keeping their feet and legs in good nick is crucial. But you also need durability. Some barns and stables use two different types of flooring material: one for the stalls and a harder surface for the main walkways of the barn.
Asphalt is often a cost-effective option. It is cheaper than concrete or fancy interlocking brick and is pretty easy to clean. It can, however, become slippery over time and will crack if not laid down thick enough. Nor is it easy to disinfect due to its porous nature.
While it is easier on horses’ legs than some options, such as concrete, it isn’t super forgiving. Laying mats or only using them for the main walkways might be better, especially if your horses are barefoot.
Pros Of Asphalt
- Easy to clean
- Softer than concrete
Cons of Asphalt
- Can become slippery
- Is still fairly hard
- Not easy to disinfect
Brick Or Pavers
Bricks that interlock or pavers look stunning and are very popular in swanky stables. They have the same drawbacks as concrete, however, and will require mats in the stalls. The other issue is that they tend to be much more expensive than simply pouring concrete.
Pros Of Brick Or Pavers
- Looks brilliant
Cons of Brick Or Pavers
- Will need mats as it is hard on horses’ feet and legs
Natural (Clay, Sand, Or Soil)
Keeping the floor natural is cheap and healthy for horses’ feet and legs.
If using good ol’ soil, you will have to keep adding soil and leveling it from time to time. Otherwise, it is pretty good stuff.
However, it is harder if your soil has a lot of clay. This can make the surface slippery and easily become marked with holes where the horse has stomped or dug. It is also difficult for drainage. Therefore, this is the worst “natural” option of the three.
Sand is popular so long as the horse doesn’t eat off the floor (sand colic risk). It drains well, is easy to replace and even out, and is very good for horses’ legs and feet. It can be slightly drying to some hooves, however. Also, if there is a draft or you use a lot of fans, sand could get in the air.
Pros Of Natural
- Good for horses’ legs and feet
Cons of Natural
- Clay can be slippery
- Clay has poor drainage
- You might have to keep adding material and leveling
Concrete is a very popular choice. It’s durable and very easy to clean and disinfect. It can be slippery when wet, especially if it has been given a smooth finish. However, it’s not great for their legs and is hard on barefoot horses’ hooves. Horses can be reluctant to lie down on it, especially during winter.
Thus, people who use concrete generally do it two ways. One option is just to use it for the main high traffic areas and keep it out of the stalls. The second option is to put rubber stall mats over the concrete flooring.
Pros Of Concrete
- Easy to maintain and clean
Cons of Concrete
- Not great for the horses’ legs
- Hard on barefoot horses’ hooves
- Some horses will refuse to lie on it
Limestone can create a non-slip surface with excellent drainage. However, when laid correctly, it is almost as hard as concrete. Thus, you’ll still need to use rubber mats.
Pros Of Limestone
- Excellent drainage
- Hard surface so most horses won’t lie on it without mats
- Hardness could be bad for their legs
Grid flooring used in stalls is different from industrial grids. These are squares or honeycomb systems locked in place and are made of rubber and plastic. These are placed over a flooring surface, such as limestone. Then once installed, covered with dirt or gravel mix.
This is non-slip and easier on horses’ legs. It also has excellent drainage, and some systems, depending on quality and installation, can last over two decades. However, most types require mats then layered over, which adds to an already substantial price tag.
Pros Of Grid Flooring
- Good for horses’ legs
Cons of Grid Flooring
- Must maintain the filler and top layers
From a horse’s perspective, wood is fabulous. It is easier on their legs, it’s warm, comfy, and non-slip, provided it isn’t wet. However, to prevent rot and other problems, it does have to be treated. It’s easy to clean but difficult to disinfect. The biggest issues are expense and wood’s tendency to absorb the odor, especially the smell of urine.
Pros Of Wood
- Wonderful for horse’s comfort and health
- Non-slip when dry
- Easy to clean
Cons of Wood
- Holds odor
- Can be slippery when wet
- Difficult to disinfect