With this wet year we have had, and are still having, there are some things you can do to decrease the amount of mud accumulation in your horse paddocks as well as some things you need to keep an eye out for in your horse that can occur because of these muddy conditions. Maintaining horses in a persistently muddy environment will cause physical and mental fatigue, weight loss, hoof problems, dermatitis, and trauma of the muscles and/or bones.
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If you have a barn or shelter in your paddock, management of roof rainwater is key to decreasing muddy conditions. Think about installing gutters and downspouts to collect and redirect roof runoff away from your horse’s paddock. To determine how much roof runoff you will have use this formula; Inches of rainfall X sg. ft. of roof cover X 0.62 = rainwater roof runoff in gallons/year. Also take the time to notice where the water runs and settle after a rain and plan where you need to put a slight slope to the ground or even put in some ditches to take runoff away from your barn. A 1-2% slop is all it should take to allow water to run off and not puddle. You might even have to bring in some sand or gravel to create high spots for your horse to stand on. Rubber mats can be used to preserve the surface area inside shelters and around outdoor feed bunks and water troughs.
Another easy management step to reduce muddy conditions is to remove manure, old hay, or soiled bedding. Reducing the volume of material in the paddock or run-in shed will decrease the amount of muddy material your horse will have to walk through. This will also provide a healthier environment for your horse to rest in, especially on those cold, wet days.
Constantly trekking through the mud is exhausting for your horse and will cause them to burn more calories than usual. Make sure to take that into consideration when balancing your horse’s diet. You might need to feed them a little extra hay and supplements during this time. Mud can also cause problems like thrush, hoof abscesses, hoof cracks, pastern dermatitis and even pulled tendons, ligaments or fractured bones. Thrush is a bacterial and fungal infection in the soft tissue of the foot causing degeneration of the frog. Thrush typically puts off a foul odor, and is dark green or black in color, and is located on or around the frog. Cleaning your horse’s feet regularly, as well as, keeping a clean paddock can help prevent thrush. Hoof abscesses and cracks are more prevalent in muddy conditions because the hoof absorbs water and become soft which can lead to easier penetration of the hoof. Subsequently, when the feet dry out quickly on a sunny day, the hoof wall or sole could crack making an avenue for bacteria to get in and cause an abscess. Pastern dermatitis is also something to look out for, it is when to bacteria and fungus penetrate the skin due to inflammation caused by persistent wet, muddy conditions. Make sure to clean your horse’s legs regularly, not allowing mud to clump up or harden on their legs. Lastly, strained tendons and ligaments, pulled muscles and even fractures can occur due to muddy conditions. These are all directly associated with poor traction. Keep an eye out for mild or moderate signs of lameness, heat, pain or swelling of the joints or legs. Some management practices that you can do to prevent this is to make sure that all horses confined together get along with one another, this can prevent awkward and sudden movements with poor footing.
In summary, do the best you can to divert water from heavy traffic areas and try not let horses stand in mud for an extended amount of time. Understandably, you can only control those variables for so long. You can however, monitor your horses closely during the muddy season. Watch for signs of weight loss and lameness, and always make sure they have access to fresh water, feed and shelter. Contact your county extension agent if you have any further questions.