The 5 Best Footing for Horse Pens (Expert Equestrian Tips)

Choosing what type of sand is best for horse stalls is a challenge! 

To pick the best ground for horse pens, you need to check your climate, natural ground, and budget — these all influence what surface is most suitable.

Since I’ve experienced this challenge myself, I decided to put together a guide for other equestrians.

KEEP READING to find out what type of sand is best for horse stalls and some popular options which will help you get rolling…

Key Takeaways

  • Choosing the right type of sand for horse stalls is crucial for the horse’s comfort and health.
  • When selecting the best surface material, it is essential to consider factors such as climate, natural ground, and budget.
  • Drainage is one of the most important ground features to maintain a clean and healthy horse living space.
  • Coarse sand and shredded rubber are popular options, but it’s essential to maintain a depth of at least three inches to keep the surface in good condition.

From Comfort to Health: The Crucial Role of Choosing the Right Sand for Your Horse’s Stall

Asking what type of sand is best for horse stalls is critical to choosing the RIGHT sand for your horse stall; one decision can SIGNIFICANTLY affect your horse’s comfort and health.

When selecting the best surface material or bedding material, it is essential to consider factors such as climate, natural ground, floor level, and budget.

Different flooring materials, such as limestone dust, stone dust, horse shavings, rubber mats, and wood chips, affect the horse’s hooves and respiratory system.

Limestone dust and stone dust, for instance, can cause respiratory problems in horses due to the fine particles they produce.

On the other hand, horse shavings can be dusty, too but offer more cushioning than the former. Rubber mats and wood chips are other options that provide a good balance of comfort and health.

Whatever material is chosen, it is necessary to maintain a depth of at least three inches to keep the surface in good condition.

By considering these factors, horse owners can select the best sand for their horse’s stall, ensuring a clean and healthy living space for their equine companions.

5 Best Ground For Horse Pens

Many equestrians set up horse pens due to a lack of large paddock land so their horse can have turnout during the winter and better the stall flooring.

Picking the best surface material is not easy. If you live in a hot, dry climate, you will need something different than someone who lives in a wet region.

Then you have locations that can get hot and dry in the summer and wet in the winter. That’s me! Winter is a nightmare as it rains so much where I live.

Let’s get started!

Most Important Ground Feature

Before I dive into each surface type, I need to bring up one of the most important ground features you need to have – drainage!

I can’t stress drainage enough. If you don’t have excellent drainage and you live somewhere that gets wet in the winter, you will constantly fight a losing battle regardless of what you use as a floor surface.

Yet, proper drainage is pretty expensive to install. The riding arena where I live has a fantastic surface. It can pour rain for days, and the surface stays perfect, muck and puddle free.

It stays like this due to the extensive drainage system installed below the riding surface sand. The issue here is that laying down costs a lot of money.

So, I advise you to use the best drainage system you can afford. You won’t regret it!

For a VISUAL reference, here’s a great introduction video to what you must consider for your paddock:

Now, the 5 BEST GROUND types for you to pick:

#1 Coarse Sand

Coarse sand is an excellent choice for horse stall footing as it offers good drainage and is less dusty than many other types of sand.

If you go the sand route, coarse sand is the best horse pen footing. While finer sand is softer, it is just a disaster in a pen when it gets wet.

Coarse sand offers good drainage. [1]

However, you still need to ensure the surface you put it on has some preparation and a drain system laid down.

It is also less dusty than many other types of sand. [1]

The sand doesn’t clump up, and while you will still get stuck in our horse’s hooves, this will happen with any surface.

Just use good hoof care and pick your horse’s feet out. One thing you can add to the sand is shredded rubber crumbs.

The rubber will add some cushion to the surface and can help reduce dust.

The main problems with a sand surface are hot temperatures and feeding your horse. Sand seems to attract and hold heat.

You can test it yourself and find that if you stand in a sand pen or arena for a while and in a grass paddock, it is hotter in the sand.

Another concern horse owners must watch out for is feeding their horses on a sand surface.

If horses eat off the ground, they risk ingesting sand. This can lead to a building of sand in the digestive tract, which can cause sand colic.

The best way to feed horses in this environment is to put grain in a bucket and ensure hay is fed off the ground.

Or, have a separate area, such as in the horse’s shelter, that they can access to eat where there is no sand.

You must put down at least 3 inches of sand depth, 6 is better. [1]

To keep the surface in good condition, poo pick it up daily and rake or drag the surface to keep it evenly distributed.

Here’s a great introduction video to what you need to consider for your paddock:


#2 Shredded Rubber

I’ve already mentioned rubber as something you can mix into a sand surface, but it is also a POPULAR surface for riding arenas.

You can use shredded rubber in your horse pen as the main top surface. It is only safe to use the right kind of shredded rubber.

It must be ground into small pieces, non-toxic, and contain zero foreign materials!

The rubber – or rubber matting – helps to provide a stabilized surface and is dust-free. It is cushioning, so better for a horse’s leg joints and tendons if they spend long periods standing on it [2].

One great thing about rubber is that it is DURABLE and will take years to break down. Place around three inches of rubber on top of good draining sand, with a drainage system below.

#3 Grids

I like grids for keeping a suitable surface in a horse paddock or pen. But they are expensive.

However, these are fantastic at preventing mud when installed correctly.

First, the best thing to do is to dig your space out a couple of inches and level it off. Then you install the grids, which come in squares the lock together.

These grids have holes in them and are very strong.

Once the grids are installed, you fill in the holes with a bit of extra on top of the surface of your choice. Surface options include coarse sand and crushed gravel or crusher dust.

Some people don’t like crushed gravel/crusher dust because it packs down quite a lot making the surface challenging.

Yet, it is excellent for regions that get a lot of rain in the winter as it will stay mud-free. 

They not only prevent mud when installed correctly, but they add a layer of coarse sand or crushed gravel on top can make it comfortable for the horse.

However, it is popular with some farriers. One farrier made these remarks about crusher dust: “It keeps their feet in the best shape of all the footings I’ve dealt with.” [3]

This short and sweet video talks a bit about grids with a vet. Take a couple of minutes to watch it:

#4 Natural Dirt Surface

If you live in a dry climate, such as Arizona, where you don’t have to worry too much about mud in the winter, then you can consider a natural dirt surface.

This is the cheapest option, and you can keep it in decent shape if you pick up droppings daily, do some weeding, and do occasional dragging.

It is also a great option for horses that cannot spend long periods in grass paddocks.

If it gets wet where you live, this type of surface will not work for all seasons and will turn into a mud pit in the winter.


#5 Gravel

Gravel is a common and popular surface for horse pens. You can get gravel in different sizes, and it does a fine job of preventing mud from forming.

You will likely need to top it up yearly, and it isn’t always the most comfortable surface for horses.

Small, round pea gravel is my preferred choice if going the gravel route.

It is rounded, more comfortable, and small enough not to get stuck in your shavings fork when cleaning up droppings.

When laying pea gravel in your pen, make it several inches deep to prevent water buildup and comfort your horse. This can make the initial outlay expensive.

The depth also isn’t ideal for the strain it can put on tendons and isn’t the most stable surface.

CHECK: Building a Horse Arena on a Budget


Before I leave, let me answer some common questions:

1. Are woodchips or hog fuels good for horse pens?

Woodchips or hog fuel are, at first, quite appealing for horse pen surfaces.
Horses find it comfortable and one of the most affordable options.
However, it isn’t a great choice as it may contain wood from toxic trees.

2. Is sand a good horse corral surface?

Yes, sand is one of the best horse corral surfaces for all weather. You must put in suitable sand, so it drains and doesn’t clump up on your horse’s feet.

3. Is sand suitable for both concrete and dirt floors?

Sand is suitable for both concrete and dirt floors. It provides a level surface and helps with drainage.

4. Are forgiving floors recommended for horse stalls?

Forgiving floors are recommended for horse stalls.
They provide cushioning and reduce the risk of injury to horses. Materials like rubber mats or wood products can create forgiving floors.


If you’re searching for what type of sand is best for horse stalls, you may find it challenging to get a good selection:

In general, finding the best ground footing for horse pens is not easy. No one method is foolproof, and each has good and bad points.

Where you live will influence what direction you take. The main goal is to provide a safe, comfortable, and mud-free surface for your horse to enjoy time outside.

Stall cleaning is also critical: keep the stall clean and ensure your equines are safe and welcomed in a hygienic environment with an optimal bedding option. 

If you liked my article, feel free to leave a comment about any ideas and experiences with bedding for horses. I’d love to hear from you! Until next time…

stallion standing on the sand which is on of the Best Ground For Horse Pens

What is your favorite best ground for horse pens? Let me know below!


1. Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties [Internet]. The Horse. 2013. Available from:

2. 0723-2816-MTDC: Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads, and Campgrounds, page11 [Internet]. [cited 2023 Feb 21]. Available from:

3. Thompson JP. Best Paddock Surface Footing for Rainy Climate | Listen To Your Horse [Internet]. Listen To Your Horse | More freedom | More joy | More horse. 2015. Available from:

Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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