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Managing mud on horse farms

Quick facts

  • Taking preventative measures to manage mud on the farm can save time and keep horses healthy.
  • Constructing high-traffic pads with geotextile fabric and other materials is the best way to keep areas well drained during muddy seasons.
  • Alternative footing options and temporary drainage solutions may also be helpful, but have some downsides.
Horse walking in mud

Throughout the year, horse owners work outside to care for their horses despite challenging weather. Whether it is rain, sleet or snow, precipitation eventually turns soil to mud and can create major hurdles for efficient horse care.

To best prepare for muddy conditions, plan to manage precipitation and construct permanent drainage solutions.

Permanent drainage solutions

Facility layout is a key first step to permanent drainage solutions. Place buildings, material storage, animal feeding areas and shelters on higher ground. These areas will dry faster as fluids flow to lower ground. An ideal slope is between four and six degrees.

In areas of heavy traffic where mud tends to accumulate, such as gates, laneways and dry lots, consider building a high-traffic pad. High-traffic pads improve drainage and provide stabilization through the use of multiple layers of permeable geotextile fabric and stones of various sizes.

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Temporary drainage solutions 

In the event that temporary, or emergency, mud management is required, dry spots can be constructed by adding gravel, dirt or sand to paddocks.

  • Only use these solutions when necessary as they lack the structure of high-traffic pads and may result in erosion and nutrient runoff.
  • Avoid using footing materials that readily break down such as straw, hay and wood chips.

Other rain and snow management 

  • Install gutters on all buildings and use drainage ditches and swales to direct rain, sleet and snow towards these areas.
  • Create a plan for piling snow to ensure that you can accommodate snowmelt in the spring. Make sure that rainfall, snowfall and melting snow doesn’t drain into manure piles as this can create nutrient runoff.
  • Always store manure on a non-porous pad, such as concrete, and remove it regularly, following state and local codes.

Horse health concerns in muddy environments

Horses should be checked daily for signs of thrush, pastern dermatitis and cellulitis. These conditions thrive in wet environments and can be worsened by the presence of bacteria. Removing manure daily can help reduce bacteria.   

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Aubrey Jaqueth, post-doctoral associate, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

Reviewed in 2019

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