You bring your horses in from turnout only to find their legs and hooves coated in mud. You know that mud is bad for your horse, but why and what can you do about it?

Hosing down a muddy horse may be an all-too-common experience for equestrians that live in rainy climates, low-lying regions or areas with clay soils.

Not only is mud a nuisance to clean, but muddy conditions also increase the risk of injuries, infections and health conditions such as cellulitis or lymphangitis.

Tack shops are stocked with products promising to prevent mud-related diseases in horses and there is ample discussions online about whether these products work.

But rather than trying to prevent mud-related disease in your horse, let’s take a step back and instead focus on ways to prevent mud formation around your barn and in your pastures.

This article is a practical reference guide to managing mud on horse farms. We will discuss the causes of mud formation and management strategies to help fix muddy paddocks.

Is a Muddy Paddock Bad for Horses?

A muddy paddock exposes your horse’s legs to excessive moisture and a plethora of microbes, including bacteria and fungi.

Mud forms when water mixes into soil. As the ground becomes muddier, oxygen is less able to penetrate the soil, shifting the bacterial population.

Many beneficial microbes depend on oxygen in the soil to survive but become less abundant as mud forms.

Anaerobic microbes thrive in low-oxygen environments such as mud. Some anaerobic microbes are pathogens (disease-causing organisms) that can enter damaged hoof or skin tissue and cause infection. [4]

Excessive moisture also makes your horse’s hooves prone to damage. Hoof wall samples show changes in fracture toughness when tested at different moisture contents.

Hooves typically have a moisture content of 75% relative humidity. When moisture is above or below 75%, hoof samples fracture with less pressure applied. [1]

Health Problems Linked to Mud

Equine health conditions associated with muddy environments include:

Muddy paddocks also make for slippery footing, potentially causing injuries or tendon and ligament strains in the legs. [2]

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How do I keep my Paddock Dry?

The best way to prevent mud from accumulating in your horse’s environment is to keep their paddock dry by collecting and redirecting water.

You may also need to support the ground in high-traffic areas by installing geotextile footing.

Collect Water Before it Reaches your Paddock

Install a rain garden

Rain gardens are similar to traditional gardens, but are dug several inches or feet into the ground to collect water.

Aesthetically pleasing, they are also an important part of stormwater management planning in many cities.

To install a rain garden, dig a hole resembling a pond. The size will depend on how much water needs to be collected.

Fill the garden’s base with well-draining soil before adding native plants to help eliminate water pooling in the surrounding area. Avoid plants that are toxic to horses.

An effective rain garden should hold water for no longer than 24-48 hours.

Pros

  • Low maintenance
  • Installing well-draining soil mixed into the base helps to fix areas with slow-draining soil
  • Native plants absorb and filter water

Cons

  • Needs to be planned and installed by skilled labor
  • Upfront investment of time and money

Install a Rain Barrel

A rain barrel collects the water run-off from a surface such as your barn roof.

The downspout(s) of your gutters can be directed to drain into rain barrels to stop the water from running into your paddock.

To collect rainwater for drinking, invest in a rain harvest system, which is equipped with a filtration system and pump.

Pros

  • Inexpensive – often free at local wastewater management facilities
  • Easy to install

Cons

  • Limited capacity
  • Must be monitored to prevent overflow

 

Redirect Water in your Paddock

Install a Swale

A swale is a grooved structure dug into the ground that runs downhill to divert water to a designated drainage area.

As long as the swale can maintain a gentle downhill slope along its length, a swale can reach distant drainage areas.

Swales range from several inches to several feet in width, depending on the volume of water that needs to be displaced.

Swales can be lined with grass, stone or other material and can be subtly blended into the landscape. Grassed swales must be temporarily protected following installation while the grass reestablishes.

Pros

  • High water capacity
  • Low maintenance, if planned properly
  • Customizable

Cons

  • Planned and installed by skilled labor
  • High upfront investment of time and money

Avoid Dumping Water Troughs

It’s important to clean and empty out your horse’s water trough before filling it with fresh water.

However, dumping your horse’s trough in your paddock can contribute to mud formation. Instead, consider using a submersible pump to remove dirty water from a water trough instead of dumping the water on the ground.

A submersible pump can discharge water in an appropriate drainage site away from your horse’s paddock.

Take extra safety precautions and prevent horses from accessing the water trough when a submersible pump is being used.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Useful for flooding emergencies

Cons

  • Requires access to power source
  • Can be inconvenient

Support the Ground

Install a Geotextile System

High-traffic areas in your horse farm are more susceptible to mud formation. Foot traffic repeatedly compacts the soil, mixing in any standing water and causing mud to build up.

A geotextile is a specialized cloth with a cellular structure that can be installed as a supportive footing in high-traffic areas. Geotextiles reduce soil compaction and prevent water from mixing into the soil.

Geotextiles may be a good option in regions with high annual rainfall or when consolidating heavy traffic to designated paths on your farm.

Pros

  • Low maintenance
  • Water drains through textile
  • Diverse application

Cons

  • Textile panels are expensive
  • Site prep is extensive
  • Suggest professional installation

What Causes Mud to Form?

Mud formation is a simple process: add just the right amount of water to the soil, and then mix thoroughly.

Your horse’s pastures are more likely to become muddy if certain elements that add water and/or increase mixing are present.

Soil characteristics also affect how much water and mixing are needed for mud to form. Some soils are better at draining water than others.

Causes of Mud Formation on Horse Farms

 

Water Runoff

Roofs and pavement are impervious surfaces that do not absorb water. When water falls on these surfaces, it flows to other sites resulting in runoff.

A quarter inch of rainfall over a one-acre area saturates the ground with 6,789 gallons of water. Any impervious surfaces within that area will produce runoff.

Wastewater is another source of runoff on horse farms. Wastewater includes water used for cleaning, water used to soak or steam hay, and drinking water being disposed of.

Wash stalls can generate 90 gallons of water from 10 minutes of cold hosing. A daily cold hose regimen produces over 600 gallons of wastewater a week.

A major contributor to mud formation, runoff cannot always be eliminated, but it can be relocated to a suitable drainage site.

Soil Composition

Surface water is absorbed into the ground through a process called infiltration. Water then drains through the soil to the water table or is absorbed by plants.

The water drain