It’s that time of the year when it rains and rains and RAINS! Even here at Sweet Pepper Ranch in the dry desert of Southwestern Idaho it is raining. That is a good thing here as we have had very little precipitation over the last six months. Everyone in Treasure Valley had their irrigation water turned off early and all reservoirs ran dry. Without good rains in the valley and snow in the mountains this winter we’ll be in big trouble next summer.
But mud in our horse paddocks is definitely a problem—for any of us, no matter where we live.
Mud creates an unhealthy environment for horses
Mud harbors bacteria, fungal organisms and other pathogens that cause abscesses, scratches, rain scald and thrush. The effects of repeated wet/dry conditions are damaging to hoof structure. Mud is a breeding ground for insects, such as cullicoides (“no-see-ums”), filth flies and mosquitoes. Insects are not only annoying; they can carry diseases and can cause allergic reactions for our horses. When fed on muddy ground, horses can ingest dirt or sand particles with hay, leading to sand colic, a very serious digestive order. Plus mud creates a slick, unsafe footing, increasing the risk of injury (for horses and humans).
Every horse person knows that mud is inconvenient and unpleasant. Mud makes everyday chores difficult. Odors, flies and appearance of mud lowers the desirability of a property for you, your neighbors and your customers—if you run your place as a business.
Once soil and manure has mixed with water to make mud, it can easily be carried into nearby streams or lakes. Sediment can smother trout and salmon eggs, destroy habitat for insects (a food source for fish) and cover prime spawning areas. Many pollutants, like the nutrients and bacteria from manure, are likely to attach to soil particles and be carried into the water.
What You Can Do – Slow the Flow and Redirect
When tackling drainage think “slow the flow.” The best and easiest way to reduce surface water is to slow it down. Many times just slowing water down will allow it to infiltrate back into the ground—perhaps that will be all that’s needed to solve a drainage issue. This also helps recharge the natural hydrology of your property including ground water. If you already have gutters and downspouts on barns and out-buildings and footing in confinement areas but rain is still flowing into confinement areas you may need to consider installing some type of drainage system to redirect surface water flowing towards your barn.
Each of these techniques can be useful for keeping clean rainwater out of your barn area and reducing mud—at Sweet Pepper Ranch we’ve used several of these:
- French drain lines (trench filled with drain rock and perforated pipe that redirects surface and groundwater away from an area)
- Water bars (like a speed bump for water runoff)
- Grassy swales (gently sloping depressions or grass-lined waterways)
- Dry wells (deep hole filled with round rock—only works in a dry area)
- Trees and shrubs (planted to slow down and soak up water)
- Rain garden (stay tuned for more info on this!)
- Divert the clean surface water away from your high traffic areas to someplace else on your property where it can soak back into the ground. Places to divert to include an unused corner of your pasture, well-vegetated woods, grassy lawn or other well-vegetated areas.
Never divert to an existing water body as the amount of added water can drastically and unnaturally change water levels. When water levels go up quickly, that increases turbidity and important fish habitat is often ruined or destroyed.
Be sure to check out the Educational Materials section on the HCW website. We have lots of free resource materials available to help you with projects, as well as like DVDs and inexpensive Tip Sheets to give you guidance on things like footing choices, building an arena, pasture improvement, and more! Shopping for Christmas gifts at Amazon.com? If so, please consider using this link to go to Amazon. That way Amazon will make a small donation to HCW which helps with running our website.
Good luck and here’s to a mud-free, chore-efficient winter for us all!