More and more horse owners are discovering track systems every day, learning about the endless benefits track life provides to our domesticated horses. Unfortunately in the UK, we don’t have very nice Winters most of the time and so, rather than having the Winter wonderland I’m sure many of us would prefer, we instead get days and days of rain with little rest in between. If you’re in the majority of track owners who can’t surface or put down large areas of hardstanding, that unfortunately means mud.
If you care for a horse that suffers with metabolic conditions, Laminitis or is grass-affected, turning your horse back onto a paddock or lush grass for the duration of Winter just isn’t an option. Although it would probably make life easier for some of you, the many positives of track life are beneficial to your horse all year round. Whilst mud is inconvenient, it’s not the end of the world and whilst we understand that some landowners won't allow for tracks due to this, if YOU have the option to set up a track, don't let the mud put you off during Winter.
Tracks and living in herds are the way forward for so many horses, particularly if they’re unable to thrive or cope in a ‘traditional’ set up. Shutting horses in their stable during Winter for prolonged periods of time is often the perfect combination of isolation, lack of movement, lack of enrichment and lack of forage to cause long-term ramifications – mental and physical. Our horse’s basic requirements need to be met all year round. Horses need to move, they need friends and they need a species appropriate diet, all of which you can give them through a wet and miserable Winter.
Last year we gave you some tips and tricks for those with unsurfaced tracks like ourselves, to help you and your horses manage life on track through Winter.
With a few more pointers, here are our suggestions:
1) If you haven't already set up your track, study your land in depth. When it rains, what areas are affected the most? Does it flood anywhere? What sort of ground are you on? Where do they most commonly stand? Do you have hills and dips? Can you incorporate any trees or hedges for natural shelter? You'll want to set up your track system with all of these things in mind.
2) If you've already got your track in place, don't be afraid to move things about if they're not working for you or your horses. This can mean moving feeding stations and temporary hard standing or completely moving a portion of your track.
3) Invest in some MudControl Slabs. If investing in some slabs isn't doable for you right now, search your Facebook Marketplace for old patio slabs, concrete sleepers and other second hand, renter-friendly hard standing you can arrange around commonly stood areas or access points. We have and still do use both second-hand patio slabs and MudControl Slabs.
4) Rotate your feeding areas around and allow portions of your track to recover without the added footfall.
5) Hayboxes are really useful for putting your hay into off the floor, reducing wastage largely - we all have at least one horse that likes to wee on their hay, throw it across the track and then drag it through the mud. If you’re finding your horses are pulling the hay nets out of the boxes, you can use some string or a clip to anchor it to the bottom of the box.
6) If you have larger herds on your track and prefer to feed in larger bales like ourselves, you can find or build some adapted trailers that make portable hay feeders. We have recently made one that hitches onto the back of our truck or tractor and can be moved from churned up areas to dryer patches.
7) Take advantage of the trees and hedges on your land. Not only do they provide great natural shelter, the ground underneath them often remains some what dry.
If at all avoidable, don’t take any machinery onto your tracks. Whilst footfall will create some mud, the worst of our mud patches or churned up areas have come from using machinery on our tracks.
9) Leave your centre fields untouched completely throughout the year and allow them to grow to standing hay. Should you have any extreme flooding, turning your horse’s onto the centre fields is a back up option that is less threatening to their health. Please remember that Laminitis can happen at any time of the year and to carefully watch for those green shoots coming through. You should also continue to provide adlib hay.
10) Try not to personify your horse – they would much prefer the choice of a field shelter/natural shelter and their track with their friends than to be stuck in a stable with no say. They also don’t feel the cold like we do and therefore don’t need to be wrapped up in their ‘pyjamas’ in their stable.
A gentle reminder for those of you worried about Mud Fever, please remember it is commonly diet related and not actually caused by the external factor of mud - https://www.calmhealthyhorses.com/skin-conditions
We do offer track consultancies for anyone looking for some advice and support with their track build. Please feel free to message us for prices and information.