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    Tips for Muddy Horse Paddocks

    Authored by Katie Navarra

    Dry summer conditions can quickly make you forget the mess and hassle of mud season. But, as summer slips into fall, winter, and spring, wet conditions will inevitably return and can make basic chores a pain.

    “Having mud at the gate makes getting in and out a challenge,” said Robert Coleman, PhD, PAS and Equine Extension Specialist at the University of Kentucky, “But also consider the conditions that horses can end up standing in.”

    Horses that stand in mud or muck have an increased chance of developing hoof issues. It can also increase the chances that a horse will lose a shoe.

    “Standing in mud can lead to lower leg issues such as scratches. The wet areas can also be a good place for insects to be found,” said Coleman. 

    How to fix mud in horse paddocks

    Take charge of the mud in your high-traffic areas with these tips.

    1. Plan ahead
    2. Direct run-off
    3. Improve drainage
    4. Maintain pastures

    Plan ahead

    Physics dictates that water flows downhill. Therefore, directing water away from barns, paddocks and gates is a practical alternative to stopping the natural flow of water. 

    Before adding a new pasture or changing entry points, consider where horses will congregate and become high-traffic areas like a gate, run-in shed, waterer, or hay feeder. Choose naturally higher, drier locations to work with Mother Nature. 

    “When we don’t plan for how we can deal with rain and run-off, we then deal with mud. It is not just about having a sacrifice area or an area to keep horses off the pasture but dealing with the run-off first that makes a difference,” he said.

    Direct run-off

    Barns have large rooflines that create a sizeable volume of amount of run-off. During a downpour or snow melt, excess water finds the path of least resistance to the ground. Excess water dropped in doorways and other high-use access points quickly turn to mud making chores challenging.

    Properly sized gutters divert water away from key access points and either drain to the ground or get tied into a drainage system. Installation is only the first step; gutters need cleaning and maintenance to work effectively. Gutter guards or filters can help keep leaves and debris from clogging up the system.

    You may have an opportunity to harvest that extra water for use around the barn. Rain barrels and larger water capture systems catch and store rainwater for later use. For example, to water a garden, clean troughs, etc.

    “The system needs to be sized appropriately as coming off a barn, or covered arena can result in a great deal of water,” Coleman said. “The systems work best on a metal roof as that reduces the amount of debris in the water.”

    Check local and state zoning laws before installing a system to capture and store water for reuse. These systems are not allowed in Colorado and other select states.

    Improve drainage

    Muddy areas can't be fixed quickly. A temporary solution to muddy areas is to fill them with rocks or asphalt. Many people do not add enough rock when executing the emergency rock fix, resulting in a pile of mud with a few rocks in it. The mixture should not have any sand. The sand will only make more mud.

    "There are a variety of rock materials that work well, and it will be dependent on where you live and what is available," Coleman said.

    In most cases, he recommends using a geotextile fabric at the base and covering it with gigantic rock at a dept of 4 to 6 inches. You can also add a second layer of fabric, then smaller rock like a dense grade aggregate on top to make a surface. 

    "You need to build the area appropriately so that the water will drain in a controlled manner," he said. "The grid materials can be helpful if there is a grade or slope to be dealt with. In any case, building the area to reduce mud is an expense that needs to be considered." 

     Installing a drainage system that includes ditches, a french drain or a catch basin can also work well. Select a drainage method based on the land's topography for the best outcome.  

    "Too often, we see the gate area and other places on the pasture placed where the water is going to run. Although, at the same time, those areas, when dry, might be most convenient when wet, they are not," Coleman said." Suppose you can manage the run-off from the buildings and hard surfaces with ditches and good use of high traffic pads. That will be a plus.

    Pasture maintenance

    Maintaining pastures well helps control mud and eliminate standing water. Grass contributes to the reduction of surface water volume. Plants with strong roots aerate the soil, enabling excess water to infiltrate the soil rather than remain on top. Even in situations where standing water may be on grassy areas, the area will dry faster.

    Try these basic pasture maintenance tips to help paddocks and pastures drain more efficiently. 

    • Avoid overgrazing.
    • Remove manure and excess organic material (like discarded hay) regularly.
    • Create a pasture management plan that excludes horses from wet ground.
    • Stick to a mowing routine to reduce weeds that choke out beneficial grasses.

    The big picture

    Standing water may not be coming from your property alone. It is possible that neighboring properties, whether they are other farms or residential communities, drainage systems, or problems there, can spill onto your land and worsen your farm's mud problems.