Horses need their rest, just like their human counterparts. Without proper rest, horses can suffer from numerous problems. For this reason, it's important to understand the sleep cycle of a horse and what type of bedding to provide the horse with for maximum comfort for them and maximum durability at the lowest cost for you. Horses have two different stages in their sleep cycle of which both are necessary. The first stage, known as Slow Wave sleep and commonly referred to as SWS, is considered the sleep of the mind as the horse is usually standing up while entering this stage of sleep. The horse will lie down, if comfortable, and drift further into SWS until reaching the second stage of sleep. Paradoxical Sleep, or PS, is generally considered the sleep of the body as all muscles are relaxed and there is no muscle tone. A horse that is uncomfortable in their bedding will not enter the PS stage and will therefore become fatigued and sick very easily.
Straw bedding has been used for many years and used to be the only available type of bedding. It is well liked by horses and reduces abnormal behaviours from unknown beddings. The problem with straw is that it can sometimes cause respiratory problems in different horses. It also causes a huge mess and is very tough to dispose of. An alternative to straw is sawdust. It is easily obtainable and is very inexpensive. There are some major problems with sawdust, however, because it can severely affect the respiratory system of both the horse and humans alike.
Peat moss can also be considered a good bedding substitute. In fact, many veterinarians even recommend peat moss for horses suffering from respiratory problems due to the fact that peat moss is one of nature's best filters. The microbes in peat moss will actually eliminate, not cover up, the ammonia build up in the stall. The problem with peat moss is that is considerably more expensive than straw or sawdust, but you must consider the health of your horse and any vet bills from respiratory problems they could potentially develop.
A new favourite for horse bedding is hemp. The Queen of England herself even uses hemp bedding for her horses so you know it must be effective. It is a bit more costly than other options but you must consider that it is an all natural solution and is very absorbent which allows for the use of less material. Horses won't eat the hemp like they will straw and hemp also doesn't promote respiratory problems for horses or for humans. The use of hemp is very ecologically friendly, as well.
There are many other options to consider, like recycled and shredded newspaper and wood pellets, but whatever bedding is used, you should consider having rubber flooring installed over the concrete or dirt floor in your stables. It will provide a safer environment for your horse and will require the use of less bedding. Providing your horse with a more comfortable stable gives them more energy and helps them fight off diseases!