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Track Paddocks: Combating Horse Boredom

Track paddocks are alternatives to traditional paddock confinement that offer new enrichment and socialization opportunities for your horse.
Track paddocks can be placed around a barn, lake, arena, or other structure to encourage your horse to move freely. | Getty Images

A confinement area (or paddock) is an enclosure meant to be your horse’s outdoor living quarters when not on pasture. Using a confinement area protects pastures from overgrazing and soil compaction, especially during winter when grass plants are dormant and soils are saturated. 

If you’re familiar with confinement areas, you probably think of them as small, boring spaces that don’t allow for much opportunity for movement or mental stimulation. Creating a track paddock offers a way to provide enrichment opportunities and mental stimulation for our smart and social horses. Track paddocks are large, long corridors that circle the perimeter of a pasture or other areas and serve as either turnout or a horse’s outdoor living quarters. The goal of a track paddock is to encourage horses to move about more freely, explore their environment, and interact with their herd-mates more than they would in a usual small confinement area.

Track paddocks are based on concepts brought to the forefront by author Jamie Jackson in his 2006 book Paddock Paradise, A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding.Jackson, a veteran hoof care professional and natural horse care advocate, introduceda way of looking at confinement areas based on his research into how horses move and seek out food in the wild. Jackson and others who have tried this approach feel track paddocks have many benefits, including fewer vices, healthier hooves, and overall improved horse health.

A track paddock is generally set up so it runs along the perimeter of a pasture or property, usually with permanent fencing on the outside and temporary fencing on the inside. You can shape a track paddock in any number of creative ways, including circling around a barn or an arena or weaving through a trail course. The possibilities are endless when designing your track paddock.

Here are some things to consider when designing a track paddock:

  • Soil type. Track paddocks require well-drained soils to be successful. Wet or organic soils will turn to mud with continued heavy use.
  • Land availability. Living with horses on one or two acres requires greater creativity in designing track paddocks. Paddocks can be shaped to fit around a building, arena, or pasture perimeter. Be sure to avoid sharp corners on buildings. You can also incorporate hills, curves, a variety of terrains, or other natural (but horse-safe) stimuli.
  • Track width. This depends on the number of horses you have and their age, breed, and temperaments.The narrower the track, the more the horses will be inclined to move. However, if it’s too narrow and you have multiple horses, one might get cornered by a more dominant horse. Create wider spaces as loafing areas, where horses might want to pause and rest. Usually track paddocks are about 12 feet wide, with more room at feeding or watering points.
  • Additional movement. Encourage movement throughout the track by strategically placing feed and watering points along with other stimuli (such as poles to step over or toys to play with) that activate curiosity or movement.
  • Cost and chore efficiency. Remember, the larger your track paddock, the more maintenance it will require (e.g., picking up manure regularly and putting down footing in muddy spots). A larger track will also incur more costs for fencing or footing material.
  • Climate patterns and weather. If you live in a northern or rainy climate, you might choose to use your track more often in good weather. Wet or snowy winter weather can make for muddy and difficult footing conditions.

Horses are highly social creatures with a great deal of play drive and curiosity. Turning them out in a confinement area that encourages movement and provides other stimulation helps create a happier, healthier horse.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alayne Blickle
Alayne Blickle, a lifelong equestrian and ranch riding competitor, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award-winning, internationally acclaimed environmental education program for horse owners. Well-known for her enthusiastic, down-to-earth approach, Blickle is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners since 1990 teaching manure composting, pasture management, mud and dust control, water conservation, chemical use reduction, firewise, and wildlife enhancement. She teaches and travels North America and writes for horse publications. Blickle and her husband raise and train their mustangs and quarter horses at their eco-sensitive guest ranch, Sweet Pepper Ranch, in sunny Nampa, Idaho.

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