Managing Mud on Horse Farms

Mud prevention requires long-range planning and a balance between managing horses and managing pastures.
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Managing Mud on Horse Farms
Horses are creatures of habit and return to the same grazing areas repeatedly. This behavior causes overgrazing and trampling that inevitably reduces grass coverage and results in muddy areas. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse
You might know the feeling when you lift your foot to take a step across your horse’s paddock and suddenly realize that your boot has been left behind and your soaked foot is half a step away from it in ankle-deep mud. Mud is a problem anywhere water meets bare soil. And during the last few years Kentucky horse farms have had their share of mud.

Horses are creatures of habit and return to the same grazing areas repeatedly. This behavior causes overgrazing and trampling that inevitably reduces grass coverage and results in muddy areas. Recent extreme weather conditions have further thinned Kentucky pastures, magnifying the mud issue. Mud is not only unattractive, it also is dangerous for horses and people to move around in, harbors bacteria, and decreases pasture productivity. However, the following pasture management practices can help reduce mud and its associated challenges.

Overseeding

Overseeding heavy traffic areas can prevent or correct mud issues. Depending on your method, overseeding can be a long-term solution or a short-term simple fix. The ideal method is to remove horses from the paddock or fence off an area, then seed into a prepared seedbed or killed sod with perennial grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, orchardgrass, and endophyte-free tall fescue. This requires seeding equipment, sacrificing some of your turnout, and waiting six or more months for the seedlings to fully establish, but results can last for years.

On the other hand, perennial and annual ryegrass provide short-term overseeding options for horse owners that are quick to establish and relatively inexpensive. Annual ryegrass will establish very quickly and is inexpensive; however, it only survives until midsummer. Perennial ryegrass survives for about two years in Kentucky if not overgrazed, but it is a bit more costly and slightly slower to establish. Unlike other cool season grasses, ryegrasses can be broadcast on top of the ground and will still germinate and take root. In small, high-traffic areas, this might be the simplest mud management method. Keeping horses and people off this area as long as possible will produce the best results; consider relocating high-traffic sites such as hay racks and water tanks, or walking horses through a different gate until the root is established. Broadcast seeding (also known as top seeding) of other forage species (Kentucky bluegrass, orchardgrass, etc.) will not be successful unless the area is dragged or cultipacked (to compact the soil) after seeding to bury the seed. Even when overseeding ryegrass, dragging is recommended

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