The Lowdown on Drylots

Find out how drylots, small paddocks sacrificed to allow pastures to rest, could help your facility this winter.
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The Lowdown on Drylots
A drylot is small paddock sacrificed to allow for other pastures to rest. | Photo Credit: Alexandra Beckstett
As we head into fall, the lush pastures might be waning. It’s time to make winter plans—what will your horse’s turnout facilities look like over the winter months?

For some, a drylot could provide an ideal turnout situation for their horses. A drylot is small paddock sacrificed to allow for other pastures to rest, especially during the winter or wet months.

Drylots might not seem like they require much thought, but they do. They also require a considerable amount of planning. They can vary in size, but there should be a minimum of 400 square feet per horse housed in the paddock, and additional space is needed if the horses do not get along well.

Shelter is another important consideration. Shelter is imperative to help horses get out of the elements, including the hot sun or driving rain. A run-in shed is one of the best shelter options for this application.

“A three-sided shed or lean-to can provide adequate shelter for your horse. A 12-foot-by-12-foot lean-to can accommodate one to two horses,” said Krishona Martinson, PhD, of the University of Minnesota. “As horse numbers increase, run-in shed dimensions should increase by 12 feet per horse. For example, if you have three to four horses, you would need a 12-foot-by-24-foot, and with five to six horses, a 12-foot-by-48-foot lean-to would be sufficient,” as would multiple smaller structures.

Again, these recommendations assume all horses utilizing the shelter get along with each other.

By keeping food, shelter, and water in different areas of the drylot, you can encourage movement and, to an extent, control where they’re moving.

This brings up another important puzzle piece: footing and drainage.

“In high-traffic areas like a drylot or hold corral, horse hooves loosen topsoil and compact the soil below,” explains Ann Swinker, PhD, Extension horse specialist at Pennsylvania State University. “As the soil becomes more compacted with the constant pounding of horse hooves, rainwater is not able to percolate through the soil and pools on top, mixing with the topsoil to create mud. The most important ingredient for making mud is to add water. The rainwater that runs off impervious surfaces like your barn roof can compound the problem. If the rain isn’t direct away from the high-traffic areas, you can have a real mud problem.”

To help deter the mud from accumulating, as well as slick areas from where the horses urinate frequently, a thick layer of a zeolite-based stall refresher, such as Sweet PDZ, can help control moisture and keep ammonia at a safe level.

Drylots are important to horse management, but it is essential that they are managed properly. With a bit of planning and maintenance, the drylot can be helpful throughout every season.

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