Most horse owners take great pride in providing their horses with clean, nice-looking stalls; some of us might even throw in that extra bit of bedding for added comfort. But could we be unknowingly harming our horses more than helping them? Let’s examine some facts on the various types of common bedding and how they can affect our horses’ health. Armed with this knowledge, we can make informed decisions about what bedding is right for our horses and our situations.

The Air in There

What makes our choice of bedding so important? According to the book Equine Respiratory Diseases, edited by Pierre Lekeux, DVM, PhD, a professor at the University of Liege in Belgium, the adult horse is exposed to 30 million liters of air annually–air that contains a mixture of gaseous and particulate pollutants. The primary sources of airborne dust in stables are feed and bedding. Airborne dust can include such harmful substances as bacteria, viruses, molds, insect debris and feces, plant material, bacterial endotoxins, and inorganic dusts. Several equine respiratory disorders, such as heaves, inflammatory airway disease, and pharyngeal lymphoid hyperplasia (inflammation, allergic reaction, and ulceration of the lymphoid tissue at the rear of the throat), are directly caused by, or aggravated by, the inhalation of airborne dust.

If you keep a horse with an infectious respiratory disease in a dusty environment, this might cause increased coughing, mucus hypersecretion (secretion of more mucus than normal), and bronchoconstriction (tightening of the airways). All of this can prolong recovery. Lekeux wrote that stressing the convalescing horse in this way can also lead to sensitization (increased reactivity) to inhaled environmental allergens, which can cause heaves.

The bad news is that if you’re not careful, your sick horse could end up with a chronic and painful condition. The good news is that management tec