Creating Hardened Surfaces in Horses’ High-Traffic Areas

Owners should consider creating surfaces that minimize pastures damage and reduce horse health risks.

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When it comes to creating the best environment for their horses, owners have a lot to think about. However, what lies beneath their animals’ feet generally isn’t one of them, said Stephen Higgins, PhD, director of Environmental Compliance for the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture. Even so, he said creating surfaces that minimize pastures damage and reduce horses’ health risks should be on owners’ priority list.

Higgins explained that when a horse is standing, his hoof places approximately 27 pounds of pressure per square inch (PSI) to a surface. That surface pressure increases to 48 PSI when a horse walks. When several horses congregate around soft surface feeding and watering areas they can create mud. Over the long term, heavy equine traffic on muddy surfaces increases soil compaction, prohibits the growth of desired vegetation, and promotes weed infestation. These muddy conditions also expose horses’ hooves and legs to bacterial infection and force animals to expend more energy, in turn increasing their need for feed, water, and forage.

It’s better, said Higgins, to provide animals with an all-weather, multipurpose surface that can support the weight and continuous traffic near gateways, feeding areas, and other places horses congregate. These so-called "hardened surfaces" incorporate heavy-use pads or compacted gravel around concrete near high-traffic areas. Owners can create hardened surfaces by installing geotextile fabric in high-traffic areas, then covering that material with gravel.

Made from polypropylene or polyester material, geotextiles are permeable fabrics used to strengthen soil and reduce erosion. Used in combination with gravel (also called dense grade aggregate) geotextile fabrics create a surface that can withstand heavy traffic from horses, humans, and farm equipment and other vehicles

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