Creating the Perfect Horse Paddock

Here is a quick and pain-free guide to making sure your horses have a proper paddock.
Avatar:
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0
Here is a quick and pain-free guide to making sure your horses have a proper paddock.
horse-paddock

It's No Sacrifice

  • Confining horses to a paddock at appropriate intervals gives pastures time to rest and rejuvenate.
  • Setting up individual paddocks in close proximity to one another can prevent bullying yet allow for important social interaction.
  • Utilizing a paddock allows you to control a horse's feed intake and monitor his health.
  • Attaching paddocks or runs to stalls or sheds provides access to shelter while allowing a horse to exercise and enjoy the outdoors.

Tired of confining your horse in that muddy, dusty, smelly and fly-infested pen? Are you looking for some new ideas on how to care for your horse during the winter months or rainy season? Or wondering where to keep your horse before your pastures are on the brink of being over-grazed? Or when your horse is in need of a "diet pen"?

Having a horse-friendly, easy-to-care-for paddock for your horse is central to horse-keeping. The bonus for you is that having "the perfect horse paddock" will be better for your horse's health, more chore-efficient for you, nicer for all to look at, and cleaner for the environment.

Probably the most important aspect of managing your pastures is the time when you take your horses off the land. You can greatly improve the health and productivity of your grazing areas by creating and using a paddock, often called a "sacrifice area." The reason it is called this is because you are sacrificing that small portion of grassy land for the sake of the rest of your pastures.

Pastures need "rest periods" to allow them time to grow and rejuvenate. For pasture health and productivity, it is important to never allow pastures to be grazed below three inches. Once grass plants are grazed below that level, they begin to lose vigor and strength. In essence, they begin to die, and the downward spiral of bare soil, dust and weeds begins to take hold.

As all of us horse owners know, mud is extremely inconvenient, making barn life messy and unpleasant-not to mention, an eyesore for all. And the summertime version of mud is dust-which is equally unhealthy for us, our horses and our neighbors.

Living in mud is unhealthy. Mud harbors bacteria and fungal organisms that cause diseases such as abscesses, scratches, rain scald and thrush. Mud is also a breeding ground for insects, especially filth flies and mosquitoes-a big concern for everyone now that West Nile Virus has reached most of our neighborhoods. Horses fed on muddy or dusty ground can ingest dirt or sand particles leading to colic, a very serious digestive disorder. Mud also creates slick, unsafe footing that can cause horses and people to slip and suffer injuries.

The perfect paddock offers good environmental controls without sedimentary and nutrient run-off. Run-off from mud and manure is harmful to creeks and drinking water, so you'll need to be mindful of this when setting up the paddock and the location of your manure disposal area. More productive, grassy pastures will hold onto valuable topsoil and filter out nutrients and sediments-more pluses for the environment. All of this adds up to bonuses for everyone. So let's begin!

Planning Your Paddocks
If you don't already have a location for your perfect paddock, begin by choosing an appropriate site. Choose an area on high ground, away from creeks, wetlands or other water bodies, and well away from surface water flows (such as a hill that slopes toward you). If possible, choose well-draining soils, not organic, mucky ones. And look for a slight slope (about 1% to 2% is optimal) that will drain away from your barns and confinement areas.

For chore efficiency, your confinement areas should be convenient to your barn and manure storage area to make it easy for you to care for your horse and maintain the paddock

One paddock per horse makes it easy to monitor each horse's health, and to regulate individual intake of food and water. It also helps to alleviate problems that might occur during your absence, like ending up with one fat horse and one skinny horse. Individual paddocks can also prevent a dominant horse from trapping a subordinate in a corner.

Having horses in paddocks next to each other so they can see each other alleviates stress. If you have a barn with stalls you may find it easiest to set up paddocks as runs off each stall. This chore-efficient arrangement gives the horse free access to a paddock to move around in as well as the stall for a shelter and a clean, dry, convenient place to feed.

Creating a Suitable Play Pen

  • Situate paddocks on high ground with a 1%-2% slope away from barns and working areas.
  • Plan and position your paddocks to minimize the risk of sedimentary, manure or urine run-off into streams or wetlands.
  • Choose or augment the soil surface with wood chips, gravel or coarse, washed sand so it drains well and won't become muddy or dusty.
  • Use individual paddocks to separate dominant or aggressive horses from the mild and timid.
  • Confine horses before pasture grass is cropped below 3 inches.
  • Set up your paddocks with chore-efficiency, such as cleaning and feeding, in mind.
  • Provide as much space as possible, keeping in mind that a 30' x 100' paddock is just enough room for most horses to be able to run and frolic.
  • Utilize fencing materials that make strong, safe enclosures, while discouraging wood-chewing.
  • Remove manure regularly to reduce the chance of flies, parasites and a mucky, muddy mess.

The size of a confinement area can vary from that of a generous box stall, say 16 feet x 16 feet, to that of a long, narrow enclosure where a horse can actually trot or even gallop about to get some exercise. If you want your horse to be able to run or play in his paddock, an enclosure of about 20-30 feet wide x 100 feet long is usually recommended. The amount of land you have available, the number of horses, their ages, temperaments, and the amount of regular exercise they receive, all play an important role in determining the size you choose to make your sacrifice areas.

Using a sacrifice area confines manure and urine to a smaller space 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. Regular removal of manure also greatly reduces the amount of mud that develops. Eliminating mud in the winter is your key to reducing dust in the summer, too. Reducing mud and manure will help prevent contaminated run-offs 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, another plus for your pasture management program!

Solid Footing
Footing is the next important consideration for paddocks. In high traffic areas especially, you want to use some type of footing that will reduce mud by keeping your horse off the soil surface and that helps to prevent erosion. Hogfuel or wood chips can provide an excellent top layer. 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 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. However, you'll want to avoid feeding on sandy surfaces as ingesting sand (or mud and dirt) with hay can result in horses with serious sand colic problems and expensive vet bills. Sand also drains poorly and is dusty in the summer. A good sand choice would be a coarse, washed sand.

There are many possible footing materials available in different parts of the country. In choosing a footing, some considerations include:

  • Will it be a suitable, safe surface for my horse to run, stand and lie on?
  • Can I easily pick manure from the footing material?
  • Will the footing material contaminate my compost pile in any way?
  • Will it be very dusty in the dry months?
  • What is the cost and availability?
  • Is the material in any way toxic to horses, humans or other animals?

You might want to try a combination of footing types, perhaps using the gravel in the high traffic areas and hogfuel in the rest.

Controlling Run-off
Installing rain gutters and a roof run-off 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.

As you choose the location and size of your paddock area, keep in mind that there will still be some surface run-off from your sacrifice area. You can help control run-off by locating your paddock 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 a mud manager-a natural filtration system to help slow down run-offs and reduce sediments and nutrients.

The size of a confinement area can vary from that of a generous box stall, say 16 feet x 16 feet, to that of a long, narrow enclosure where a horse can actually trot or even gallop about to get some exercise. If you want your horse to be able to run or play in his paddock, an enclosure of about 20-30 feet wide x 100 feet long is usually recommended. The amount of land you have available, the number of horses, their ages, temperaments, and the amount of regular exercise they receive, all play an important role in determining the size you choose to make your sacrifice areas.

Using a sacrifice area confines manure and urine to a smaller space 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. Regular removal of manure also greatly reduces the amount of mud that develops. Eliminating mud in the winter is your key to reducing dust in the summer, too. Reducing mud and manure will help prevent contaminated run-offs 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, another plus for your pasture management program!

Creating Safe Barriers
Use the safest fencing you can for your paddocks. While wood fencing is attractive, in a confinement area, wood often offers the temptation for chewing. Whatever type of fencing you choose, you may want to reinforce it with some type of electric tape or hotwire as a "psychological barrier." Horses are hard on fences and will test most types but tend to respect electric fencing.

Building corners and walls should be safe with no protruding objects where the horse could get hurt, like bolt ends, nails, boards, or the tops of metal T-posts. Also watch out for the corners of roofs and the bottom edges of metal building. There should be no wires or cords hanging in the paddock and absolutely no junk, garbage or machinery. Keep in mind that gates on fences need to be adequately sized for the types of truck deliveries you expect (such as gravel, hogfuel, hay, etc.).

Other chore-efficient aspects you can add to your perfect paddock include good outdoor lighting. This is best installed during the warm summer months, but is most appreciated during the dark, cold, rainy and snowy winter months. Proper lighting helps you get your winter manure management chores done sooner and more efficiently-leaving less manure behind to turn into muck over the winter.

Chore-efficient equipment will also help with your perfect paddock. There is nothing worse then cleaning a stall and paddock with a manure fork with broken and missing tines-except perhaps working outside while freezing. Invest in a useful, wooden-handled (easier to grip in the cold) manure fork that will help you get the job done quickly and easily-as well as a warm, insulated waterproof jacket, wool hat and insulated, waterproof gloves with grips.

Confinement & Turnout
Now you're ready to integrate your perfect paddock into your horse-keeping system! If you have pasture, your horses should be kept in their paddocks during the winter and early spring when grass plants are dormant and soils are soggy. In the summer, use your paddock to avoid grazing pasture below 3 inches. Having a well-maintained paddock is also useful for separating or confining animals, for controlling the amount of grass or feed your horse consumes on a daily basis, and for caring for sick or injured individuals.

Remember, even though your horses can move around in their paddocks, they still need regular exercise. Be sure to plan for and maintain a regular exercise program for your horse.

Also remember to begin springtime grazing gradually-too much pasture can cause serious problems, especially in the spring when grasses are green and lush. Begin pasture grazing time with your horse gradually, starting with about an hour at a time, and working up to several hours over a period of weeks. If you have any questions on this, consult your veterinarian for his recommendations.

By utilizing a confinement area as outlined, you will have less mud and run-off, less dust, fewer flies and reduced odors, as well as healthier pastures. All this means healthier horses, fewer vet bills, less money spent on supplemental feed, a place that's easier for you to care for, and a horse property that's pleasant to look at and easier to enjoy-and a cleaner environment for all. That's perfect!