Much of the material in this section has been adapted with permission from Alayne Blickle and her organization Horses for Clean Water, based out of Washington State. Horses for Clean Water is another great resource to learn about environmentally-sensitive horsekeeping.
Mud: this is often the most common problem on a horse farm. Mud is created from a mix of soil, water, and fine organic matter (manure). Most paddocks have all three ingredients in plenty, which is why they become muddy at certain (or most) times of the year. Mud makes doing chores and catching horses difficult, can significantly impact your horses health, and threatens water quality. Here are some of the problems:
- Mud will cause your horse's hooves to soften, and invites the fungal and bacterial growth that are typical in thrush, scratches and other common diseases.
- Mud will mix with hay fed on the ground, which can lead to both hay waste and colic.
- Mud helps insects, such as mosquitoes, to breed.
- Rainwater runoff from your muddy paddock contains high levels of sediment and nutrients from your horse's manure, which will degrade water quality of nearby streams and rivers- often the very same streams and rivers which provide your drinking water source! This runoff can also infiltrate into the groundwater on your farm, contaminating your well.
- Everyone has tried hauling a manure cart through 6 inches of mud in the paddock. It nears the impossible.
- Endless hours are spent currying dried mud from horses' bodies, manes and tails.
- Mud can kill the aesthetic appearance of your farm, frustrating neighbors and discouraging potential boarders, lesson-takers or other clients.
Fortunately, mud is one problem that has some very good, relatively simple solutions which we discuss below.
1. Create and USE a paddock (sacrifice area). One of the best things you can do to keep your pastures from turning into mud lots is to establish and use a "sacrifice area" better known as a paddock, pen, run, or dry lot. Each of these is slightly different, but for the sake of simplicity we'll use the term paddock. This is an area where horses are kept during wet conditions to save the pasture from being torn up. No grass is expected to grow here: therefore, it is "sacrificed." Paddocks can vary in size depending on how much land you have to work with, and your level of comfort with keeping your horses in a small area for prolonged periods of time. Size your paddock such that you are 1) able to maintain footing (the bigger the paddock, the more expensive this can be), and 2) comfortable locking your horse in it during wet weather, and during the winter when the pasture is resting. An area at least 100 feet long will allow a horse to trot, whereas it takes closer to 200 feet or more to allow him to canter. Also make sure you have some slope to your paddock (2-6%), or central drainage. While most farms do have paddocks, but they are rarely mud-free. Follow the next few steps to keep your paddock clean and dry.
The pictures above, provided courtesy of Prince William Soil and Water Conservation Distict, are part the Distrcit''s model horse farm program. To see more pictures of the farm, see our example farms page.
| This farm was a muddy mess.
||With the help of thier local SWCD, the farmers installed a paddock as part of their mud management strategy.
Paddock Paradise is a concept developed by natural hoof care professional Jaime Jackson, in an effort to better simulate a horse's natural environment. In Paddock Paradise, the paddock area is shaped in the form of a track which runs around a central pasture (or arena, or barn). By spacing hay, water and feed at intervals along the track, movement is encouraged, which is good for the horses' mind and feet.
Example of a Paddock Paradise system.
Picture provided courtesy of Becky Overland of Hand for Horses, an organization dedicated to natural horse care and management.
2. Pick up manure from paddocks. Do not underestimate the importance of picking up the manure (one ingredient in mud) from paddocks just as you do from stalls. Alayne Blickle tells a story of a friend who made many attempts to reduce the mud in her paddocks- she tried various footing, drainage configurations, plantings, and other expensive ideas until she came upon the one thing that made all the difference- picking up the manure regularly. Yes, this takes more time, but it saves both time and vet bills in the end. Keep this in mind when sizing your paddock- if it's too big, you're unlikely to pick up the manure regularly.
3. Use appropriate footing in paddocks and high traffic areas. There are many types of footing that can be used to keep horses up out of the soil (a key ingredient in mud). Footing should be used in paddocks and around high traffic areas such as gates and watering troughs. Crushed rock or gravel is the most popular type of footing and comes in various sizes, which can be layered for maximal drainage. Sand can also be used, but be aware that feeding hay on sand can result in sand colic, and sand can erode more quickly than gravel. Various wood products (chips and trimmings) are another option, but make sure you know what you're getting, and that it isn't toxic. Geotextile fabric can be used to line footing to prevent it from mixing into the ground below. We have heard from a number of geotextile users that horses have a propensity to find and pull up the fabric, so make sure it is sufficiently covered (5 to 7" is preferred) and firmly secured. It is also expensive, so make sure you consult a professional for proper installation. Stall mats, belting and grid products can also be used in high traffic areas.
4. Reroute rainwater runoff. Keeping rainwater runoff out of paddocks and high-traffic areas will greatly help reduce mud and keep the water clean. One of the best things you can do is install gutters and downspouts to catch rainwater runoff from your roof. Make sure you direct your downspouts to empty away from and downhill of the barn and paddock area. Better yet, collect and store the rainwater in a rain barrel or cistern to provide additional water for your gardens, arena, compost pile or pastures. If you have particularly wet or high traffic areas, consider french drains, dry wells, or other means to move water away.
5. Use vegetation or gravel to soak up water. You can catch rainwater, slow it down, and filter it back into the ground by using vegetation and/or gravel. This is both good for getting rid of water, and good for the environment, as the natural filtration and treatment process removes the excess nutrients added by horse manure. Examples include rain gardens (gardens with hardy, native plants good at sucking up rainwater), bioswales (ditches with grass or other vegetation), green roofs (vegetation that grows on roofs), and permeable pavement (porous pavement that allows water through).
Photo of rain garden courtesy of Dr. Carey Williams, Associate Director of Extension for the Rutgers Equine Science Center.