Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

One of the most frequent horse property management questions I get at this time of year has to do with footing problems in horse paddocks.
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Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties
Coarse washed sand drains well, is less dusty (than finer varieties of sand) in the summer months, and is 'softer' in the winter months than other surfaces. | Photo: Alayne Blickle

Once again it’s the dead of winter when most horse owners across North America are experiencing some form of inconvenience because of snow, ice, or cold temps. At Sweet Pepper Ranch in southwestern Idaho we’ve been getting more than a healthy dose of colder than normal temps plus snow, which has lingered on and on, outweighing its initial welcome. These days I find myself whining a lot about not being able to ride, the difficultly of hauling on snowy roads, or the joys of riding in single digit temps (not!). Ugh!

One of the most frequent horse property management questions I get at this time of year has to do with footing problems in horse paddocks. (The Horse’s Digital Editor Michelle Anderson recently asked me this very question when deciding whether or not to move her horse to a boarding facility for the winter.)

The problems are that water often puddles in poorly drained paddocks then freezes and causing slippages. Or that footing is too rocky and pot-holed, especially when it freezes, making it uncomfortable for horses to stand on (or people to walk on!). Or that surfaces are too uneven and rutted for manure clean up

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Written by:

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.

19 Responses

  1. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    Sand sounds like it drains well, but would it be abrasive to the horses legs? thx

  2. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    Adding organic material ie: wood chips / shavings/ sawdust / manure should only be done as a safety precaution to create safe passage over ice or lumpy frozen cratered surfaces. Ultimately, any organic material will become mud.

    Because of the w

  3. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    All great comments & feedback to share! Several of you have hit on key points about choosing the right footing for your specific situation. Keep an eye on Smart Horse Keeping & I’ll go over some additional criteria for footing selection in a fu

  4. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    A new product for dealing with mud in paddocks are the paddock base panels from Lightfoot Equine Surfaces (www.hoofbase.com). The flexible panels can go down over the existing mud and fill with gravel to stabilize the base to prevent the footing from g

  5. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    I keep 4 horses in an open barn corral with a big paddock on one side. At night we put them in the corral so it used to turn into a muddy mess during the wet season. We just installed a floor grid called Ecoraster, covered with crushed rock and it seem

  6. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    My goal was to not be a prisoner on my own land anymore. The Hydro had put in a quarry stone (fist-sized)on the road back the land.  During transition I first put wood chips in the 60′ round pen and it composted to a sponge and became boggy……f

  7. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    If you look up natural hoof care… pea gravel is a stall surface that is recommended. I have not tried this yet and am interested in feedback if people have tried pea gravel in a stall. Since I live in California I don’t have to worry about ice.

  8. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    I’ve been at my stable for two or three years and they have NEVER cleaned the paddocks. So winter (Texas’ rainy season) footing consists of 10 or 12 inches of old wet manure. I’d leave if I could, but I’m in a complicated situation that precludes that

  9. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    Here in the Triangle area of N.C. you can get a sand called Chapel Hill grit. It looks like a very thick sand but has a yellow tint so maybe sand and ground up clay? I have it in and around the run-in sheds and it does not wash away even though the lan

  10. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    I have a base of limestone fines, but I am thinking of adding pea gravel on top of this. One of my horses has heaves and any potential dust is an issue. Does anyone have experience with pea gravel in all weather turnouts?

  11. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    I was a bit surprised at the ready agreement about using woodchips for horse footing.  Chips can be very acidic, break down after only a couple years and are quite known to cause hoof issues.  I had easy access to them (worked at a lumber mil

  12. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    7 or 8 feet out in front of the run in stalls we used 8" of what is called "road base" [sand with crushed rock in it] with course gravel on top as footing. The road base pacts down very solid and firm, water runs off easily. The footing

  13. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    I agree with using coarse sand.  This is sometimes called "fill" sand and is very economical.  We put it directly on top of the muddy area, to a depth of about 4-5".  The horses punched thru it and it actually changed the

  14. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    Stone dust works for me. Packs down, drains well.

  15. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    Debbie, hogfuel is chipped wood. It’s available in some parts of the country like the Pacific Northwest and looks like playground chips or landscape mulch. The size and types of wood products that you use with horses are important to consider; fir, pin

  16. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    Our paddocks were originally sand over clay (we built the barn on an arena), and stayed in pretty good order with hog fuel to absorb moisture. Six years later, they are a mucky mess. We are thinking about using something like Horse Grid footing (

  17. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    We also use "screenings", the small crushed rock, in our paddocks and as a base for the run-in shed. I add a scant layer of lime in the run-in (to neutralize ammonia) and top with several bags of large sized shavings (easier to muck). Heavier

  18. re: Winter Paddock Footing for Horse Properties

    A few comments .. sand added to mud will (eventually, though probably not the first year) make deeper mud. I have made this mistake myself, and the only solution is to remove everything and start from scratch.

    Ideally, the base footing in a run

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