Horses and Mud

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We have been experiencing a lot of rain, and more is predicted in the forecast. If you own a horse or already have horses, below are some factors to consider that will help minimize mud and other negative factors on the farm:

  • Access pasture drainage – Examine the area where you plan to keep your horse(s) and determine if there is appropriate drainage.
  • Think about gate placement – Mud will occur in high-traffic areas and places horses will naturally gather. Shifting gates away from these areas will help minimize mud.
  • Consider the amount of horse traffic – Horses can be put in a stall for a certain amount of time. This allows the pasture to rest and will help to minimize soil compaction, overgrazing, and the amount of mud.
  • Use pastures to help manage water flow – Making sure there is plenty of vegetation in the pasture will act as a natural filter to slow water down, preventing soil runoff and that creates bare spots.
  • Manure management – Consider removing manure from high-traffic areas that can turn into mud.
  • Footing materials – Installing footing materials like sand, gravel, or wood chips in high traffic areas can help to minimize mud. Sand is comfortable for the horse. Gravel drains well and provides firm support, but larger than a 5/8-inch can be uncomfortable for the horse to stand on. Wood chips are also a stable material, but will require more frequent replacement as they decompose.

Muddy conditions can cause problems like thrush, hoof abscesses, hoof cracks, and pastern dermatitis. Thrush is a bacterial and fungal infection of the soft tissues of the foot that results in the degeneration of the frog; left untreated it will penetrate the sensitive layers of the foot and cause lameness. Hooves will absorb water and become very soft in wet and muddy conditions. If the feet dry out quickly, the hoof may contract rapidly, resulting in hoof wall or sole cracks. Hoof infection and subsequent abscesses may occur when bacteria in the environment penetrate the cracks. The soles of horses’ feet contract and expand, as does the hoof wall, but the sole periodically exfoliates. Persistent muddy conditions and wet-dry cycles may cause some horses to lose more sole than is normal, resulting in thin, sensitive soles. Overgrown hooves are at greater risk for cracking and infection. Below are tips to avoid hoof-related problems:

  • Clean horses’ legs regularly and keep the hair around the fetlocks trimmed.
  • Clean the feet often and provide regular, balanced trimming.
  • Remove soiled bedding materials, manure, and leftover hay. Removal of waste material will decrease surface water contamination, reduce harmful bacteria, and provide a healthier environment for the horse to rest in.
  • Rubber mats or large wood chips maybe used to prevent muddy conditions.

For more information, please contact Taylor Chavis, Extension Livestock Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center at 910-671-3276, by, or visit our website.