How to Deal With Muddy Horse Pastures in Winter (Expert Tips)

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Muddy horse pastures in winter are a headache!

If you live in an area that gets wet during the winter horses will destroy grass paddocks.

But for their own well being many people still turn them out.

This brings me to the main topic of this guide, what can you do to deal with the mud!

READ MORE: Best Waterproof Paddock Boots

Good Drainage

horses in a muddy paddocks during the winter

Good drainage is essential to winter paddock maintenance. If you don’t have good draining land then you have no chance of ever winning against the mud.

Professor of landscape architecture at Ball State University Les Smith gave some fantastic advice in his article for the American Quarter Horse Association. [1]

Let’s take a look at some of his tips for keeping paddocks dry here. Keep in mind that many people might not have access to the equipment needed for these tips, but if you do it is great advice.

ALSO CHECK: Horse Riding Boots Brands

Small Wet Areas

Professor Smith suggests that if you have smaller areas of your paddock that are waterlogged that a good solution to improve drainage is to dig. [1]

He recommends digging a trench downhill and then replacing the removed soil with gravel.

Large Wet Areas

For large wet areas, Professor Smith says the more complicated drainage systems need to be put in place.  This can involve using machinery to move dirt into lower lying areas with a good draining base such as crushed rock.[1]

Final Drainage Touches

After you have adjusted the land the best you can, Professor Smith points out it is important to build up high traffic areas with crushed stone. These areas include the paddock gate, pathways, and near the water trough.[1]

You will need to top up this stone regularly to ensure it doesn’t get lost in mud and a proper stone area forms.

Eliminate Muddy Horse Fields

horse standing on a muddy pasture

If you aren’t lucky enough to have control over major works to improve the land there are some ways you can still make your walk through the paddock to get your horse easier.

If you board your horse, it can be a bit harder and you will need to get the owner on your side with your suggestions or even offer to contribute something towards the costs and installation.

Prevention is Best

Starting your mud control work in the middle of winter when the field is already trashed and mucky will not work. You need to start before the wet season begins.

The area around the gate is notorious for turning into a mud hole not dissimilar to a black hole with will happily suck your rubber boots off into the abyss.

Laughing at you as you try to balance one foot without face planting into the mud.

If you have limited funds, this is one of the best areas to tackle first. The first thing to do is raise the ground level and then top it with a couple of inches of gravel.

You can also use a mixture of sand and shredded rubber. I don’t suggest using just sand as this can become mucky as well.

Make sure to check our list of the best winter horseback riding boots!

Matrix Bases

I’m really fond of matrix bases, however, they are not the cheapest option. These are squares made with heavy-duty material that contains holes. They lock together providing a surface that prevents the ground from getting churned up.[2]

You can place these around the gate and water trough. You can also use them to create a walkable path across fields so you can access paddocks that might sit behind the front one.

Many people like to top these squares with gravel. What you get is a mud-free area in high traffic areas and paths you can walk on without losing your boots!

They won’t keep your entire paddock mud free but it makes it much easier for equestrians to manage their horse’s turnout in the winter. Another name for these matrixes is footing grid system.

In this video, you can see how these matrix bases are used and work.

Wood Chips

Many people use wood chips as a more economical surface to prevent mud. It isn’t as good as the other options and requires more maintenance. 

Because wood chips are organic they breakdown at a quick rate according to the University of Minnesota’s article ‘Managing mud on horse farms’. They state that this means they need to be cleared away often and replaced. [3]

Rotate and Rest

It is important any time of year to rotate and rest your paddocks but especially during the winter. If you leave horses in the same turnout all winter, all-day it will all turn to mud. 

You need to find the best way for the land you have to give your horses turnout while keeping the land in as good a shape as possible. This means giving individual paddocks plenty of rest and rotating frequently.

You also need to regularly poo pick your paddock as manure mixed with wet ground is a great recipe for mud.

Expert equestrian, Stacy Westfall, put together this helpful video of her tips for dealing with muddy paddocks.

Mud Health Concerns For Horses

Not only do you want to manage mud in your paddocks for the maintenance of the land and make your life easier, but you also do it for your horse’s health.

horses standing on muddy pastures

Moist dirty conditions that keep your horse’s legs wet for hours are a big and common health worry for horse owners. It encourages bacteria growth and the combination causes skin conditions such as Pastern Dermititus and Cellulitis.

You might be more familiar with other names for Pastern Dermintitus, like scratches, mud rash, or mud fever. Scratches appear on the lower leg mostly on the back of the pastern. You will find numerous scabs, swelling, and it can make your horse sore.

Once you have mud rash you need to treat it immediately to prevent more serious infection. Clip the hair off the legs so they are exposed to air and moisture isn’t trapped. 

You will need to keep the area clean and dry, as well as apply creams to help it heal. [3]

Cellulitis is when tissues under the skin get infected with bacteria. This can end up as a long-term condition, so veterinary treatment is necessary immediately.

Signs include swelling and heat in the affected leg. It can even cause the entire leg to swell and your horse might get a fever.

FAQs

It’s impossible to cover everything here but I’ve been asked these questions a lot so thought you’d like to know the answers as well.

What boots are best for walking in muddy fields?

The best boots for walking in muddy fields are those that keep your feet dry and don’t get sucked off! Wellies keep your feet dry but are terrible for walking in mud.
Many equestrians find Muck Boots are good at staying on. Unfortunately, there is no foolproof boot!

What is the best way to walk through a muddy field?

One of the best ways to walk through a muddy field is along the edge where it tends to have less mud.
If the fence has electric wire or tape, I suggest you turn off the fence when walking this route just in case you slip. You don’t want to get a shock!

How to avoid walking through a muddy field to catch your horse?

One nearly foolproof way to avoid walking through a muddy field to catch your horse is to get it to come to you by using a feed bucket.
Put a small amount of feed in the bucket and shake it, if your horse doesn’t catch on the first time walk to him with the bucket. It won’t take long for him to come to you!

Conclusion

Finding the perfect solution for a muddy paddock is a little bit of a unicorn. But there are ways you can manage it so your horse is happy, doesn’t get skin conditions, and you can easily move through the field.

You can combine each of these tips or do things on a smaller scale to suit your circumstances. In the meantime, you can do what I do and countdown to Spring and drier weather!

horse's feet walking on a muddy pasture

References

  • 1. How to Fix Muddy Horse Paddocks – AQHA [Internet]. www.aqha.com. [cited 2022 Feb 28]. Available from: https://www.aqha.com/-/stop-the-sl-1
  • 2. Six Ways to Prevent Mud [Internet]. US Equestrian. [cited 2022 Feb 28]. Available from: https://www.usef.org/media/equestrian-weekly/six-ways-to-prevent-mud
  • 3. Managing mud on horse farms [Internet]. extension.umn.edu. [cited 2022 Feb 28]. Available from: https://extension.umn.edu/horse-pastures-and-facilities/managing-mud-horse-farms#alternative-footing-options–1713811
Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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