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Managing the Mud


Providing winning solutions for horse management and the environment since 1997

Managing the Mud

Alayne Blickle

Trying to create an enriched confinement area for your horse is frustrating when battling mud issues. Mud is nobody’s friend; it creates an unhealthy environment for horses by harboring bacteria, fungal organisms and other pathogens that cause abscesses, scratches, rain scald and thrush. Plus it’s a breeding ground for annoying, disease-carrying insects such as filth flies and mosquitoes. In addition, horses fed in mud can ingest dirt or sand particles with their hay. And the effects of repeated wet/dry conditions are damaging to hoof structure.

Meadow Ridge Farm, show above, has "outlawed" mud and is hosting a farm tour on November 4th to highlight the ways in which they did it, along with other horse enrichment practices. Join us at the tour!

Many horse owners have fought the battle with mud and won. You can too, here's a few ideas how:

Five Practices to Banish Mud, Forever

  • Using a winter sacrifice area confines manure and urine to a smaller area where you can have better control of it. Picking up the manure every one to three days will help reduce your horse's parasite load as well as reducing flies and insects (by eliminating their habitat). And of course, regular removal of manure greatly reduces the amount of mud that can develop. Reducing mud and manure will help prevent contaminated runoffs from reaching the surface and ground waters in your area as well. The manure you pick up can be composted and reapplied to your pastures during the growing season, a plus for your pasture management program!  


  • Footing is an important consideration for winter paddocks. Using some type of footing, at least in the high traffic areas, will reduce mud by keeping your horse off the soil surface and avoiding erosion. Hogfuel or wood chips can provide an excellent footing. These wood products can be good environmental controls, too. Through the natural composting process they contribute to the breakdown of the nitrogen in the horse’s urine and manure. This process eliminates the urine smell often present in outdoor confinement areas.  Gravel (crushed rock, no larger than 5/8”) works well particularly in wetter conditions where hogfuel will break down too quickly. Gravel surfaces are very easy to pick manure off of. Sand is also a popular footing choice and is more available in some parts of the country. Some sand types drain poorly and become dusty in the summer.  A good sand choice would be a coarse, washed sand.  


  • Installing rain gutters and a roof runoff system on your barns and shelters and diverting rainwater away from your horse’s confinement areas is another consideration. This technique will seriously reduce mud and will prevent manure and urine from being washed out of the paddock. In an area that gets 39 inches of rain annually, 8,125 gallons of rainwater would run off a double stalled run-in shed in one year! You can begin to imagine that if you divert that much water away from your horse’s confinement area you are greatly reducing the amount of mud you have around your horse. Divert clean rainwater to an area on your property where it can percolate back into the natural hydrology of your land—a vegetated area, or an unused corner of your pasture.


  • Keeping a vegetative buffer around your paddock. As you choose the location and size of your paddock area keep in mind that there will still be some surface runoff from your sacrifice area. You can help to control runoff by locating your paddocks areas so they are surrounded down slope by at least 25 feet of lawn, pasture, woods, or even a garden. Vegetation in these buffer areas will act as mud managers and become a natural filtration system to help slow down runoffs and reduce sediments and nutrients that can contaminate wells or water bodies.


  • Putting in drainage. French drain lines work to capture water flowing towards your paddocks or barn, redirecting it elsewhere on your property where it can soak in. A French drain is a trench, usually filled with round rock, containing a perforated pipe which gathers water, conveying it away. Water bars (like a speed bump for water runoff) work to divert clean water away from your barn or other high traffic areas to somewhere on your property where it can soak in without causing a problem—water bars can be constructed with native soils and covered with plants or hogfuel. Swales, gently sloping grass-lined depressions, can redirect runoff away from high traffic areas towards vegetation such as landscaping, pasture, lawn, or woods. Rain gardens are another great option for horse properties—strategically placed, they can filter large volumes of water in winter and their plantings will enhance your landscape all year-'round.

What has worked for you? Share your mud success stories; leave a comment.