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The War on Mud: Four Tips to Combat Mud Right Now

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Providing winning solutions for horse management and the environment since 1997

The War on Mud: Four Tips to Combat Mud Right Now

Alayne Blickle

Boot-sucking goo makes chores a pain and can make horses' lives miserable as well, setting up conditions for serious health issues along with a dust bath for you every time you brush your horse.

Turn muddy, disease harboring paddocks into safe, clean confinement areas

Here’s four combat tactics you can do right now:

Direct water away from confinement areas

Winter is a perfect time to see exactly how water is flowing and determine how much is making it into your horses' living quarters. Walk around after each rain or snow event and see where the ground is soggy and where it's dry.

Since water flows along the path of least resistance, dragging a shovel and digging a shallow trench can help to redirect it. Later, when working conditions are more favorable, you can turn any successful, temporary ditches into permanent French drains, berms or swales, or install a rain garden or another permanent structure.

Don't make more mud

This may sound elementary; be diligent about picking up manure. Do it at least every other day. Manure breaks down in just a few days under the right conditions; the less there is, the less mud you'll be dealing with in your horse's living areas. Fifty pounds of manure per horse, per day can add up to a lot of mud!

Make sure water and snow running off your roof is directed well away from your horse areas. If you don't have gutters and downspouts, or they aren't currently in working order, direct water away from confinement areas by digging a shallow trench (one that isn't deep enough to be a horse hazard) the length of the eaves, and slope it a minimum of five percent toward one end to a buffer of trees or grass, making sure it flows away from your barn. If it's not too muddy, top your trench with pea gravel, and keep it free from manure and other organic matter, like hay and shavings. Some people pour a concrete channel for this purpose.

If you have downspouts, check to see where they are draining, and that water is not making it into your horse paddocks. If it is, add drainpipe extensions to direct it somewhere where it won't degrade your paddocks.

Add some footing

But not on top of mud! Address drainage issues, even if temporarily, before you add new footing. Otherwise your footing expense will get sucked into the muck, guaranteed. If you tackle new footing in winter, first, channel water to flow away from paddocks, then remove soggy, organic material. Make sure your ground is sloped away from buildings and fill in large potholes with gravel. Footing tips:

  • If you are using a wood product, like hog-fuel, layer it 8-12" thick so that it forms a solid, firm mat in which to make a long-lasting barrier between the ground and horses hooves. 
  • If you are using gravel with fines (5/8" minus being the largest size recommended for horses so manure can be collected), use a minimum of 4-8 inches, depending on your soil type, making sure it slopes away from buildings; gravel with fines will eventually compact - you will need to keep leveling it until it settles.
  • If you are using loose gravel or sand, make it deep enough to create a good barrier, but not so deep as to be problematic for horses to walk on. If you have a very wet area, it is generally recommended to use compacted gravel or road fabric beneath it. With both gravel and sand you will need a separate area to feed so your horses don't ingest sand. Also, if sand is chosen, make sure it is not an extremely dusty type and that it will drain during heavy rains and not turn into a slurry.

Research renovation ideas

  • Determine a budget versus the lifespan of your project to see what materials make sense and will be permanent, cost-effective, and successful.
  • Attend an upcoming event on managing mud; seeing and hearing what other horse owners have successfully done to combat mud can provide solutions that you might not have thought of - you can also pick up tips for for working with your specific soil and property type. 
  • Check out our Horses for Clean Water tip sheets, available at a minimal cost.
  • Take a peek at the Horses for Clean Water photo corral to see different design ideas and applications of materials for paddocks.

Good luck to you and hope to see you at one of our upcoming events!