Many horse managers try to alleviate mud problems by hauling in gravel or coarse sand to build up the main traffic areas around the farm and barnyard–and to create smooth, dry areas in paddocks where horses can safely walk to water or have a safe spot to lie down. Some horse owners keep a stockpile of sand or crushed rock for winter and springtime emergencies. They have something to put out during bad conditions to keep footing safe against the hazards of ice or mud. Some also take the time and effort to smooth out the travel areas with tractor and blade or harrow in the late afternoon before the mud freezes solid again at night.
When planning new pens or paddocks, or trying to alleviate the worst mud-caused problems in existing facilities, pay close attention to water flow lines and drainage routes. If part of a pen or paddock can be situated on higher ground, these higher areas will accumulate less moisture and be first to dry out after rain or melting snow make a swamp of all the flatter areas.
The water must have someplace to go. In flat pens, frost in the ground will hold the moisture above it; the water can’t get down into the ground. The area will remain wet and boggy until much warmer temperatures in late spring thaw the frost and allow the water to seep on down.
In early spring, the only dry places will be those that are higher, where the water can run off and not stay puddled to soak in and saturate the soil above the frost line. A solid rock or clay undersurface beneath the topsoil will tend to do the same thing as frost, holding the water on the surface. No pen or pathway can dry out if water from rain or melting snow cannot escape.
You can reduce the bog effect if you take time to notice where water runs and settles after a rain, and plan your landscaping strategy accordingly. To allow water to run off, you need at least a one or two percent slope to the ground. This slight slope is almost imperceptible, but will allow good drainage, especially if you can create some ditches or low areas to take the runoff into still lower spots and away from your pens.
In a boggy pen or paddock, some drainage problems can be resolved just by hauling in sand or gravel to create high spots for horses to stand or bed down on, or for creating a raised path or travel way. You also want to create good drainage away from a feeding area or water tank so horses won’t have to stand in mud or create a bog or deal with frozen “foot holes” when they come to eat or drink. The hauled-in material can be smoothed a bit with tractor and blade, and horse travel will do the rest of the smoothing.
If your land is perfectly flat and you have no natural slope on which to create a mud-free riding area, you can hire a contractor with heavy equipment to “crown” an area (grading it so the highest point is at the center, with a slight slope to all sides) which will allow excess water to run off. Then the riding arena will dry out faster after a rain or in early spring, and you’ll have good footing for your early rides, instead of dealing with a bog.