Stop the Slop

Keep yourself and your horses dry with these land and paddock drainage tips.

From America's Horse, with contributions from Kristin Syverson

Here in Amarillo, we get the occasional winter storm. When the sun makes its reappearance the next day, most of the snow promptly melts, leaving us to slog around in its wake. There's no time quite like spring for messy, squishy conditions, so we think it's a good time to talk about drainage.

What can you do to deal with standing water on your property?

Before you pour on the sand and gravel, take some advice from Les Smith, a professor of landscape architecture at Ball State University who specializes in equine facility planning.

When possible, Les designs horse facilities around the land's natural drainage pattern. Paddocks, gates and alleys especially need good drainage so that every rain doesn't create a pig sty.

If your existing facility has poor drainage in the heavy traffic areas, improve the drainage before you begin pouring sand and gravel into the bog. For puddle-size areas, dig a trench leading downhill, away from the damp area, then back-fill the trench with gravel. Seasonal stream crossings might require corrugated steel drains covered in crushed gravel and topped with dirt.

Large areas, such as a boggy low spot in front of a loafing shed, might require more drastic measures. In some cases, you might elect to contour the land, using earth moving equipment to build up low-lying areas with sand, soil and rock.

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Failing that, more elaborate drainage systems, such as buried "traps" of crushed rock (called French drains), might be needed.

After you address the drainage problems, Les recommends putting crushed gravel in the most heavily used areas, such as around gates, water troughs and narrow alleys.

"Add a crushed stone of a fine consistency - it's often called ‘quarter down' because it is ¼-inch in diameter down to dust-sized.

After some years of adding this stone, you'll end up with a crushed stone path - a sacrifice area, because the ground will probably never recover with vegetation," he notes.

Paddocks are preferable to stall runs, but if you already have stall runs, rain gutters along the edge of the barn keep water from cascading into the runs like a waterfall.

When it comes to surface materials, Les cautions against the common wisdom that "free materials are always best."

As organic materials decompose, the result can be slimy, slippery, poorly draining soils that contribute to horse thrush and hoof rot. Not sure how to identify horse health symptoms of conditions like horse thrush and hoof rot? Visit Quarter Horse Outfitters for a wealth of educational materials on your horse's health and more. AQHA members get a discount!

If you use organic materials for surfacing, make certain the areas are well-drained. Remove all the organic matter every few months and replace it with fresh material.

Sand, another common surfacing material, can dry hooves excessively. If the depth of the sand exceeds a few inches, it can cause ligament strain. Instead, commercial arena-footing materials, such as shredded rubber, can be added to a sandy base to create a well-draining, soft, yet, springy footing that provides greater support for your horses' legs.

If you prefer to ride out on the trails, make sure to participate in AQHA's trail ride program.  Plus, whether you ride your horse in an arena, on the trails or anywhere else, you can earn prizes for it in AQHA's Horseback Riding program. Become member of AQHA today and start reaping the benefits!

Professional boarding facilities often use rubber mats in outside runs as well as stalls. Water runs off of them, and they are durable and easy to clean and sanitize.

Les cautions against putting mats over concrete.

"It's difficult to be sure that your horse's legs aren't getting stresses because there is only so much you can do to pad concrete," he says. "I would suggest their use only if there is full-range turnout available during much of the day."

When using rubber mats in stalls and runs, be sure to maintain six inches of fresh bedding to relieve joint and muscle stress.