There is something about mud that affects every aspect of horsecare; the health of your horse, the workload of those that take care of them and the impact on the environment around the muddy mess.
How Mud Affects Your Horse:
- Hoof Issues- Mud will cause your horse’s hooves to soften, and invites the fungal and bacterial growth that are typical in thrush.
- Skin Issues- Scratches and rain rot are common in horses that are kept in muddy conditions.
- Tendon Issues- Trying to negotiate through deep mud can cause a horse to pull a tendon or strain a ligament.
- Feeding Issues- Mud will mix with hay fed on the ground, which can lead to both hay waste and colic. Grain is wasted when it falls to the ground and mixes with the mud. Both of these affect your horse’s ability to eat not to mention the waste of $$$
How Mud Affects The Environment:
- Erosion– When stormwater hits muddy areas it causes these areas to wash away creating ruts and instability.
- Sediment– The mud that gets picked up and washed into area water ways carries with it gravel, sand and dirt that fills the creek beds changing water direction and quality.
- Water Quality Nutrients from your horse’s manure mix with mud and are carried to nearby water sources from rain. This degrades the water quality of the streams and rivers which provide drinking water and habitat for wildlife. This runoff can also infiltrate into the groundwater on your farm, contaminating your well.
- Aesthetics A sloppy muddy paddock is sure to devalue your property by ruining the aesthetic appearance of your farm. This can also frustrate your neighbors and affect your income if your farm is a business. Most boarders, lesson-takers and other clients see a horse in mud and think “No Thanks!”
How Mud Affects You:
Trying to accomplish your farm work in mud is always more difficult. Trying to haul a wheelbarrel full of manure through 6 inches of mud in the paddock isn’t easy.
- Mud caked horses require more time to clean and curry.
- Trying to slop through the mud to catch your horse is a drag too. Even worse if they don’t want to be caught!
So…What Can You Do to Reduce Mud on Your Farm?
- Sacrifice Areas or High Use Areas:
You can greatly improve the health of your horse and your farm by creating a sacrifice or high use area. A sacrifice area is a small enclosure such as a paddock, corral or pen that is “sacrificed” from the grazing area of the pasture. It is used during rainy/wet periods or throughout the resting period for your pasture.
Using a sacrifice area has many benefits; they help reduce mud, confine waste and protect your pasture from over-use.
There are many ways to create sacrifice areas and you will have to decide what is in your budget and best suits your farm practices. The key is to establish it so it drains well (a 2-4% slope is a must) and it must have some kind of all weather footing.
I have seen everything from simple paddocks using electric tape and wood chips to those with under drains and stone dust.
Note: Make sure you provide a slow feeder in your sacrifice area to prevent boredom and promote normal grazing behavior.
- Gutters & Downspouts:
Installing gutters to your barn and run-in sheds will divert storm water away from your barn and sacrifice area and will help reduce mud. It will also prevent the rain water from getting contaminated from manure.
Make sure the diverted water has somewhere else to go however. Letting it flow from the barn roof towards paddocks and pastures doesn’t solve the mud issue.
A 20′ x 50′ roof creates 620 gallons of water. Roof run off that flows directly onto the ground has enormous volume and will cause erosion and create wet areas.
Collection systems such as rain barrels, cisterns and rain gardens provide the rainwater with a place to go, suiting this purpose perfectly.
- Rain Barrels/Cisterns:
The perfect place for the rainwater coming out of your newly installed gutters is a rain barrel or cistern. A rain barrel is a container that captures and stores rainwater draining from your roof. Barrels usually range from 50 to 80 gallons and have a spigot for filling watering cans and a connection for a soaker hose. Most rain barrel owners use the water they collect to water their lawns and gardens in the dry times between rain events. Runoff from a roof and gutter is generally clean and safe enough for these applications with no further processing, as long as the roof surface is not asbestos or treated cedar shakes. Cisterns are much like barrels but bigger.
- Rain Garden:
A rain garden is a shallow depression that is planted with deep-rooted native plants and grasses that are designed to absorb water. The garden should be positioned near a runoff source like a downspout or driveway to capture rainwater runoff and stop the water from reaching the paddocks and pastures. This reduces moisture and the possibility of mud.
- Use Alternative Watering & Fence Horses Out of Streams:
Ideally everyone would be able to afford and use automatic watering systems. They reduce water waste, provide clean, fresh water for your horses, and can eliminate the dreaded water trough mud pit.
However, most of the farms I visit use water tanks or troughs. Most have muddy areas around them during rain events and some year round.
There are a few things you can do with your troughs that can help reduce the mud.
- Position troughs and tanks on gravel (no more than 3/4” size), stone dust or a slab
- Check water troughs for leaks at least once a week. A leak that continues to drain water never allows the area around the tank to dry.
- Elevate the trough if necessary so horses cannot climb in an play in the water. Using the fence to split the tank between two paddocks helps reduce this behavior as well.
- Put Shut Off Device on water troughs so they don’t over flow. This will also aid in water conservation.
- Check Washstalls/ Wash Areas for Drainage:
If you are lucky enough to have a permanent wash stall with a concrete floor and drain, check to make sure the drain doesn’t’ empty into an area that the horses will travel. Any wet soggy ground will quickly turn to mud with horse traffic.
If you use a temporary grassy area to bath your horse try and rotate where you do this so the ground can absorb the water.
A strip of vegetation that can absorb the water run off helps more permanent areas and will filter chemicals from the wash water. A great idea to help reduce impacts to soil and water.
There are many great resources to help you get started on your mud reduction plan. Check with your soil and water conservation district for support. You can also contact me for a phone or on farm consultation. We can begin with an audit of your current mud-reduction measures then explore areas for improvement.
Here are a few good links to get you started:
For Sacrifice Areas:
For an Outdoor Wash Area:
For Rain Gardens:
Automatic Watering Systems:
Peace and good rides, til we meet again.