(revised from my previous blog, The Handy Horse Owner)
Pea gravel as stall bedding? While some may think it sounds uncomfortable, it can actually be one of the best forms of stall bedding for the barefoot horse. First, let me explain what pea gravel is. It’s not like the gravel you would use in your driveway–it’s is the small, round stones often used on playgrounds or landscaping projects. If you were to walk barefoot in pea gravel yourself, you would actually find it quite comfortable.
Pea gravel can work wonders for the barefoot horse. Why? Because it stimulates the frog and increases blood circulation (as shown in a study by Robert Bowker, VMD, PhD,) It does this by helping to eliminate periperhal loading–which is where the hoof walls bear more weight than the sole. It also toughens the sole, and helps to keep the hoof walls worn down, possibly increasing the amount of time your horse can go between trims.
I use pea gravel in my stalls, but I don’t keep my horses stalled for a long period of time. They mainly come into their stalls to eat and drink, or stand near the fan on a hot, summer day. You probably wouldn’t want to use pea gravel as stall bedding if your horse were stalled for long periods of time (but then again, I don’t think horses should be stalled for long periods of time!) I’ve observed noticeable changes in all my horses’ feet since putting the pea gravel in their stalls.
To get the benefits of pea gravel, it doesn’t necessarily have to go in stalls. You can use it in any area of your pasture or paddock where your horse frequents, such as under a favorite shade tree or near the watering trough. It can be a little costly up front, but I am convinced that in the long run, it will save money. I’ve had my pea gravel for over a year and a half and haven’t had to replace it yet. It also makes cleaning stalls very easy (with a cherry picker), and it drains well. My stalls are never soggy anymore. By the way, you do need to keep your pea gravel area clean or else it won’t serve it’s purpose (and you will have wasted the money you spent on it!)
Dr. Bowker recommends putting 3-6 inches of pea gravel in your stalls (or other areas) to get the maximum benefits of it. I don’t have quite that much and have still seen hoof improvements. Getting another load of pea gravel is on my husband’s to-do list, though.