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Mud Management: Careful Planning and a Work in Progress

Controlling water flow and therefore mud can be a huge challenge for many. Sometimes, by sheer chance of where we live on the planet, we can be faced with very few challenges or an extreme amount. This is due to weather, temperature, ground base and soils, number of horses, topography, seasonal variations, etc.

Each horse owner/manager will deal with it differently depending on budget and availability of materials. First thing though, if we are going to make improvements we have to give the water a place to go.. whether it is downwards into the earth or sideways to a drain and/or ditch or surface runoff. Sometimes, it may mean really not doing anything but moving the horses to higher ground or a location with better drainage.

What you decide will be unique to your farm and what you can manage in one year, and sometimes it may mean working out the problem/s over time.

I will share what I do on my farm for my two mares. So far it is working out very well especially during our wet seasons, spring and fall. My project probably took about 3 years as different issues surfaced, but I would still see it as "work in progress". I also allow the plan to be flexible as I need to because of the four seasons. I rely on steel posts and electric fencing to give me that flexibility, while wood posts are used for fence gates and the far perimeter edges in certain areas.

Here are a few positives about my property that makes drainage reasonably good. For one there is a continued slope to the property so I know surface water will always be on the move at least most times. There are also spots where there is fill - a good mixture of sand, gravel and small rocks. And, there is plenty of ditching around the paddocks, outdoor arena and down the edge of the property. You can always hear the trickle of water in the spring and fall. However, despite these in place, there is plenty of clay that holds water. Clay is very common in our area. So when

it is terribly wet out there, I try to minimize the amount of hoof traffic at least until it dries up in the summer or freezes over for the winter. This includes the outdoor grass arena at the back of the barn. At the front of the barn, closer to the house I have a decent size round pen that has a gravel base and topped with sand. This arena seems to hold good when it's wet so it's used more so during the spring and fall.

So here is a guided tour with comments to show you the run that I have established with areas that flex with the seasons.

The Boardwalk. The horses leave their stalls in the morning and come in during the evening. This area used to be a huge problem - lots of mud. This is so because the back part of the land slopes towards the barn so runoff was an issue, pooling in front of the back door.

To solve this issue, I added some sand along the barn and tamped it good. I placed a number of concrete paving stones (2x2) in front of the sliding door, sloped towards a small ditch I made. I covered the concrete with 2 rubber stall mats to keep things clean in front of the door. Then I laid OSB sheets (doubled up) and made a boardwalk to at least the opening of their turnout barn, which runs and is attached to the side of the barn. The boardwalk is sloped to the small ditch I created. The ditch is "protected" from hooves using some steel posts and fencing rope (not electrified) . The posts are protected by PVC pipe.

I did this about 3 years ago and I am surprised how well it is holding up with the harsh summer sun, the amounts of rain, and lots of snow. Having the pitch really helps and the drainage. I regularly clean this area of manure and snow. It really helps to keep the hooves dry. In the photo, where the water tub is, is where the horses go into the barn. The immediate right is where their turnout shelter is.

Turnout Shelter: approx 12 ft x 30 ft, It's high and dry as you go more into it. The immediate entrance is a little muddy but I still have to build that up with some gravel. On the to-do list for 2021.

The Paddock Run: The horses will travel through the gate and head to the left into their run. This area here is actually part of the outdoor arena which I roped off because there is a very wet spot to the left of that opening. Again, trying to keep them out of the low spots onto higher ground. It is very clay like here as you will see in the upper section of their run towards the trees. There is no pasture for them as they are on hay all the time, but this area does get bits of grass for them to nibble on during the summer.

Upper part of their run:

Same areas, but during the summer. you can see how dry the ground is but the soil is still a little loose with some sand in it on clay.

Heading down the side of the barn: this side is actually not too bad as long as they stay away from the side of the barn from fall to spring. This is why I have posts up and fencing to prevent them getting any closer. The large amount of rain from the barn roof really makes this area soppy, and in the spring there is a tremendous amount of snow that comes off the roof making it very dangerous. The path in this section has lots of gravel under it. To the right on the other side of the fence and close to the bush, runs a good size drainage ditch. Ideally I would like to get some eavestrough here, some weeping tile or a french drain to help with the flow. But for right now creating a designated path seems to be working quite well.

Towards the Front Of The Barn, in the Paddock: In this area the ground soil changes to lots of sand/gravel/rock mix and provides great drainage. This is an area that the horses like to hang out as they often can see what's going on in the "human world" and watch for me to come from the house or home from work, to feed.

Further down their run it slopes towards a small patch of grass. The area in which they can graze will gradually be expanded over the coming months. I just don't want them to have to much grass at once so I have a cross fence to control the amount of grazing they can do. This area is actually not too bad for drainage except for a small patch that gets a bit mucky. But the main ditch on the right side helps to keep runoff moving.

Future grazing patch: this area will complete their run next year. It is currently being fertilized for the fall, and will enhance new growth for the summer. My horses need very little pasture, basically an add-on to their hay diet. They are both very easy keepers. But grass does offer good nourishment and keeps them occupied. The run wil be a total of 400 feet long, with grazing on one end and water+barn on the other. This will encourage lots of trotting and cantering to keep my gals in shape. Hay is fed either in their turnout barn (loose or in nets) or outside on the dryer patch towards the front of the barn.

Well I hope this gives you some ideas. There are many options out there to work with mud but just remember to give the water a place to go, work within your budget, and be flexible with your plan to accommodate the weather and your horse's needs.

Interested in taking the next step in your horse's nutrition? Do you need help in determining the best combination? Send an email to and share your story!


Jean Klosowicz, Equine Nutrition Consultant & Educator

Superior Equine Health and Nutrition Inc.

Bruce Mines, ON

fb: @SuperiorEquine


Healthy Horses. Happy Owners. Superior Results!

Superior Equine Health and Nutrition Inc. ~

The articles contained in this column are for the purpose of education and are not intended to take the place of proper veterinary care. They may be used in conjunction with such care to facilitate healing and maintain health of the horse.

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