Managing the mud at your horse farm

As spring draws near, we will inevitably be dealing with mud. Learn how to make the best of this messy situation.

Many areas of our state are experiencing a winter that brought colder than normal temperatures and higher than normal snowfall totals. For more than a month, Michigan has remained below freezing temperatures and the snow has kept piling up – many of us are literally running out of places to put the snow! This means when things begin to thaw out in the coming weeks, we will be faced with a mess.

Since we know this mess is inevitable, what can we do to prepare? Below are some tips to help you mange the mud.

Suit up

Be sure you are properly outfitted for a trip to the barn. So I can be prepared for a trip to the barn whenever the chance arises, I keep a pair of insulated muck boots at the barn during the springtime. A great tip to help your older boots last longer is to put large plastic bags over your socks. This will eliminate that terrible moment when you “find” the hole in your boot. Wet socks are no fun!

Have you ever found yourself walking through mud when suddenly your foot comes up with no boot attached? A great tip is to NOT pull your foot straight up, which is likely to cause your boot to stay with the mud. Pull heel first, and you’re much more likely to keep foot and boot attached.

Protect your horse

In addition to mud, spring brings with it many difficulties for the horses themselves. Read this Michigan State University Extension article on common springtime woes for Michigan horses to brush up on ailments such as colic, thrush, and laminitis. This recent MSU Extension article focuses on the unfortunate common problem of rain rot. Another MSU Extension article will help you understand the equine ailment found often in wet environments; scratches.

Additionally, you may have some questions on what your horse should be wearing. When considering blanketing or not, it is most important to provide your horse an opportunity to stay dry. Wet horses are more susceptible to hypothermia in cold temperatures and dermatologic issues (such as those discussed above).

Prep the farm

To best answer the question of how to prepare your farm for mud management, I reached out to some of my horse-owning friends to see how they cope. Their useful tips are listed below.

It’s best to recognize that whether or not we like it, parts of our horses’ turnout may be destroyed during the springtime. The soft footing that leads to mud will likely kill any vegetation growing where traffic patterns are high. To minimize the damaged ground, designate a sacrifice lot.

You’ll also want to eliminate low-lying areas as best you can, especially if these are in high traffic areas. This can be done in a variety of ways. Bringing in sand, wood bark, sawdust, gravel, or crushed asphalt are all ways to help prevent mud at gates and entries to barns and arenas. Another idea is to utilize a High Traffic Pad.

Another unfortunate side effect of mud is ruts and holes in the ground. It’s a good idea to smooth out these ruts as best you can when the weather is above freezing and the soil is still pliable. As temperatures fluctuate, which they tend to do in Michigan, these deep ruts will freeze when temperatures drop, leaving dangerous holes and uneven ground.

Feed wisely

These tips can help you minimize waste of feed. If you’re feeding hay on the ground outside, there are several ways to prevent waste. Feeding on a rubber mat can keep hay from being lost in the mud or water. Additionally, it can minimize the amount of dirt or sand the horses will ingest. Eating sand can potentially lead to sand colic.

Another way to minimize mud is to encourage horses to change their traffic patterns. Feeding in a different location of the turn out lot each day can help prevent high traffic areas.

While we can’t eliminate the problem of mud altogether, using these tips can help us cope with the inevitable mess of springtime! 

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