Have you ever noticed how horses will wear down paths in a pasture? It seems like no matter how much space they have, horses will follow the same paths (or tracks) every day as they move about. This instinctive behavior is the theme behind an increasingly popular way to provide turn out to horses.
The Paddock Paradise System (PPS) mimics the behavior of wild horses, eat a little, move on, rest, move on and eat some more. The system was designed by Jamie Jackson, a farrier that likes to keep things natural. In general, the idea is to make horses move around more, over different terrains, searching to fill different needs such as water and food or minerals. Jamie finds that, like horses in the wild, this type of behavior will help keep horse hooves hard and naturally trimmed.
The movement in the wild is driven by the search for food and water, and by natural herd dynamics. As one animal moves to find food or water, the others follow. The PPS re-creates this natural movement by offering horses tracks to follow and areas for rest and feeding.
Many have found the benefits of Paddock Paradise System for problem horses; such as easy keepers, insulin resistant horses and horses with chronic laminitis. Others view it as a solution to keeping horses on small acreages or as a form of enrichment.
I first became aware of the PPS on a farm call for horses that had been in a dry lot for quite some time. One horse has insulin resistance and the other was a previously foundered mare. The owner was very anxious to get them out of the dry lot and had researched this system as a possible way to achieve that.
We reviewed Jamie’s book Paddock Paradise; A Guide to Natural Horsekeeping and we considered her land’s topography, her budget and her horse’s needs. We came up with a plan that would get it done quickly and cheaply.
We decided to use poly step in posts and electrical tape for fencing and ran two strands, one high and one low, to inhibit them from reaching over and under for grass.
We made narrow tracks (8-10 feet wide) to press the horses to move through more quickly and wider areas (20-30 feet) for loafing and grazing. Due to her limited space (3 acres) the system has a track that circles around a center pasture area. This design reduces the amount of grazing for horses needing a restricted diet without really reducing their area of exercise. If you have a very large pasture the center area can even be used to make hay for winter months.
There is a gate that enables the horses to get into the center area for short bouts of play and for short grazing periods. In the small tracks, the horses will quickly reduce the grass to dirt. This is ideal for owners of insulin resistant horses or foundered horses and serves a similar purpose as a sacrifice area. If you don’t want to wait until the horses have eaten the track down you can eradicate the grass and continue to do this as it pops up.
The tracks will change consistency with the seasons. In the dry months the horses keep the trails well packed and during periods of wet weather the tracks can get muddy. Much like a sacrifice area this system saves the good grassy areas without the horses being stuck in a small area for months as you wait for your pastures to dry out.
Tracks can be a simple loop, a set of several loops or a more complicated set of trails.
Different footing textures are encouraged so my client used sand in one area of a larger track for the horses to roll and dropped some large stones (baseball size or larger rocks) in another area to keep them from running.
Some horse owners put in a narrow path made of crushed limestone that the horses must pass over. This encourages sole growth and gets them used to harder footings such as what they would see when riding on roads. I would say that this is a must to use at all gate areas to prevent mud.
At the water spots we put pea gravel under and around the waterer. This allows for excellent drainage under the waterer and offers yet another footing texture for the horses.
Because a pool of water is great for promoting proper hoof growth she created a sandy based “pool” for them to splash and roll in. Some farms run their tracks through a creek on site to serve this purpose.
So how do you get the horse to keep moving?
To encourage them to move we designed several feeding stations, a few wider sunny spots to soak up some rays, as well as some shady areas to loaf. It’s important that you don’t place the horses’ various needs together. You want to feed away from the shelter, place the water away from the salt lick, etc. This way they have to walk between the locations several times a day.
As far as feeding, some horse owners use slow feeders in multiple places around their track, some scatter hay pads directly on the ground in various areas. We decided to mount a few slow feeding nets in two of the wider track areas. We put them on PVC posts so they swing, making it even a slower eating process.
The final step was to place “enrichment” items on the track that will keep them moving or entertained. She decided on a few small logs placed across a narrow track section on the trail.
Other horse owners have used a pile of large rocks that the horses have to navigate around, a bridge that they have to go over (this need not even be over a ditch) and a few have included scratching posts.
Image: Paddock Paradise in Northern England via Paddock Paradise FB Page
One idea is to use obstacles for whatever you want to work on with your horse. If you do a lot of trail riding where you need to cross water or bridges, put a bridge on your track. If your horse spooks at every rock, put rocks on your track. For horses who are not careful of where they put their feet, add rocks, jumps or trot poles so that every time they pass over them, it reminds them to pick up their feet.
Image: Paddock Paradise FB Page
So far my client’s horses are thriving in their new Paddock Paradise. They have both lost weight and get longer visits to the “inner circle” of pasture. She is so pleased she wants to change things up next year with different enrichment ideas to keep them interested.
Here are a few other tips for building your own Paddock Paradise:
• Download a satellite or terrain map of your property from Google maps. Print out and trace your property lines on it, then go for a walk.
• Take notes of how the areas look in winter, spring and summer. You will want to take this into account when planning fence lines and footing choices.
• Lay down some kind of geotextile to prevent the loss of your footing if you are placing sand, rock or gravel over a muddy area. An industrial strength landscape fabric, old carpeting, or even a thick layer of straw can be used.
• Keep the inner fence line on the simple side; using temporary and movable electric fence.
• Do not get overwhelmed. Start small, and have a long term goal, with a few manageable additions every year.
• Observe how your horses interact, and take this into account when designing your PPS. If you have a dominant and aggressive horse, make the tracks wider, with large corners and loafing areas.
• Have ways (gates) of making the track smaller to contain them in a sacrifice area in spring or if overweight, and to expand to different areas for more grazing or to do rotational grazing.
• Save yourself elbow grease at grooming time. If you want to make a water dugout for soaking or rolling, line the hole with barrier and then a layer of sand or pea gravel. This will reduce the muddiness.
I hope you found some interesting information in this post. If you would like to get a gussied-up PDF version of this article via email for only 99 cents click here:
You can find Jamie’s book on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Paddock-Paradise-Guide-Natural-Boarding/dp/0965800784
Peace and good rides, til we meet again,